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Sunday, April 03, 2011

Van of the Dead DVD Review: Night of the Living Dead Reanimated

Night of the Living Dead Reanimated
2010 Wild Eye Releasing/MVD Visual
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

When artistic property falls into the public domain, to quote ol' Choptop from Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2: dawwwwwwwwgs will hunt!

Made on a shoestring and whirled through the drive-in and grindhouse circuit with very little of the fanfare it would later receive, George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead has become the mantle piece of the entire zombie ethos. Remade twice (the second as a 3-D romp that received even less fanfare than the original film) and bastardized (I mean, colorized), Night of the Living Dead even inadvertently gave birth to the successful Return of the Living Dead romps by rite of passage through principal writer John Russo. Romero's original is cited, quoted, ripped and soundbyted all over the world. Russ Streiner's iconic taunt to Judith O'Dea "They coming to geeeeet you, Barbara" has been hocked repeatedly through future film and television vehicles, both horror and non. In its strange way, Night of the Living Dead has long become pop culture.

It's why so many nickel and dime video distributors scarf the film up for cheap release--these days usually in a shabby print package deal with Carnvial of Souls or with nine-to-twenty-four other shabby print horror films you can hoist out of the five dollar bin at Wal Mart. Yet, Night of the Living Dead, though only surpassed by Romero's direct sequel from 1978, Dawn of the Dead, remains a subject piece routinely shown in film and art classes and yes, even business classes. It demonstrates to students how one can effectively create a masterpiece with few duckets to start. No doubt many art and film students on their respective campuses have sat down with this film on repeat, their lives and perspectives forever changed. Want the proof?

Night of the Living Dead Reanimated is grindhouse-meets-art house. Is it remotely possible to tell an entire story through varying, interchangeable media, moreover, to recreate an existing piece that is so well-known and well-loved to even make the attempt is to invite the wrath of Cthulhu down upon them?

Well, yeah, actually. Night of the Living Dead Reanimated isn't going to be for everybody, particularly those who've spent more time at parties than visual art schools. Boasting more than 100 artists and an equal number of styles whirling Night of the Living Dead at a pace resulting in sensory overload, this gutsy project satisfies more than appears at face value.

If Dinosaur, Jr. and Sonic Youth had thought of a project like this back in the early nineties, no doubt Night of the Living Dead Reanimated would come off in a similar manner. This loving chiarascuro tribute to Romero's classic plays largely like one of those alt rock videos of yesteryear, only it recreates the film with painstaking accuracy and played to the original film's score and speaking tracks.

The casual viewer might grow weary of the still photos blanketed by abstract video tweaking and the abrupt shifts to claymation to video game slivers to sixties-based cartoons. Night of the Living Dead Reanimated is a showcase of immense talent utilizing oil canvasses, ink sketches, CGI, stop-action manipulation, even puppetry. At times, Night of the Living Dead Reanimated is freakin' hilarious, such as the puppet zombie substituting for Bill Hinzman's immortal lead ghoul in the film's opening chase scene. While this film switches between detailed sketches in the heart of Berni Wrightson to the elongated computerized version of Bill Hinzman, once a puppet arrives with the brick to smash down the car window where Judith O'Dea atempts to hide, it's a gut-buster. Ditto for the choppy video game segments where a bearded and beefy Duane Jones goes after the zombies outside the fateful house and stomps them down with the tire iron. The film satirizes modern zombie games as Jones' character Ben wallops away with the original grunts and thuds from Romero's film lending soundtrack by omnipresence.

In the same sequence, however, Night of the Living Dead Reanimated opts for quick social commentary. As Romero bravely put Duane Jones in the forefront of his film as a strong, take-charge black man, which was nearly insane for the racist times it was conceived, Night of the Living Dead Reanimated takes it a step further. As Ben hovers on the porch with the zombies lurking towards him, the undead shirk and shift into tweaked, angular abstracts with pointed limbs and ultimately, pointed heads. For a quick moment, Night of the Living Dead Reanimated turns the zombies into the Ku Klux Klan, thus you really feel it when Ben whacks them down.

Actual segments of Romero's film blend into this one, though you can expect shadings and assorted flotilla to stretch them out a hair or two. There's a breathaking hand-crafted animation sequence of Judith O'Dea's mental breakdown that swishes through like A-ha's video for "Take On Me."

You have to be impressed by the detail and sheer balls of this project. Unlike Team America, this is hardly mainstream and, despite the Ben-Klan showdown, it keeps its personal views to a minimum. Night of the Living Dead Reanimated is a brain stew of fundamental horror storytelling, but with more acid trips and occasional hee-hawing than Romero probably intended.

No doubt, though, Romero has to be honored something like Night of the Living Dead Reanimated has surfaced. To have a creative team even bother to assemble thousands of images into an hour-forty tribute, you can take the scribblings with the megabytes and be happy so many generations have been affected by a single work. Night of the Living Dead Reanimated could've cheated and done a straight CGI reinterpretation. Instead, it brings the outlooks of many visual styles to the table--and even a ghost host to introduce it. If you were raised on the days of UHF, Saturdays meant fright nights, complete with guffawing vampires as your emcees.

Night of the Living Dead Reanimated is a post modern construction of a post modern terror tale and it does so with adoration to the past as much as the future. Once in awhile, bodies of work drifting into the public domain actually serves a purpose.

Rating: ****


Christina said...

Sounds like something worth checking out. Thanks for posting!

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