George Romero Between Night And Dawn (Blu-ray)
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Review of "George Romero Between Night And Dawn (Blu-ray)"
So long Ciao. We had some times.
This boxset from Arrow Video is a rather excessive £50 at the moment.George A Romero is generally regarded as the director who gave birth to the modern horror film with Night of the Living Dead, made in 1968. It was gory, it was politically charged, and it was (and still is, for the most part) remarkably scary. It also invented the flesh-eating zombies which have infested modern horror. All those tired Hammer period gothics looked weak by comparison.
So Romero has long been a revered figure in horror fandom. Night of the Living Dead was made in 1968. Romero also made the classic low-key vampire movie Martin (1978), and followed it up with Dawn of the Dead, possibly the most acclaimed horror movie of all time. But in the years between 68 and 78, he fared a bit less well.This film collects the three films he made in the early 70s in and around Pittsburgh, only one of which is a straight-up horror flick. Dawn of the Dead and Martin remain maddeningly out of print, with the current rights holder apparently not inclined to allow any new Blu-ray releases. It feels like Arrow have released this as it’s the best they could get their hands on. Romero sadly died this year, after this boxset was announced, but before it was released (the same thing happened to Herschell Gordon Lewis, and other recentish Arrow sets have been devoted to the recently-deceased Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven. John Carpenter and Dario Argento might have reason to be nervous, given that they’re the next on Arrow’s boxset list).
There’s Always Vanilla (1971)
This is a slightly awkward film, which Romero himself more-or-less disowned (he says in one of the extras that he has no fond memories of it). It’s kind of a bittersweet romantic comedy, but with a load of hippie ‘battle of the generations’ stuff thrown in. Chris, a free-spirited Vietnam vet/session guitarist, returns to Pittsburgh, where his ex-girlfriend lives with his young son. He meets Lynn, a model who works in commercials, and they begin an affair.The film isn’t terrible, but it’s very much a low-budget, regional movie that doesn’t transcend its surroundings in the way Night of the Living Dead did. It’s very dated, with early 70s humour, early 70s references, and early 70s fashions. It all comes over as a bit earnest. Romero and his collaborators had worked as commercials directors, so there’s a lot of stuff around the filming of TV adverts, with some satirical jabs at ad agencies that probably felt a lot more relevant if you were involved in the business.
It does have a few things going for it. Raymond Laine as Chris is very good, and Judith Streiner is also pretty decent as Lynn. They’re both rather dislikeable in their own ways, which is presumably intentional. Chris often addresses the camera directly, giving his view on what’s happened, and the film is most interesting when it shows how wrong his assumptions are. A section towards the end, where he completely misinterprets Lynn’s lateness, is actually quite effective (and surprisingly nasty). There are also a few good uses of more experimental techniques.Overall, though, this is a bit forgettable, and doesn’t really fit in with anything else Romero made. You can see why he didn’t care for it, and there’s no particular reason why we should care about it either.
The film doesn’t look great, but as Arrow are at pains to explain, the original materials weren’t in very good condition, and the film was shot on the cheap to begin with. So it looks good for what it is. The colours are quite washed out, although that actually goes with the film’s lethargic, meandering tone.There are a few extras – the main one is a new ‘making of’ in which various surviving cast and crew share their memories. There’s also an old interview with Romero about both this and Season of the Witch, in which he expresses his general dissatisfaction with them, and wonders what fans of his other films would make of them. Be warned – he throws spoilers for both films around, so watch Season of the Witch beforehand.
Season of the Witch (1972)
Season of the Witch is closer to being a horror film, but feels very similar to There’s Always Vanilla, in that it’s also a social commentary film with a countercultural bent. Bored housewife Joan has a boorish husband and a daughter in her late teens. One of her neighbours turns out to be a practising witch, and Joan is intrigued enough to buy a book and start dabbling herself. Soon she finds that she’s out of her depth, with terrifying nightmares, a runaway daughter, and a sarcastic lover to contend with.It’s most like Martin, one of Romero’s best films, in which a supposed vampire has to contend with life in modern day Pittsburgh. This has witchcraft in the suburbs, which is a good premise for a film. Unfortunately, it takes an awfully long time to get anywhere, and some of the acting is bad, especially Joan’s self-pitying friend, who goes wildly over the top. Her annoying boyfriend, Raymond Laine from Vanilla, is too smug and laid back, basically playing a more successful version of his earlier character, but coming across as completely unlikable.
But there are good things in the movie. There are some very good nightmare sequences, with excellent discordant electronic music. The scene where Joan goes and buys her various potions and lotions from a head shop is good (it’s backed by the obvious Donovan song). And it’s kind of refreshing to see a film based around a middle aged woman that doesn’t turn her into a caricature. Romero described it as his ‘feminist’ film, although it still comes across as quite patronising.Romero’s low-key filming style works very well in this film, and it’s probably best seen as a dry run for the more obviously horrific Martin. I liked it more than I expected to, but not enough to feel the need to watch it again. A better, albeit trashier, take on modern-day witchcraft can be found in Simon, King of the Witches, which was made at about the same time in Los Angeles (not by Romero).
This looks better than There’s Always Vanilla – it has the same low-rent look, but has richer, better-looking colours and more detail visible. It’s another film that will never look brilliant, but it looks good here. Extras-wise, the best is probably an interview with the lead actress. There’s also a lengthy discussion between Romero and fantasy director Guillermo del Toro, which I found a bit tiresome, although I’m not sure I can put my finger on why. It’s not specifically about Season of the Witch, anyway.
The Crazies (1973)The Crazies is far more familiar territory for Romero. A small town is infected by a biological warfare agent the US government has developed, which makes people go crazy and attack anyone in sight. The army move in to quarantine the town and try to treat the disease.
This feels a lot more like the early stages of Dawn of the Dead. It depicts the beginning of the breakdown of a society, and is horrifyingly effective, even if the budget means it has to confine itself to a small, rural location. The overlapping dialogue and chaotic feel of the scenes in the army HQ are convincing, and very like what Dawn of the Dead does in the TV studio sequence. The film also harks back to Night of the Living Dead, as it begins with a brother scaring his sister before having to try to protect her from a real monster. It has the low-key realism of Romero’s other films, but also has enough horror to be easily the most entertaining film in the set.We follow a group of survivors as they try to dodge the military, while back at the base the army and an irritable scientist try to plan how to keep the disease confined to the town. It’s very similar to two of David Cronenberg’s early films, Shivers and Rabid, which also depict the outbreak of terrifying diseases which make people violently psychotic. But the disease in The Crazies is more convincing, with the irrational behaviour slowly kicking in over several hours. Some of the violence is a bit unconvincing, with bullet wounds obviously being red paintballs, but for such a cheap film it still packs a punch.
It’s well acted for such a low-budget movie. Romero fans will recognise lots of actors from his other films, both those in this set, and his later zombie movies (one prominent character in The Crazies is played by the mad scientist from Day of the Dead; another is the TV pundit in Dawn). Lynn Lowry, playing one of the escapees, is also in Shivers and I Drink Your Blood, and has more cult credentials than most of the rest of the cast. She has a tremendous scene I shouldn’t spoil.The soundtrack, which mostly seems to be library music, tends to be military, with all the sinister implications that would have had for people of Romero’s hippie generation. The army are seen as the enemy in no uncertain terms, with soldiers looting the dead and robbing the living. It’s interesting that back in the 70s, a film in which the government accidentally infects a town with a killer virus and then declares martial law was a left-wing paranoid fantasy. Nowadays that kind of paranoia belongs firmly to the far right.
This is by far the best-looking of the three films. It was shot on 35mm film, as opposed to the 16mm of the other two, so was always likely to look the best. But the transfer on the disk more than does it justice, although some of the blood looked like it was the wrong shade of red – this is probably a problem with the way it was filmed, rather than the Blu-ray.Oddly, there’s no ‘making of’ documentary for this, the most famous film, although there are a few interviews and a commentary. The best interview is with actress Lynn Lowry, in which she discusses her entire career (although oddly she doesn’t mention Shivers, probably the most famous film she was in).
--The set is nicely sturdy – Arrow have had a tendency to release flimsy boxsets in the past, so it’s good that this has nice thick cardboard. There’s also a booklet with essays about each of the films. This is a limited edition, but given the obscurity of the films, I can’t imagine it will sell out particularly quickly.
In the absence of Romero’s best films, this is a reasonable tribute to his talents. The Crazies is good enough to want to see, but while Season of the Witch has something going for it, it and Vanilla are for completists only. It’s probably worth waiting for Arrow to release The Crazies by itself.As ever, Arrow have released a more than decent blu-ray set, but there’s definitely the feeling that the well of good films is increasingly dry now. In the days of DVD it was fine to release a load of marginalia from a popular genre filmmaker, as DVDs generally weren’t too expensive and no one would have expected them to look all that impressive. Blu-rays, on the other hand, are generally treated (and priced) as a higher quality proposition. Releasing films that no one is going to want to watch more than once on such a supposedly premium format seems a bit delusional.
Anyway, this is a good release for what it is, and The Crazies is a pretty great movie in the style of Romero’s better known work. Whether you’d really want to fork out £50 for a set that includes two curios is a matter of opinion. Obviously I did, but this one has already found its way onto the ‘ebay after christmas’ pile.All screenshots were taken from the blu-rays using Aiseesoft Blu-ray Player software on my PC's BD drive.
Product Information : George Romero Between Night And Dawn (Blu-ray)
Manufacturer's product description
DVD Region: Blu-ray
Director(s) (Last name, First name): Romero, George A.
Classification: 18 years and over
Listed on Ciao since: 29/10/2017