Blu-ray Review Night of the Living Dead (1990) Blu-ray Review

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Richard Gallagher, Oct 6, 2012.

  1. Richard Gallagher

    Reviewer

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    When Twilight Time announced that it would be releasing this 1990 remake of George Romero's cult classic Night of the Living Dead, I had no inkling that it would become the most controversial title thus far in the company's catalog. Many fans of the films are in an uproar over how this Blu-ray looks, concerns which appear to be greatly (if perhaps understandably) misplaced. But more about that later.




    Night of the Living Dead (1990)

    Studio: Twilight Time/Columbia Pictures
    Year: 1990
    Rated: R
    Program Length: 88 minutes                  
    Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p
    Languages: English 5.1 DTS-HD MA
    Subtitles: English SDH

    The Program

    When Twilight Time announced that it would be releasing this 1990 remake of George Romero's cult classic Night of the Living Dead, I had no inkling that it would become the most controversial title thus far in the company's catalog. Many fans of the films are in an uproar over how this Blu-ray looks, concerns which appear to be greatly (if perhaps understandably) misplaced. But more about that later.

    Romero's original film was made in 1968 on a shoestring budget (estimated to have been a mere $114,000). It was filmed in black & white with a cast of unknowns, yet it became a hugely profitable hit. Two decades later Romero and co-producer Menahem Golan were able to raise more than $4 million to remake Night of the Living Dead in color. The additional funds also allowed them to hire experienced (albeit still lesser-known) actors.

    When reviewing a remake, I try to evaluate it on its own terms rather than rate it as better or worse than the original. I have not watched the 1968 version in many years, but I am confident that the 1990 film, with the original screenplay re-written by Romero, is reasonably faithful in terms of characters and plot developments. It also provides plenty of thrills and gore, and overall it is a fun experience.

    Night of the Living Dead opens with Barbara (Patricia Tallman) and her brother Johnnie (Bill Moseley) arriving by car at a rural cemetery to visit the grave of their mother, who died five months earlier. During the drive Johnnie is complaining about the fact that their mother left instructions to be buried in a graveyard which is more than 200 miles from where her children live. When they arrive Johnnie teases Barbara that ghouls are coming to get her, which he thinks is pretty funny until zombies actually do come after them.

    An exciting chase ensues, and Barbara takes shelter in a farmhouse what appears to be abandoned. There she encounters more of the walking dead. but she manages to fend them off until Ben (Tony Todd) drives up in a truck which is nearly out of gas. Ben has already been fighting the zombies and he has figured out that there is a way to stop them, but they appear to be everywhere. Once she recovers from her initial shock, Barbara proves to be remarkably resilient and resourceful (a striking change from her character as portrayed in the original). In time she and Ben discover that they are not alone in the farmhouse. Late in the day three people emerge from the basement, where they have been hiding. Tom (William Butler) has been living in the house with his uncle, who was killed by the zombies. With him is his girlfriend, Judy Rose (Katie Finneran), and Harry Cooper (Tom Towles, who gave a chilling performance in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer). Harry is an obnoxious, snarling man who fled to the farmhouse with his wife Helen (McKee Anderson) and daughter Sarah (Heather Mazur) after their car broke down. Helen is in the basement tending to Sarah, who has developed an intense fever after being bitten by one of the walking dead.

    As night closes in Harry wants to return to the basement and wait for help to arrive, but Ben wants to keep open the option of slipping away and he convinces the others to help him board up the windows to the house. He learns from Tom that there is a gas pump on the property, but it is locked and Tom does not know where his uncle kept the key. Ben believes that if they can find the key and get to the gas pump, they can fill up his truck and make a getaway to safety. Complicating matters is the fact that Sarah's condition is getting worse by the hour, and dozens of zombies are surrounding the farmhouse. Barbara believes that they can flee on foot - she notes that the zombie are oh so slow and clumsy - but Ben points out that Sarah cannot be moved and he is loath to leave her behind.

    Director Tom Savini, who made his name in the movie business as a makeup artist, keeps the action moving along at a brisk pace. Night of the Living Dead is fairly gory and violent, elements which are enhanced by the fact that it was filmed in color. I am not entirely convinced that this remake was necessary (other than to George Romero, who undoubtedly missed out on a small fortune when his original film was never properly copyrighted by the distributor), but it delivers enough thrills to keep fans of the genre happy.

    Although this Blu-ray of Night of the Living Dead was announced with a release date of October 9, 2012, Twilight Time began shipping early and the limited edition of 3.000 copies is currently sold out. However, it has been reported that Twilight Time has announced that a limited number of copies will be available on a first come, first serve basis beginning at 4:00 p.m. EST on October 26 at ScreenArchives.com.  Copies are already for sale at inflated prices on eBay.

    The Video

    Here is where things get controversial. I confess that I have never seen the 1990 version of Night of the Living Dead before - not in a theater and not on DVD. To my eyes the 1.85:1 1080p image is excellent, with vivid, accurate colors and fine detail. The filming was done on location is western Pennsylvania and the scenery provides a perfect complement to the action. However, there have been numerous complaints made elsewhere by fans who seem to believe that the Blu-ray image is darker and not true to the way it looked when it was released.

    Since I never saw the film before, I am in no position to render an opinion about whether it looks better or worse than it did in theaters. However, our resident expert Robert A. Harris has confirmed that this is the first transfer of the film which was supervised and approved by the filmmakers, so I strongly suggest that readers take a look at his comments, as well as the remarks made by other members of Home Theater Forum.

    The Audio

    The evocative 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack by composer Paul McCollough is excellent. An eerie atmosphere is established immediately, and I am giving serious thought to playing the isolated score track during trick or treating on Halloween. The dialogue is confined to the center channel and every word is clear and understandable. The isolated score track is accessible through the setup menu.

    The Supplements

    Twilight Time Blu-rays typically have little in the way of extras, but this one includes an interesting commentary track by director Tom Savini. He wanted to film the opening scenes in black & white and then gradually transform the image to color, but he obviously was overruled. Also included is the original theatrical trailer and the aforementioned isolated score track. The Twilight Time catalogue shows that November's Blu-ray releases will be The Rains of Ranchipur and Bonjour Tristesse.

    Included with the disc is a colorful, informative and entertaining 8-page booklet written by the always-excellent Julie Kirgo.

    The Packaging

    The single disc is packaged in a standard Blu-ray keep case.

    The Final Analysis

    Making a recommendation about this Blu-ray release of Night of the Living Dead would seem to be superfluous, given that the limited run of 3,000 copies has already been sold out. Anyone who is interested in getting a copy without paying a significant premium should plan to go online on October 26 and see if you can successfully place an order. Please see the link provided above.

    Equipment used for this review:

    Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player
    Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display, calibrated to THX specifications by Gregg Loewen
    Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
    BIC Acoustech speakers
    Interconnects: Monster Cable

    Release Date: October 9, 2012 (but for the time being sold out)
     

     
  2. Adam Gregorich

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    Ain't that the truth! Thanks Rich!
     
  3. JohnS

    JohnS Producer

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    There is nothing wrong with this bluray. It is not dark or overly dark. The screengrabs that have been floating around the web are completely misrepresenting the bluray.
    I found the bluray to be really well done.
    I'm happy with what I bought.
    I saw this in the theaters too. But it's been so long ago I can't make an accurate assumption.
    I enjoyed it back then and I'm enjoying now.
     
  4. Richard Gallagher

    Reviewer

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    I just realized that in the last paragraph I typed the word "with" when I mean to say "without." It has been corrected.
     
  5. WadeM

    WadeM Supporting Actor

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    Agreed. It's darker than what's come before, but it's not nearly as bad as the screenshots that started the firestorm make it seem.
     
  6. TheVid

    TheVid Stunt Coordinator

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    I'm in the same crowd as Mr. Gallagher, having never seen the NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD remake before, but the blu-ray looks to be a nice presentation and I'm glad I have one for Halloween. The only zombie movie I've ever really taken a strong liking to is Michele Soavi's DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE, which has been released on a superb Cecchi-Gori blu-ray from Italy, and will make up the second half of my Halloween double-feature.
     
  7. JoHud

    JoHud Producer

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    For those that missed out before, It's back up for order for what is likely to be a very limited time.
     
  8. JoHud

    JoHud Producer

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    ...and now it's sold out.
     
  9. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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    I jumped on about 2 minutes before four and bought one.
     
  10. rayman1701

    rayman1701 Second Unit
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    Yeah, got mine too although I was a bit nervous when the server took a bit for it to come up. But I was glad I was able to have the chance to get the order thru. Looking forward to this one.
     
  11. Jari K

    Jari K Producer

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    Perhaps this is a silly question, but why this was released? Limited run, no real extras, no unrated-version, probably not even the best transfer... Oh, and get it from eBay for 60-70 dollars.
     
  12. Brandon Conway

    Brandon Conway captveg

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    Because Twilight sold 3000 copies and made money off of licensing the title.
     
  13. Jason_V

    Jason_V Producer

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    It is my understanding TT does not create their own extras and there is are hoops to jump through in order to license the content already created. You have to remember this: TT is a small outfit looking to bring movies to the consumer the studios prolly have no interest in. They are not a Sony or Fox or Paramount. TT doesn't do the transfer or decide which cut.

    The limited run comes from the idea behind limited edition soundtracks. Frankly, I have no problem with limited run discs of any kind because we always have more than enough notice about them going on sale.
     

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