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Wednesday, September 15, 2010


As one of the shocked and terrified viewers who sat in the dark watching NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) during its first run, I found the concept of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: REANIMATED-- that is, the entire film reinterpreted piecemeal by a variety of graphic artists, along with the original soundtrack--to be irresistibly intriguing. My initial viewing of this disjointed and sometimes off-puttingly crude curio was, unfortunately, a disappointment.

However, once I realized that the film is intended as a sort of kinetic art gallery rather than a cohesive narrative, and that it's more of a fan-contributor project (by organizer-curator Mike Schneider) than the polished work of professional artists and animators, I was able to relax my expectations and begin to appreciate some of the various artistic renderings of all those familiar images. One thing's for sure, though--a scene-by-scene knowledge of the original film is necessary to make sense of this collaborative reimagining. Try to watch it first, and you'll probably have no idea what the hell's going on.

The term "reanimated" is a bit misleading, since much of the film consists of still images. Some resemble comic book panels, some hastily-drawn storyboards, and some merely sketches and scribbles. Occasionally you get some pretty nice work, much of which is done in the style of the old underground comics of the 60s and 70s or the earlier EC horror comics. There's a nice series of portraits of Barbra which are amateurish-looking but expressive, as she relates to Ben the story of what happened to her and Johnny in the cemetary. Her discovery of the music box brings another interesting series of images.

The segments that are actually animated are a real grab bag of wildly-uneven quality and tone. Some scenes resemble pre-"Goldeneye" videogame technology and are interesting in their own strange way. Others, such as Barbra first seeking shelter in the farmhouse and the final zombie attack, are done using claymation that is so crude it makes Art Clokey look like Ray Harryhausen. A long segment of Ben and Barbra boarding up the house looks like something out of a Bizarro "South Park" episode.

Sequences switch between digitally manipulated still drawings, animated stick figures, pictures with actual talking mouths superimposed "Clutch Cargo" style, and even abstract images consisting of moving shapes filled with writhing squiggles. (The latter segments, more than any others, necessitate a familiarity with the original film lest the viewer be totally lost.) The early scene of Barbra and Johnny's arrival in the cemetary uses actual actors who are animated a la Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" video. My least favorite moments are the ones in which actual footage from the original film is merely altered in some way.

With its emphasis on artistic expression and variety, NOTLD: REANIMATED sacrifices not only the original's narrative flow but often its grim attempts to scare us as well. This is especially true when one familiar fright sequence is rendered, believe it or not, in a cartoon style resembling "Ren and Stimpy" and "Itchy and Scratchy", with cats as the zombies and mice as the terrified humans. Several other contributions are aimed at being more amusing than scary, with sock puppets and even Muppets taking part in the carnage.

Even Barbie dolls get in on the action at times, particularly in the cellar scene with Harry and Helen Cooper. Watching these dolls being hand-manipulated in real time isn't all that interesting, although the miniature sets are nice. There is, however, one sublime moment--the famous "jump cut", which George Romero says he simply couldn't edit his way around, is faithfully reproduced.

The DVD from Wild Eye is in 1.33:1 full screen and runs 101 minutes including the introduction by horror host Count Gore De Vol. As with other Wild Eye DVDs I've seen, there are numerous special features. These include three commentary tracks, alternate and deleted scenes, some short horror films and comics, interviews with some of the film's main contributors, NOTLD coloring book contest entries, a look at the extensive NOTLD box art collection of Wild Eye's Rob Hauschild, and "Zombie Encounter", a lengthy panel discussion on zombie films with Hauschild, authors John Joseph Adams, Jonathan Maberry, and Dr. Kim Paffenroth, and other notables. Various other interesting tidbits round out the extras menu.

"Over 100 artists--over 100 styles" claims the liner notes on the DVD box, and you won't doubt it after being assaulted by this sometimes boring, yet curiously fascinating conglomeration of disparate images. You may not like it even after giving it a thoughtful second viewing as I did, but if you're a fan of George Romero's original classic, you owe it to yourself to take a stroll through the oddball cinematic art museum that is NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: REANIMATED. It's definitely a unique experience.

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