FEBRUARY 24, 2011
After 40+ years, there’s not a lot of uncovered ground when it comes to Night Of The Living Dead (don’t I know it, after ODing on bonus material about the film this week), so I can certainly appreciate the approach to Autopsy Of The Dead, which, with the exception of Bill Hinzman and maybe Kyra Schon (the little Cooper girl), devotes its time to folks you don’t really hear from all that often. No Romero, no Karl Hardman, no Russ Streiner, hell not even John Russo, who I kept expecting to barge into someone else’s interview and talk about how important he was in the film’s creation and execution.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that the folks behind the movie simply couldn’t get/afford those others and were forced to change their approach. Bizarrely for a 2.5 hour doc (with another hour’s worth of bonus material), there isn’t a single mention or appearance of writer/producer/director Jeff Carney or anyone else in his crew. You’d think with all this stuff, and a fairly impressive talent roster (pretty much everyone beyond the big guns) they’d at least give themselves a commentary or brief interview about how they found everyone, what made them want to do the project, etc – but there’s absolutely nothing.
So all I can go by is the film itself, and sadly it’s pretty much a bore. The structure is wholly damaging; rather than tell the story of the film’s production from start to finish like a normal doc on a movie, Carney starts things off with a full hour of interviews, one at a time, with each participant talking about what they did and when applicable which zombie they played (seems like just about everyone played two roles – some crew position and anonymous zombie). This is a terrible way to present a documentary, in my opinion; it just comes across like someone hitting “Play All” on an outtake collection or something.
Once they get through all of this, it improves a bit, as the participants are edited together discussing one particular aspect – three or four folks discussing filming the truck explosion, two or three discussing the creation of the news footage scenes, etc. But while it’s at least more enjoyable from a technical standpoint, it’s still pretty dull. Their anecdotes aren’t all that amusing, and the fact remains that these folks are, for the most part, only tangentially related to the film’s production and thus don’t really have a lot of insight to share (one guy even starts his interview by pointing out that he only worked on the film for ten minutes). Let’s face it - a zombie extra doesn’t know shit except about what happened right in front of him/her on the day or two that they were there. Maybe as a half hour sort of “Tales from the Trenches” piece as a supplement on a traditional Night release, this could have been worthwhile, but two and a half hours (longer than even the longest cut of Dawn of the Dead!) devoted to telling stories about lighting mishaps or low budget workarounds for props or sets does not make for a compelling film. You also get a lot of stories about the other people who aren’t there, which is like telling your friends at the bar about the fish some other guy caught.
Plus, not for nothing, but it’s pretty poorly shot. At least two participants are shot in front of a white wall while wearing a white shirt, and pretty much everyone has their lav mike clipped on the outside of their shirt. I mean, come on guys, this is basic first year film school shit. I can forgive one or two carelessly shot interviews (i.e. from the first day, where most folks would be like “Oh from now on we shouldn’t do this or that” for future interviews), but they all have a fairly lazy and amateurish feel. It’s obvious that they put a lot of effort into tracking everyone down and researching the original shooting locations and such; just a shame they didn’t put as much effort into the presentation (which includes the editing – or lack thereof). I was also baffled by the DVD construction – at around the 86 minute mark, the timecode and chapter breaks reset for the final 55 minutes or so. What the hell?
The bonus materials are fine, nothing too exciting but some good stuff for NOTLD junkies. The best is probably the 10 minute collection of “locations – then and now” footage, where we see a clip from the movie and then a similar shot of what it looks like today. Unlike Dawn of the Dead’s now unrecognizable Monroeville Mall, a lot of the locales are pretty similar looking (the house is gone, however), so this is better than most things of that nature. However most of it was used in the film itself, so it’s sort of redundant. Speaking of clips from the movie by the way – couldn’t they have ponied up for a decent release? Looks like they took their footage from a sub-Mill Creek transfer. There’s also a nice dedication to the cast/crew members who have since passed on, which is a nice touch (there are quite a few; I wasn’t aware Keith “Tom” Wayne had passed, and I was even more bummed to discover that he actually committed suicide).
The rest of the stuff is pretty bland; a “newsreel” that’s just a bunch of footage without narration, a longer interview with the guy who did the animation during the end credits (why him, of all people?), a decent collection of archival materials such as a check that they gave to zombie extras (for 25 bucks) and the album covers for the library music that they used in the movie, and a blooper reel of interview outtakes, none of which I found particularly amusing (and considering the average age of the participants seems to be about 75, there’s not a lot of humor to be found in someone losing his train of thought). They also toss in a bunch of trailers and radio spots for the actual film, which I guess they just figured they might as well throw in since they had it lying around.
I really wish I could have liked this more. Maybe if they cut it in half (at least) and had a more interesting presentation it would work, but as is, I think you need to be the biggest NOTLD fan in the world to find this stuff interesting, and even you will probably be reaching for the chapter skip button after a while. It’s a laudable concept with a totally lackluster execution.
What say you?