Blu-Ray Review: George A. Romero: Between Night And Dawn

GARBNADWhat do you do after making one of the most influential horror films ever? Given that George Romero really didn’t have much of a clue that his first film, Night of the Living Dead would become such an essential genre masterpiece, the director went on to make a few different films between 1971 and 1975 that were either interesting failed experiments or more polished but flawed films all worth a look. Arrow Video has restored and collected three of Romero’s post-NOTLD works in George A. Romero: Between Night And Dawn and yes, it’s a set worth adding to your library.

The three films include the somewhat disappointing romantic comedy There’s Always Vanilla, the surprising, mature drama Season of the Witch and a return to horror of a different yet similar kind in The Crazies. While the grim, brilliantly disturbing horror flick Martin is missing in action here (the set’s sole flaw), with these three films you can see a director learning and growing into an even more confident artist. Interestingly enough, in interviews included on the special features, Romero states his total dislike for There’s Always Vanilla on a few fronts and yes indeed, the film is his weakest effort.

While the film uses its Pittsburgh setting and Romero’s experience making commercials and photo shoots with Image Ten quite well, the funding running out during production meant a lot of the film suffers from a somewhat disjointed narrative as well as a lousy voice over that’s more annoying than informative. That said, it’s worth a watch as long as you’re giving yourself enough time in the day to catch one or both of the other features. Watching the director more or less blow this off in the aforementioned interview is amusing because the end result is indeed something that’s lacking (but having a preserved version is still important).

Season of the Witch is a far better film that was doomed upon release thanks in part to it being renamed Hungry Wives (ugh) and marketed as a sort of quirky sexploitation flick. Granted, its tale of a woman in a loveless marriage who decides to use witchcraft to get another man into her arms almost goes into cheap thrills territory. But an excellent performance by Jan White and Romero’s solid direction keeps the film a lot more interesting and impressive as it veers into the supernatural. The film was initially called Jack’s Wife and was at one point, a longer hour and a half cut. But that version is lost and there’s a composite version created from the remastered footage and elements from the vaults that extends a few scenes and makes for an interesting comparison to the theatrical cut.

(Thanks, N.B.!)

As for The Crazies (aka Code Name: Trixie), it’s still a furious, depressing sci-fi/horror film that packs a wallop as well as a personal favorite of mine. Its story of a man-made infection that decimates a small Pennsylvania town has parallels to Night of the Living Dead and can be seen as a bridge of sorts between Night and Dawn of the Dead if you look at it in a certain way. While there are a few so-so actors here, you get a some standout performances in this bleak slice of gloomy doom, including Lynn Lowry as one of the tragic casualties. It’s a downbeat trip into hell for everyone in this great hybrid flick that was remade in 2010 as an equally gloomy update with some effective moments. Romero executive produced the remake, which is worth a look if you want a second take on his original story reworked with better visual effects and a less documentary-like tone.

Each disc in the set has a few great special features, some new, some from Anchor Bay’s older DVD versions of the films. There’s enough here to keep you busy for a while, that’s for sure:

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard DVD presentations
Original Mono Audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-rays)
English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Reversible sleeves for each film featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx
Limited Edition 60-page booklet featuring new writing on the films by Kat Ellinger, Kier-La Janisse and Heather Drain

THERE S ALWAYS VANILLA
Brand new 2K restoration from original film elements
Brand new audio commentary by Travis Crawford
Affair of the Heart: The Making of There s Always Vanilla brand new documentary featuring interviews with producers John Russo and Russell Streiner, stars Judith Streiner and Richard Ricci, and sound recordist Gary Streiner
Digging Up the Dead The Lost Films of George A. Romero archive interview with Romero discussing his early films There s Always Vanilla and Season of the Witch
Location Gallery with audio commentary by Romero historian Lawrence DeVincentz
Memoribilia Gallery
Trailer

SEASON OF THE WITCH
Brand new 4K restoration of the original theatrical version from the camera negative [90 mins]
Alternate extended version [104 mins]
Brand new audio commentary by Travis Crawford
When Romero met Del Toro filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro in conversation with George Romero
The Secret Life of Jack’s Wife archive interview with actress Jan White
Alternate Opening Titles
Memoribilia Gallery
Trailer

THE CRAZIES
Brand new 4K restoration from the original camera negative
Brand new audio commentary by Travis Crawford
Romero Was Here: Locating The Crazies Romero historian Lawrence DeVincentz takes us on a guided tour of Evans City, PA and the locations used in The Crazies
Crazy for Lynn Lowry cult star Lynn Lowry discusses her early career including her role in The Crazies
Q&A with Lynn Lowry filmed at the 2016 Abertoir Film Festival
Audio interview with producer Lee Hessel
Behind-the-scenes footage with optional commentary by Lawrence DeVincentz
Alternate Opening Titles
Image Galleries
Trailers & TV Spots

So yes, just in time for Halloween, you get a set of flicks from a director many solely know from a particular series of genre films and I’m hoping this box gets bought by fans willing to look outside the box they expect him to be found in. A missing Martin is a shame, but perhaps we’ll see a restoration of that pop up from Arrow or some other publisher at some point.

Score: A- (90%)

-GW

Review copy provided by the publisher

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