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Night of the Living Dead (Off Color Films)

Fox // Unrated // September 7, 2004
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted September 6, 2004 | E-mail the Author
Normally, I start my reviews off with some sort of self-indulgent introduction, a bloated synopsis, and my long-winded thoughts on the film. In the case of Night of the Living Dead, I'll spare you. Anyone reading this review is probably well-acquainted with George Romero's 1968 zombie classic, and on the off-chance you're not, read one of G. Noel Gross' reviews elsewhere on this site. His thoughts echo my own, and for me to prattle off the same would be redundant. The appeal of this DVD is less about the movie than its presentation, so instead, I'll discuss the elements that set this DVD from Off Color Films apart from the rest -- its colorized visuals, a pair of 5.1 remixes, and an audio commentary by MST3K's Mike Nelson.

Video: This DVD release of Night of the Living Dead includes presentations both in its original black-and-white and in a newly-colorized version. Many purists may wince at the idea of colorizing the film, but the inclusion of the original version elsewhere on the DVD should stave off most of those complaints, and it's not as if it's particularly difficult to stumble upon a black-and-white version of Night of the Living Dead on DVD anyway.

The black-and-white version lags behind what is currently the definitive release of the film, Elite's Millenium Edition. This DVD is certainly watchable, but the image is noticeably softer and blurrier than Elite's DVD. The majority of the source material isn't excessively worn -- it's usually not peppered with white specks or riddled with noticeable damage. Brief stretches of the film are more battered, seemingly culled from a different source, but those sorts of moments are fairly infrequent. Some missing frames continue to remain elusive as well. Readers seeking out the most impressive version of the film possible should look elsewhere, but what's offered here is passable.

Without rehashing the same arguments against colorization, I'll say that Night of the Living Dead is a movie that greatly benefits from being in black-and-white. That to me is an essential part of establishing its mood and tone, and splashing it with color saps away some of that eeriness. Although my preference between the two would still be the original black-and-white, the coloring is mostly handled well. Landscapes, particularly grass and foliage, look especially good. There's usually at least one element on-screen that looks unconvincing -- I'd frequently point to fleshtones, which often seem to take on a clay-like consistency, and the flourescent shade of red of Johnny's car seems like an oddball choice. The ghouls' skin takes on a sickly greenish-yellow, for anyone who's curious. Most of the film, as I should hopefully not need to clarify, is set indoors and at night. The point of comparison that immediately sprang to mind was one of those microbudget-horror trailer compilations that were plentiful on VHS in the '80s. The colors in those dated clips tended to seem a little pale and to lean towards the blue. That's how the interiors of Off Color Films' Night of the Living Dead struck me, and it's a more appealing choice than having tried to precisely match the hues of Tom Savini's 1990 remake.

Below are a couple of examples comparing the colorized version to the original black-and-white presentation also on this DVD. To get an idea of how this DVD stacks up against several other releases of the film, compare the full-size version of these images to the comparison on

Audio: There are two six-channel remixes provided on this DVD, one in Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kbps) and the other in DTS. The sound primarily keeps to the front channels. There are a few directional effects that take advantage of the surrounds, such as Ben's rummaging for supplies throughout the house, the undead groans of the zombie hordes, and, perhaps most memorably, the death shriek of one supporting character. For the most part, the rears are reserved for light ambiance and to reinforce the ringing score. Dialogue sounds strained but remains discernable throughout, and the track is free of any intrusive pops or hissing. The original gunshots seem to have been replaced with new sound effects; that, or they just happen to sound considerably more robust than any other element of the soundtrack. Those seemingly new effects are accompanied by a pretty decent low-end wallop for anyone who likes to keep their subwoofer booming. No one will mistake this DVD's 5.1 remixes for a newly-produced film, and the occasionally hollow sound of the dialogue makes it difficult to grade the soundtrack with high marks.

The colorized version of the movie is closed captioned, incidentally.

Supplements: I'm going to venture a guess that the reason most of you are reading this review is Mike Nelson's audio commentary. Mike, who shouldn't need an introduction but is going to get one anyway, was the head writer and one of the hosts of Mystery Science Theater 3000. This is the first time I've heard Mike riff on a movie that's actually good, although I don't think that's the word he'd use to describe it. He jokes about Judith O'Dea's not-entirely-convincing wig and her tendency to restate the minutiae of the first reel, the movie's heavy emphasis on carpentry, the endless struggle between the Upstairites and Downstairites, and how an On-Star system would've made it much easier for Zombie-Hinzman to chomp on Barbra. The pace is slower than an MST3K episode since Mike doesn't have anyone else to bounce off of or to toss in their own remarks, but he fills the runtime pretty nicely, making up his own anecdotes and joking about the cast's filmographies. A few random quips:
"This little scene was added because during the first and second days of shooting, someone actually did smash into the car and there was no way they could hide the damage. I don't know how the damage occurred, but we can be pretty sure it was a woman."

"Did she ever stop to consider that maybe this was the zombie's house and that maybe he has a key?"

"Zombie fighting's a breeze when you're wearing your EZ-fit cardigan!"

"Y'know, if you were a zombie, you'd probably take a lot more chances with your life: you know, go skydiving, visit the seedier parts of town after dark without fear, adjust your snowblower without shutting it off..."

"This is another thought: would zombie dogs still go crazy for bacon? And would they still lick themselves or would they only lick other dogs that had recently died?"
Mike's remarks are hit-or-miss, but it had me laughing enough that I think most fans of his would find this disc worth at least a rental. Also included is a gallery of horror trailers, featuring colorized clips for Night of the Living Dead and Carnival of Souls, as well as a black-and-white Flesh Eaters trailer with Bill Hinzman. "Separated at Death" is an interactive feature that first shows a picture of one of the cast members and then follows with a celebrity lookalike. It's a lot funnier than I'm making it sound, and the comparison with the lizard-chomper in particular made me laugh out loud. The DVD sports sixteen chapter stops and a set of 4x3 static menus. The disc comes cradled in a keepcase, and at least with my review copy, no insert was provided.

Conclusion: Off Color Films' DVD release of Night of the Living Dead isn't the definitive release of the film. Those honors go to Elite's Millenium Edition, which offers a much more impressive presentation and a slew of extras. Still, readers with more of a casual interest -- particularly rabid MST3K fans, since Mike Nelson's commentary is a much stronger selling point than the colorized version -- who'd like to own a decent version of the movie without paying much might want to consider picking up this DVD. Recommended.

Related Reviews: G. Noel Gross has written reviews of a couple other different DVD releases of Night of the Living Dead. DVD Talk also features reviews for other Off Color Films releases, including Reefer Madness and Carnival of Souls.
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