Night Of The Living Dead: 30th Anniversary Edition (1998)

FEBRUARY 25, 2011


There's a wealth of extras on the Night Of The Living Dead: 30th Anniversary Edition DVD, but none accurately explain why John Russo and Russ Streiner did it in the first place. One can assume that they saw it as another way to make some money off the property (again, a copyright snafu has resulted in Romero and co. seeing a mere fraction of what they could/should have earned as a result of the film's success), but every single thing that they added or changed in this version can be described as awful at best.

They were also likely inspired by George Lucas' revisions to the original three Star Wars films, but there are two key differences. One is that he had the money and resources to do these things properly (for lack of a better word), and two (and this is far more important), he didn't go back and shoot new scenes while removing others. Now, he DID add in some scenes (such as Han meeting Jabba), but these were originally shot for the film and excised for one reason or another. He also fixed up some effects and changed some things (via CGI wizardry) to make the films connect more with the others, such as adding Hayden's face to Anakin at the end of Jedi. Sure, the general consensus is that these things took the charm out of the film, but one can still watch them and more or less get the original experience.

But what Russo and Streiner did here is nothing short of offensive, filming entirely new scenes that were in no way part of the original design. If they can prove that these scenes (or even the basic idea behind them) were planned in 1967 while the original film was in production, then fine, I will take back that part. It doesn't change the fact that they are awful in every way - from casting to writing to their production. Look at the new scene where the cemetery zombie (Bill Hinzman, another conspirator) attacks some folks - it's shot from a stationary wide angle that looks like a 12 year old's idea of an action scene. The action in Night may not exactly be the most jaw-dropping zombie carnage ever shot, but at least Romero knew how to shoot it in a visually interesting way (via closeups, editing, etc). Worse, they actually REMOVE other scenes, which just makes their amateurish and ugly new scenes look even worse. Say what you will about Lucas, he didn't cut out any of Mark Hamill's performance because of his corny acting or whatever. But Russo deletes scenes (Barbra telling Ben about what happened at the cemetery, for example) with no rhyme or reason throughout the film. Tightening some bad edits is one thing; they actually just hack away at the film.

Even more offensive is the new music score by Scott Vladimir Licina, who thankfully hasn't been allowed near another film since (his only other credit is composing a short film six years after this debacle). Nearly all of the original music has been replaced by his god-awful, borderline Manfredini-level score, which not only just sounds bad but doesn't even fit the film 99% of the time. Even someone who unfortunately saw this version before seeing the original would be able to tell that the music didn't fit, which just shows you how terrible a composer this guy is - the original Night was scored with found library music, and yet it works better than this shit that was allegedly recorded specifically for the film. Licina also appears as a priest in some of the new scenes, in which he proves that he should stick to composing.

The closest thing to a positive remark I can say about the film is that the new scenes do indeed blend well on a technical level with the original footage. They used the same cameras and film stock, so apart from the improved exposure and unavoidable modern sensibilities (plus some too-advanced gore techniques on the new zombies), they don't stick out too badly. Far less successful is the attempt to make Hinzman look 30 years younger so he can reprise his role as the cemetery zombie (which we now get a back-story for, as if anyone gave a shit); they should have just pulled an Ed Wood and found a guy who (sort of) looked like a young Hinzman rather than put him in makeup that made him look more like Hal Holbrook than his old character.

The bonus material is just as worthless. Russo is strangely absent from the making of, but Streiner and the others talk about how they are "slightly" changing the original film, and everyone talks about it like they are doing something really great, and hilariously assuming fans will really appreciate it (to this day I have never heard of a single person liking it). Russo does appear on the commentary with Hinzman, Streiner, and a 4th party who barely speaks (I forget who it is already, not Licina though), where they spend precious little time explaining what the fuck they were thinking, and for the most part just tell the same goddamn stories they've told a million times on the documentaries and commentaries featured on the legitimate versions of the film.

Then there's an awful music video (techno remix of dialogue and Licina's beats), a trailer for the new edition, a scene from some movie Hinzman made (presented without any sort of context or information - the movie was ten years old at the time so it's not like it's a preview or something), and a still gallery. There's also a booklet made up of interviews with Russo, Striner, Hinzman, Licina, and Debbie Rochon (another actor from the new scenes), all of which repeat the insane idea that they think people will like this shit. Oh, and there's a second disc with Licina's entire soundtrack, so you have twice as many discs to break in half.

But you know what annoys me more than anything they've done here? The fact that this pile of shit doesn't have its own IMDb page. Licina and Rochon are now listed as cast members for a movie that came out before they were born (in fact, if you just type "Rochon" into IMDb's search engine, Night Of The Living Dead is the title they put next to her name in the results - ugh), and Licina is listed as its composer. This is a disgrace, and if I had the time and know-how I would create a separate page for this piece of shit. This is not Night Of The Living Dead - this is an abomination, and I despise everyone involved with it. Avoid at all costs.

What say you?

9 comments:

  1. I'm going to take a leaf out of ol' Charlie Sheen's book and offer that I VIOLENTLY HATE THIS 30th BULLSHIT. I would rather be shot in the face than see this abomination again. And yes, that new soundtrack is fucking horrendous.

    Fuck this film, it's a crime against logic, reason and common sensibilities... Ahhhh, so much HATE!!!

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  2. The idea was good. A remastered version with a better score could really pop. Apparently it didn't, though. I'll take your advice and skip it.

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  3. Agreed on all points - the new scenes are badly done and undercut the movie's impact, while the soundtrack is quite seriously the worst I've ever heard.

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  4. I was quite excited about this version and pre-ordered it on Amazon years ago. After watching it, I was dumbstruck by how offensive and terrible it was. I actually called Amazon on the phone -- can you still do this? -- and said I need to return it for quality reasons. The operator wanted a little more information about what was wrong with it and I was pretty much at a loss for words. I think I said something like "This is the worst movie I've ever seen. It actually makes me angry that it exists." She was like "Um...okay!" and allowed me to return it simply because it sucks so much.

    John Russo ruined his single claim to fame with this travesty.

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  5. I hadn't seen the originally Night in probably 10 years. I had no idea this existed until I unwittingly checked it out of my local public library. Man, when "Hal Holbrook" made his first appearance I was like, "what the fuck is this shit?!" Then I looked more closely at the DVD case, and I was like, "what the fuck is this shit!!!"

    Yeah, I didn't get past Hal Holbrook.

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  6. It's pretty clear who the talent was behind NOTLD. Everything that Russo has been involved with otherwise is garbage. The man has no taste and no talent.

    Here's a review suggestion, although I know you don't want bad movie suggestions...but it would be interesting as a comparison. Russo made a movie called Santa Claws, where an evil Santa runs around killing with a garden fork. That's his CLAWS, you see? It has a lot of the same cast from NOTLD. It was shot on video and it's the biggest piece of shit I've ever seen.

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  7. i remember buying this for my bf at the time because he loved NOTLD but didn't own it... i think this was freshman year of college. we settled down to watch it and all his favorite scenes were cut out/ changed. it was stupid.

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  8. I also pre-ordered it from Amazon. I should've returned it, but I think I just angrily threw it away. I bought "Santa Claws" at Tower Video and DID return the piece of garbage.

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  9. I almost bought this back in the day, but I decided not to give it a chance as I couldn't get past the concept of a rabid preacher being inserted into the movie, no matter the reason. A part of me wanted to know more of the cemetery zombie, but I don't really care.

    The Elite DVD from '99 is all one needs to view NOTLD with its film grain intact, but all the damage is gone, you can watch it like it's meant to be seen, unaltered and original.

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