Boutique physical media distributor The Criterion Collection began offering 4K UHD editions of their monthly releases starting in November 2021 with Citizen Kane (1941) and Mulholland Dr. (2001). Since then, each month, a new 4K UHD edition has been released, sometimes new to the collection entire and sometimes a new edition of a prior release. Such is the case with George A. Romero’s horror classic Night of the Living Dead (1968), which initial joined Criterion in February of 2018 and is now available on 4K UHD. This new edition continues with everything previously available (bonus features and other extras) but with a new 4K UHD restoration on its own disc and a new plastic case. If you’ve been holding off for one reason or another to snag the original Living Dead film, come out from the safety of your basement as now is the time to act.
Unbeknownst to Barbra (Judith O’Dea) and her brother Johnny (Russell Streiner) as they drive to leave flowers at their father’s grave, the dead have risen and are attacking the living. When one of the undead kills Johnny, Barbra runs for safety, seeking shelter in a seemingly abandoned house. Soon after, a stranger named Ben (Duane Jones) arrives and begins sealing up the home. Between threats from outside and other survivors in the basement, the possibility for survival swings like a pendulum based on whether anyone can work together, and as dawn grows closer, the odds grow smaller and smaller.
In a regular home release review, ruminating on the film at-hand would be the first step in the process. Roughly 54 years since its initial release, there’s little that hasn’t been said about the film. Night is instrumental in creating the modern depiction of the broadcast zombie, it’s unintentionally a powerful piece of art exploring racial tensions, and, while not Romero’s most terrifying work (consensus points toward The Amusement Park for that), there’s no denying the simplistic yet artful techniques at work. Even with aspects that don’t hold up as well with a 4K UHD restoration (a few of the prosthetics are less seamless in higher definition), there’re plenty that do (the rotten corpse in the house has way more detail) and there’s no horror film really like this in ’68 and everything after is merely trying to refine what Romero accomplished, often choosing to lean on spectacle and gore rather than character and emotion. That’s what makes Night continually engaging; it makes you care about this tight ensemble, specifically Ben and Barbra, and hope they can make it out, even if their final fate is predetermined by more than the undead.
Be advised that the 4K UHD edition of Night of the Living Dead appears to be exactly the same as the prior release save for two specific differences: the 4K UHD presentation and the case the release comes in. Based on research for this home release review, the 2018 Blu-ray edition is packaged in a digipak, meaning that there’s a cardboard packaging outside with an insert containing the discs and the double-sided liner notes (poster and essay). For the 2022 4K UHD edition, all three discs (one 4K UHD and two Blu-ray) are in a hard plastic case, like their traditional package, with the same double-sided liner notes tucked over the 4K UHD disc. The artwork that was on the outside of the digipack is now on the reverse side of the cover, visible through the clear packaging of the case. While digipacks have a certain style about them, my personal preference is for a hard case, so the swapped out style is preferable. It also makes protecting all three discs easier to accomplish. Additionally, the two Blu-rays appear to be identical in design from the 2018 release, so these are likely exactly the same in presentation and on-disc materials as before. In order to help the 4K UHD disc stand-out, the title text on the disc and the format labeling is white and the background color is a very light grey. Doing so makes it easy to tell that something is different about this disc versus the others, a commendable choice when adding in a new format to the mix.
Regarding the 4K UHD edition itself, do keep in mind that the prior release is a 4K restoration on a 1080p disc. In my experience from other 4K UHD restorations that follow a 4K 1080p restoration, what’s on disc is going to be the same as the prior release just with improved resolution due to the amount of data which can be stored on the 4K UHD disc. There’s no new mix here. In fact, the audio, though clear, is quite quiet, the dialogue and sound seeming to share speakers on the monaural soundtrack. Additionally, there’s no HDR applied to the restoration, meaning that while it’s an improved picture thanks to more data, you don’t get the wide range of shades of black, white, and grey. This is by no means a deal-breaker as the image is sharp, the grain visible but not a distraction, and the detail is strong, especially in the close-ups. Personally, I don’t think the lack of HDR here is a deal-breaker as prior releases (DVD or Blu-ray) still maintain the charm of the original lo-fi project, even as technology improves the presentation. The trick may be that folks who own the Blu-ray may not notice a major uptick in quality from the 4K edition, making the decision to double-dip a difficult one.
As someone with only a DVD edition from Alpha Video prior to now, Criterion’s 4K UHD edition feels like watching a completely different film. Plus, there’s a whole host of fantastic bonus materials on-disc that will allow me to dive into this world in a way I haven’t been able to. But if you snagged the Blu-ray edition, you’ve got everything that comes in this release, so making the jump is a decision I begrudge no one as it’s a decision that really comes down to preference of visuals and packaging. At least you don’t have to worry about reanimated corpses banging on your door while you try to figure it out.
Night of the Living Dead Bonus Features:
- 4K digital restoration, supervised by director George A. Romero, coscreenwriter John A. Russo, sound engineer Gary R. Streiner, and producer Russell W. Streiner
- Restoration of the monaural soundtrack, supervised by Romero and Gary Streiner and presented uncompressed on the Blu-ray and 4K UHD
- In the 4K UHD edition: One 4K UHD disc of the film and two Blu-rays with the film and special features
- Night of Anubis, a work-print edit of the film
- Program featuring filmmakers Frank Darabont, Guillermo del Toro, and Robert Rodriguez
- Sixteen-millimeter dailies reel
- Program featuring Russo on the commercial and industrial-film production company where key Night of the Living Dead participants got their starts
- Two audio commentaries from 1994 featuring Romero, Russo, producer Karl Hardman, actor Judith O’Dea, and others
- Archival interviews with Romero and actors Duane Jones and Judith Ridley
- Programs about the film’s style and score
- Interview program about the direction of the film’s ghouls, featuring members of the cast and crew
- Interviews with Gary Streiner and Russell Streiner
- Newsreels from 1967
- Trailer, radio spots, and TV spots
- English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- PLUS: An essay by critic Stuart Klawans
- Illustration by Sean Phillips
Available on Blu-ray and DVD February 13th, 2018.
Available on 4K UHD Blu-ray October 4th, 2022.
For more information, head to the Criterion Collection’s official Night of the Living Dead webpage.
Categories: Films To Watch, Home Release, Recommendation
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