Welcome to the Criterion Collection: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD
A little over a month ago I woke up one morning knowing that my criterion Blu-ray of Night of the Living Dead would be arriving that day and I rushed through my work day as quickly and efficiently as possible to be speed up the time because ya know, priorities. I got out early too, arriving just in time to see the mailman—I probably looked like deranged nut standing by my mailbox. I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t get emotional while opening up the package, thoroughly examining the cover image and getting a bit weepy eyed seeing ‘Directed by George A. Romero’ on the cover of a fucking criterion release.
Before I popped it in, I thought about last spring— I was about a mile from my house at a local park and rec center where I’d spend hours with headphones on while walking the woodsy terrain, desperately trying to not lose my shit worrying about money, bills or how I’m going to feed my cat since I was unemployed at that time and very depressed. Those walks helped pass the time as the job search continued, letting me reflect on the numerous shitty life choices that led me to that point while also giving me time to figure out ways to not feel like I was behind a giant 8-ball. I’d listen music, my three favorite podcasts (Shock Waves, Horror Movie Podcast, and the Pure Cinema Podcast), film essays, and jot down tons of new movies to watch from brilliant hosts who just get it. It was inspiring and definitely helped me get back to a good place as the crew here at Ghastly Grinning begun planting the seed that would grow to what it is now.
Spring turned to summer and that park was where I was when I got the new that George A. Romero had passed away, just yards away from a dilapidated old cemetery at the edge of the park grounds that looks quite similar to the one in Night of the Living Dead. I rushed home and read more into the news and I was totally devastated. I put in Night of the Living Dead that night and it was my first revisit in a while.
I can’t really add more to what’s been said by countless fans, critics, historians etc, but here were my thoughts on that day, taken from my Letterboxd.com writeup:
“The birth of the modern horror film.
1968, when a bunch of 20 something's from Pittsburgh banded together like a group of survivors with the heart and integrity of 100 major studios—and a final product every major studio has failed to replicate even though I'm sure said studios have giant board meetings about how to do just that.
Also, 1968... in America... think about that for a minute... our main characters are a Woman and an African American man who have to deal with a shithead alpha male who's obsessed with being in charge and we only find out what's really going on by way of TV and radio. Ghouls are EATING PEOPLE and LITTLE KIDS KILL PEOPLE AND GET KILLED—EVERYONE FUCKING DIES, all in one messed up 19-fucking-68 night. The sheer impact of George Romero is astounding and transcends the genre tenfold. Hell, I see people who have never watched a Romero Zombie movie reference them, that's how vast Romero's footprint is. He shook up a bloated studio system and influenced so many independent filmmakers to pick up a camera and do whatever it takes to make a damn movie. Lest we forget that his social commentary has been an undercurrent in society since 1968.
Way back in my late teens, when I used to over analyze the crap out of movies with dreams of being a spicy modern day Roger Ebert by way of Leonard Maltin (and Lester Bangs) I would have complained about its budgetary trappings, but luckily I woke the hell up and started actually enjoying the cinema I was watching, appreciating films in a whole new light and realizing that sometimes purpose is far greater than technique.
Best decision I've ever made, the equivalent of Cinematic Zen.
I'm pretty damn thankful that I got to meet George Romero and his immense impact, and I'm lucky to have been a part of it as a viewer, learning many life lessons along the way and hopefully becoming a better person because of it.
For 32 years, 2 months, and 16 days, I lived in a world where George Romero was smiling somewhere and smoking a cigarette. Tomorrow starts day 1 without that.
Rest In Peace, George. Thank you <3
So here we are so many months later, the new Criterion Disc of this groundbreaking achievement in independent cinema, American cinema, and Horror cinema is finally out and it’s easily the release of the year as far as I’m concerned, boasting an immaculate restoration that makes this claustrophobic nightmare reality of late 60’s America look as if it was filmed yesterday—a far cry from the countless public domain releases over the years. Besides the brilliant 4K restoration supervised by Romero, co-screenwriter John A. Russo, sound engineer Gary R. Streiner, and producer Russell W. Streiner, there’s tons of excellent supplemental footage to feast on, including the never-before-presented work-print edit of the film known as Night of Anubis.
It’s a treasure trove for the millions of fans who’ve pinned for a proper release and the millions of soon to be fans once they discover this picture. My last words on this disc are simple: Do yourself a favor and add this to your collection if you haven’t already, share this gift of cinema with friends and budding young zombie fans, keep it going from one generation to the next. I know I don’t have to tell genre fans this but there’s so much more Romero to love and discover as well—Creepshow, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Martin, Knightriders, Monkey Shines, The Dark Half, and Land of the Dead. Arrow Video recently released a brilliant box set titled ‘Between Night and Dawn’ featuring restored editions of There’s Always Vanilla, Season of the Witch, and The Crazies (I’ll talk more about that set in a future examination digging deeper into Romero’s filmography). What I’m getting at is there’s much more to Mr. Romero than just his Zombie pictures. Understandably they will be his legacy, but so will being a great filmmaker and a fantastic human being.
Welcome to the Criterion Collection, George.