The second DVD I ever bought was NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.  Having picked up SALEM’S LOT the night I bought my first DVD player, the next day I ventured out and picked up two of my favorites, NOTLD and THE THING.  It cost me something like 6 bucks, if memory serves correct, and offered scant yet odd features:  a brief set of notes on the filmmakers, a trivia page that claimed Cooper was right about the basement (I still disagree), and Chinese subtitles that automatically turned on when I started the film.  Not a great set of extras, especially compared to THE THING’s 1 hour+ doc and commentary.


Since then, I’ve owned something like 11 different versions of NOTLD on disc.  Since the film is still in the public domain, there are a whole slew of discs out there (technically, I could do my own commentary and sell DVDs of it, if I so chose).  Many of these efforts are cheapies, inferior prints some of which were transferred off VHS, with no real extras to mention (oh, those Chinese subtitles).  Fortunately, two iterations break that trend.  Elite’s Millennium Edition has a full load of extras on a single disc, and Dimension’s edition includes the excellent One for the Fire.  Which would I suggest you buy?  Read on.






Finding the Millennium Edition when I did was like stumbling onto a fortune.  I never really invested much time into watching movies with VHS, because the tapes were bulky, expensive and just offered the movies.  One of the boons of DVD was the extras, and the ME is stacked.  It starts with the menus themselves.  Each time you click on a new topic, you get an iconic line from the movie, with a picture of the person saying it.  It’s a neat little attention to detail that speaks well for the disc.


The most substantial features are the dual commentary tracks, recorded for the Laserdisc at the Zombie Jamboree in Pittsburgh.  Your participants-  Track 1:  Russ Streiner, Judith O’Dea, Kyra Schon, Bill Hinzman and the late Keith Wayne and Vince Survinski.  Track 2: George Romero, John Russo, Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman.


As I remarked on my very first review for Icons of Fright, “The two biggest problems with these commentaries are that the memories are sometimes inconsistent because of the lapse of nearly 40 years between the film’s production and the commentaries;  and as is common to commentaries with multiple participants, not everyone has an equal say.”  I stand by this today, as Kyra, for instance, barely says anything, and Russo, every the egotist, claims they invented squibs.  But still, these are most of the participants involved in a legendary film, sharing firsthand stories.  Even if I’ve heard most of the 1,000 times since, it’s great they’re assembled here, in the voices of the people who lived them.


The original shooting script shows up as a DVD-Rom feature.  I’ve seen it on websites before, but here you don’t have to hunt for it.  It’s an interesting piece, because you’ll find a lot of things changed between it and the filming.  Barbra says, “You’re an idiot” instead of her infamous “You’re ignorant,” and Ben is the “Truckdriver,” a blue collar, rudimentary character in contrast to what he was to become.  If you give it a look, trust me and stick it out until the end.


There’s a 15 minute audio interview with Duane Jones, his final chat about the film.  Jones sounds conflicted about his place in film history, an erudite man who wants to focus more on academia than horror movies (when he died, he was a professor at SUNY Old Westbury, a few miles from my home).  It left me wishing he would have enjoyed his status among horror fans, and his story about a butterfly is touching, especially because I’ve heard both sides of it.


There’s a brief video interview with Judith Ridley, in which she discusses her memories about the film and her then-career as a food dresser for commercials.  It’s hosted by Marilyn Eastman, which makes for a neat reunion.


The disc has the sense of humor to include the classic “Night of the Living Bread” a brilliant parody that respects the source.


For those who want to know more about Romero’s career before he started making films, there’s a history of the Latent Image, which is a nice companion piece to Russo’s discussion of it in The Complete Night of the Living Dead Filmbook.  An extension of this is the feature I enjoy most, some of Romero’s TV commercials.  Romero couldn’t do a boring job of filming a beer commercial or a Calgon ad, and it’s nice to see touches of his signature filmmaking style in them.


There are scrapbooks put together by Russo and Eastman, as well as shots of props, posters and collectibles.  Included are some color pictures from the sets, a treat for those of us who have only black-and-white ingrained in our minds.  Rounding things out are the TV spots and trailer for the film, the latter of which gives away way too much.


Lastly, there are scenes from Romero’s “lost” second film, THERE’S ALWAYS VANILLA, which stars Ridley.  It was never really “lost,” so much as it was “nobody cares about it because it’s lousy.”  Watch the scenes and see if you disagree with me.  It’s since been released as a double feature with SEASON OF THE WITCH, Romero’s third film.  It’s no wonder he returned to zombies in 1978.


The package also includes liner notes from Stephen King, Romero’s longtime friend.


Whew!  That’s a lot of stuff!  After buying the ME, I thought I would never buy another NOTLD DVD again.  And then Dimension released its version, with one major feature, and I found myself on a line at Best Buy on opening day, debit card in hand.






Dimension’s disc ports over the two audio tracks, the Duane Jones interview, the trailer and the script.  So far, no need for a new purchase.  It includes a short interview with Romero at a con, nothing special and certainly nothing I haven’t heard before.  And it’s got One for the Fire, which is reason enough for you to buy it.


Had Dimension decided to release One for the Fire as a stand-alone, I would’ve bought it without question.  In fact, I would probably have preferred it that way, because I didn’t need all the stuff from the ME.  But Dimension was hyping DIARY OF THE DEAD, which it released on the same day, and I would think they wanted to promote the fact they were releasing Romero’s first and also his (at that time) most recent zombie flick, which rebooted things.  Plus, let’s face it, they didn’t have to put any work into the other extras.


I’ll be reviewing One for the Fire on its own in the near future, so I don’t want to go into too much detail about it here.  But this I will say:  it was about time NOTLD got its own documentary.  Anchor Bay put out full docs for DAWN OF THE DEAD and DAY OF THE DEAD, but they’ve never to my knowledge released NOTLD.  When I interviewed Gary Streiner, a participant in the doc, he thought it was incomplete and didn’t tell the full story.  But for a fan and reviewer, of which I’m both, it gave an inside look that was sadly missing.  Couple it with the stand-alone AUTOPSY OF THE DEAD, a doc whose participants are mostly people you don’t find on these sorts of features, and you’ve got a nicely balanced picture of what it took to make NOTLD.


So the question is, if you’re only buying one, which should you buy?  The first thing that comes to mind is, Do yourself a favor and buy both.  I did, and I can enjoy all the features, plus great prints of the film.  But that’s sidestepping the question, even if it’s the right answer.  And let’s be honest, this isn’t exactly Sophie’s Choice, because her kids weren’t zombies.  Okay, hold my feet to the fire, and I’m going with the Millennium Edition.  It wins on sheer volume alone, with all those extras.  And if you’re going to argue that quality trumps quantity, they’re all high quality too.  As great a doc as One for the Fire is, Dimension’s disc just doesn’t pack the same number of punches.  And full disclosure, I wouldn’t want to lose Romero’s beer commercials.


If you’re a completist, this isn’t even an issue, because you’ll buy both the ME and Dimension discs.  And you won’t regret the extra money you spent, because you’ve got a ton of great features, even if a few repeat.  But if you’re some crazy DAWN OF THE DEAD fan who just wants to see how this whole end of the world zombie thing started, or if you’ve never seen NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD before, pick up the ME and you’ll find yourself a disciple of Romero, and a fan of living bread.


-Phil Fasso


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