Night of the Living Dead (Legend Films)

Since this movie has been reviewed, analyzed and written about to death, I’ll forgo a lot of discussion of NOTLD as such. What I’m really reviewing here is Legend Films’ colorization treatment and the cool commentary track. Just to hold your interest, reader, the commentary track is by none other than Mystery Science Theater 3000′s Mike Nelson. But I’ll get to that in a moment. Let’s talk colorization first. Now, let’s get this on the record: I am most definitely a cinephile. I say that because the next thing I’m going to say is going to have cinema elitists crying out for my blood: I get my panties in a twist over colorization. It’s not “ruining” the original, since the original hasn’t been taken away from you, removed from the shelves and replaced by the colorization. In fact, Legend Films includes a restored black-and-white version on this disc. You’d think somebody put fingerpaint all over the Mona fuckin’ Lisa. Sure, if you’re sitting down to appreciate a movie for its artistic glory or whatever, then its original format is preferable, for the most part. But it’s still interesting to see what a black-and-white film might have looked like if color had been available to the filmmaker. If the colorization is good, it actually provides a whole new way to view old favorites. Again, I’m not advocating we throw away the original, but colorization is a lot of fun, done well. And, by and large, Legend Films has done a good job colorizing NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Even when the coloring is a bit washed or fuzzy, it appears to be the texture of the original film that is the determining factor, not shoddy execution of the colorization process. I say that because the color is frequently sharp and well-defined; when it gets fuzzy is during shots that were dark or murky or whatever in the original. Further, at times, the colorization makes this feel like the drive-inners and grindhousers of the late 60s and the 70s; NOTLD is, of course, part of that, but the coloring puts me in mind H.G. Lewis and other subversive cinema pioneers in the drive-in decades. It brings its own distinctive atmosphere into play. Now, I said above something about appreciating a film for its whatever and that generally that would call for an appeal to the film’s original format. But thanks to Mike Nelson’s commentary, which is played for laughs, I actually got some cinephile analysis out of this edition of NOTLD. With Mike cracking wise about the dialogue-heavy sequences and the Barbra character’s semi-catatonic state throughout most of the movie, I reflected further on the film I’ve seen a number of times and which I have for years ranked as one of the horror genres greats. Mike was just kidding around, but his joking made me pay attention again to Romero’s focus on characters, the mostly solid acting (impressive for the half-a-shoestring budget on which NOTLD was shot), the intelligent writing – all the things that make Romero’s zombie flicks more than mere gutmunchers. Like Stephen King (when he’s in top form), the horror works better when the story is about the characters involved in the horror rather than the horror itself. And that’s the case here. But, as I said, Nelson was trying to be funny, so I should address that. He IS funny, as he proved repeatedly on MST3K. His humor ranges from dry wit to belly laughs and it was great to have him along for the ride as I revisited a horror classic in a new way.

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