Home Page | About Me | Home Entertainment | Home Entertainment Blog | Politics | Australian Libertarian Society Blog | Disclosures

Region 4 DVD Reviews: Guts and Gore ... where it all began

Originally published in Australian HI-FI, June/July 2002, v.33/3

Night of the Living Dead cover Night of the Living Dead: 30th Anniversay Edition
Director: George A. Romero
Starring: Duane Jones, Judth O'Dea, Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre cover The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: 25th Anniversary Special Edition
Director: Tobe Hooper
Starring: Marilyn Burns, Paul Partain, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow and Gunnar Hansen
Movie: A, Picture: B, Sound: C, Extras: A Movie: A, Picture: C, Sound: B, Extras: D
This, apparently, was what started it all: perhaps the most influential zombie movie ever made. Super low budget, black and white film, and an intense night, locked up in a house, fighting off the formerly dead.

Yes, the acting starts off goofy. The first ex-deceased doesn't seem threatening. But gather several dozen of them and it grinds you down. The whole thing is lifted by realistic-looking TV news-reporting that delivers exposition so you aren't completely, er, in the dark. Then a very black twist at the end.

I am referring here to the original 1968 version of the movie, which is also contained on the disc. The 30th Anniversary Edition has been topped with a pointless opening and tailed with a threat which falls utterly flat. Somehow, the 'Over 15 minutes of New Footage' manages to reduce the length of the movie by three minutes!

Both versions of the movie are in 1.37:1 aspect ratio. No, it's not pan and scan, but was originally shot that way. Just as both versions are in black and white. The 30th anniversary version definitely is the cleaner print, even the old sections, even though the original version proclaims that it has been digitally remastered. Part of the reason is that a better copy, or perhaps a restored copy, of the film was used for the new version. But part is that the original version has found its way into video along the line somewhere, perhaps for the digital restoration. So if you pause it, on most scenes there will be a lot of frame jitter (depending on your DVD player's settings). The new version is on Layer 0, the old one on Layer 1, so there are no breaks in the flow. Sound is limited bandwidth, old-movie style, but vaguely stereo and very spooky.

This is one of the very few DVDs that actually uses the 'Title' key on your remote control (to get to the uppermost menu).

There seems to be something about digital remastering. Like the original version of Night, this 1974 gross-out movie seems to have been digitally remastered in NTSC then converted to PAL. Freeze-framing gives you jitter on some frames. It's funny, I went to this movie expecting it to be tame and lame. After all, there are plenty of quarter-century old movies that may have seemed strong at the time, but with today's jaded sensibilities their power has faded.

I was wrong. This movie remains profoundly disturbing. There are scenes that would probably not be shot in today's politically puritanical cultural environment. The movie is alleged to be based on a true story of a family: a grandfather, his son and his two grandsons. While the wielder of the title implement is one of the boys from the youngest generation, the whole family is deeply twisted since, to the extent that there is any motivation for the violence, it is to provide a beverage for grand-daddy.

Mixed in with the don't-go-into-that-room! tension and a great deal of screaming and running, there's genuinely spooky acting, particularly by the other grandson, the one that doesn't wear the leather mask and doesn't rely on petrol-powered murder weapons.

The 16mm film to NTSC to PAL progression of the video has left things a little soft and unfocussed, with flat colour and excessive contrast. The presentation is said to be 1.85:1 widescreen. It looks more like 1.66:1 and, in any case, is not anamorphic so this adds to the softness on widescreen TVs and large screens. The sound is better, with a choice of four tracks. Two of these, though, are merely MPEG clones of the other two, which are in Dolby Digital 2.0 format. One of these is the original mono sound track, the other is a remastered, slightly cleaner, stereo version.

Oh, be careful of the otherwise silent main menu. After a little over a minute, the chainsaw in the background thrusts forward and you get a burst of chainsaw noise. It made me jump.

Running time: 93 minutes (30th Anniversary Edition), 96 minutes (Original version)
Aspect: 1.37:1 (original aspect ratio)
Sound track: English, Commentary: both Dolby Digital 2.0 (stereo), 224kb/s
Subtitles: Nil
Features: Music video 'Living Deadbeats' (DD5.1 448kb/s, DD2.0 224kb/s), 41 still production photos, trailer, Behind the Scenes (9:15), Commentary
Running time: 83 minutes
Aspect: 1.85:1 (original aspect ratio)
Sound track: English, Dolby Digital 2.0, 192kb/s; MPEG 2.0 192kb/s (both original mono and remastered stereo versions available in both formats)
Subtitles: French, German, Dutch, Italian, Danish, Swedish
Features: Nil

© 2002-2006, Stephen Dawson