Night of the Living Dead (1968, Criterion Collection, 4K UltraHD + 2 Blu-rays, NR, 96 min.). This is the film that started the modern zombie genre. Although director-cowriter George A. Romero, who went on to make five sequels, never mentions the word “zombie” in the film; instead, the reanimated dead are called ghouls. What Romero brought new was showing the ghouls eating actual body parts. Romero also used an African American as the ultimately misguided hero (Duane Jones as Ben) just as racial tensions would boil over in America, lending unexpected meaning to that fact and the film’s final scenes.
Made for $117,000 and filmed in black-and-white, the film retains its power to shock, with very effective editing and camera angles. This edition comes packed with extras.
The film starts with Barbra and Johnny placing a wreath on their father’s grave after a three-hour trip from the city. Johnny is in full complaint mode, but it is Barbra who is first attacked by a ghoul. Johnny comes to her rescue, only to be killed when his head strikes a gravestone. Barbra escapes to a nearby farmhouse, which Ben is in the process of boarding up. While Barbra is pretty much catatonic thereafter, it soon is revealed that five other people have been hiding in the cellar. They include teenage lovers Tom and Judy, plus Harry Cooper, his wife and bitten daughter. Harry and Ben argue over the correct course to take – Harry wants to stay in the cellar – and even come to blows. Meanwhile, the horde of ghouls trying to break in keeps growing.
The film itself comes with two audio commentaries from 1994. One has Romero, cowriter John A. Russo, producer-actor Karl Hardman, and actress Marilyn Eastman (Helen Cooper). The other has production manager Vincent Survinski, producer-actor Russell Streiner, and actors Judith O’Dea (Barbra), S. William Hinzman (cemetery ghoul), Kyra Schon (Karen Cooper) and Keith Wayne (Tom). There also is an 85-minute work-print version of the film, called “Night of Anubis,” with a cut ghoul shot.
The second Blu-ray contains many 2017 extras, including a discussion of the film by directors Robert Rodriguez, Frank Darabont and Guillermo del Toro (23:41), as well as dailies (18:04) with an introduction by Streiner (3:41) and a Russo interview that centers on he and Romero’s commercial work as the Latent Image (11:58). Other featurettes interview some of the ghouls (13:04), a look at Romero’s use of the classic music library (11:15) and a discussion of how limitations were turned into virtues (11:57). There are Romero’s appearance on NBC’s “Tomorrow” with Tom Snyder from 1979 (18:20), Romero’s entertaining interview at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival (45:30) and archival interviews with Jones (1987, 21:56) and Judith Ridley (Judy; 1994, 11 min.). Grade: film 4.5 stars; extras 5 stars
Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it
Mark of the Vampire (1935, Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, NR, 60 min.). Despite Bela Lugosi walking around as if he were Dracula – billed as Count Moro — this feature from director Tod Browning (“Dracula,” “Freaks”) is actually a detective story, a remake of his lost film, “London After Midnight” (1927) with Lon Chaney. The film belongs to Lionel Barrymore as occult expert Prof. Zelin, who tries to help Police Inspector Neumann (Lionel Atwill) discover who has killed Sir Karell Borotyn (Holmes Herbert). With two puncture marks on his neck and the body drained of blood, the supposition is that it is the work of a vampire, and for three-quarters of the film, there are several vampires skulking about the mansion. Both attending Dr. Doskil (Donald Meek) and Baron Otto von Zinden (Jean Hershalt) insist on the vampire theory.
The film’s plot is very flimsy, but Lugosi has some good moments and there is a fun search of the dungeons beneath the castle. According to the audio commentary by Kim Newman and Stephen Jones, the preview version was 20 minutes longer, but then trimmed by censors. Other extras, from 1935, are the police short, “A Thrill for Thelma” (18 min.), and a cartoon, “The Calico Dragon” (7:57). Grade: film and extras 2.5 stars
Kratt (Estonia, Red Water Entertainment, VOD, NR, 113 min.). There is more comedy than horror in this film by writer-director Rasmus Merivoo. The film concerns two siblings, Mia, and Kevin (played by Merivoo’s children), who are dumped at Grandma Helju’s (Mari Lill), out in the country without their smartphones. Looking for something to do and inspired by Grandma’s story of the kratt, a being created of odds and ends and brought to life through a stolen soul and a pact with the devil to do the creator’s work, the children, with the help of village twins Julii and August (born 10 minutes apart but in different months!), decide to create a kratt. Unfortunately, it turns out to be Grandma, who gets a scythe through her skull while trying to dismantle the kratt.
There is lots about the villagers trying to save a sacred grove from being cut down and the local governor, who seems more of a punch line, and his nefarious opposition pals. Grade: 2.75 stars
Re-Main (Japan, Crunchyroll, 2 Blu-rays, TV14, 300 min.). The animated series is about Minato Kiyomizi, who awakes from a 203-day coma after a traffic accident, with no memory of his previous three years at middle school, when he became a superstar at water polo. Now he has lost most of his muscles and it takes eight months to get accepted at a high school, one which has not had a water polo team for 11 years. Due to a promise he made to a pretty girl, he joins the effort to start a team and helps recruit the necessary seventh member.
The twist, in the series from MAPPA, is that Minato used to be arrogant and bossy with his teammates. Now, with him relearning the game, he is nice and helpful to everyone. At one point he admits to fearing that if his memories come back, he will forget his new memories, and that is just what happens as his old, bossy, arrogant self re-emerges.
The characters are likable and a diverse bunch, and the animation style is fine. You will learn a lot about water polo too. Grade: season 3.5 stars
Free! Road to the World: The Dream – The Movie (Japan, Crunchyroll, Blu-ray, TV14, 99 min.). Sticking with an aquatic animation theme, this is the film adaptation from “Free! Dive to the Future,” the third season, released in 2019, about a group of schoolboys on a swim team. Haru Nanase and Makoto are starting college in Tokyo and run unexpectedly into their old teammates from elementary school. Still hurt from their team suddenly dissolving, Ikuya is out to prove he is better than Haru.
The compilation film includes footage from the show’s third season, as well as new footage, in similar fashion to previous compilation films. In addition to the main, returning characters, we see the newest Iwatobi High School Swim Club members. The series third season featured many flashbacks to earlier times and even a sumo competition among school mascots. The film leans down the narration.
The series is one of Kyoto Animation’s most successful franchises. Grade: 3.5 stars
Dexter + Dexter: New Blood (2006-13, 2022, CBS/Paramount, 28 Blu-rays, NR, 84 hours 52 min. + 8 hours 47 min.). This set, which comes with more than three hours of extras, combines the original 8-season, 96 episodes with the recent 10-episode resurrection/resolution of the story of police blood expert Dexter Morgan (the wonderful Michael C. Hall), who is a serial killer of killers by night. During the series he works for the police in Miami, while in “New Blood,” he has retired up north and put away his killing ways for 10 years – until his “dark passenger” is reignited by the death of an albino deer and the realization that a serial killer is operating in the community. Things get more complicated when his abandoned son, now teenaged Harrison (Jack Alcott) shows up. Jennifer Carpenter reprises her role as his sister Debra, now his ghost conscience. Grade: overall package 4 stars
Melrose Place: The Complete Series (1992-99, CBS/Paramount, 54 DVDs, NR, 169 hours 39 min.). The soupy series about life in a West Hollywood apartment complex started as a spinoff of “Beverly Hills 90210.” The set contains all seven seasons, plus more than two hours of audio commentaries and behind-the-scenes featurettes. Scandals are schemed and lovers hatch murderous plots. The cast stars Heather Locklear, Grant Show, Andrew Shue, Thomas Calabro, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Marcia Cross, Doug Savant, Josie Bissett, Laura Leighton, Rob Estes, Daphne Zuniga, Alyssa Milano, and Jack Wagner. Grade: 3 stars.
Tom Von Malder of Owls Head has reviewed music since 1972, just after graduation from Northwest-ern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He has reviewed videos/DVDs since 1988.
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