Night Of The Living Dead: Reanimated
A DVD Review

United States of America By: Jase Luttrell on 29 October 2010
Category: Screen > DVD > Reviews
Tags: #horror, #zombies Comments View Comments

The zombie apocalypse is just as scary when it is presented in a mixed-media format, as is the case for Mike Schneider's tasty, undead brainchild, a reconceptualisation of George A Romero's landmark film from 1968.

Night Of The Living Dead: ReanimatedThough Night Of The Living Dead has been remade several times, curator Mike Schneider has reinvented this seminal film by inviting artists of all styles, media, and processes to re-envision it as a collective of art. All the artists who contributed to Night Of The Living Dead: Reanimated volunteered to create artwork based on their favourite scenes from the original film. The result is a chaotic spectacle, and exactly what you would expect if you were confronted by a horde of zombie ghouls.

Night Of The Living Dead: Reanimated follows the storyline of the original George A Romero film exactly as it was presented in 1968. The audio from the original film was used to play over the new artwork and images, which tells the story of Barbra (played/voiced by Judith O'Dea) as she encounters the zombie masses in rural America. After her brother Johnny (played/voiced by Russell Streiner) is attacked by a zombie in the cemetery, Barbra makes her way to a seemingly deserted farm house. In her traumatised, catatonic state, she meets the hero of the film, Ben (played/voiced by Duane Jones). With the addition of several (living) characters, the cast attempts to survive the night and each others' paranoias as the world succumbs to a zombie invasion.

The art ranges from intricate sketches to rotoscoping, paintings, sock puppetry, machinima, animated Barbie dolls, and even LEGO art. The result is a mélange of works that are inventive, exceptional, humorous, and, at times, troubling. Many of the artists' renderings are spectacular still images of paintings, sketches, or photos, and, as a viewer, you often must rely on the audio to tell the story, or, failing that, your memory of the original film. However, the visuals are not necessarily meant to retell the story precisely, especially during the action scenes in which the audio is usually muffled or chaotic; you really have to rely on your memory of the original film to know what is happening as some of the animation styles are quite divergent visually and stylistically from the original movie's footage. If you have not seen Romero's original, I can imagine it would be very difficult to understand the plot in key scenes and you may be disoriented.

Night Of The Living Dead: ReanimatedAs a whole, it is difficult to watch Night Of The Living Dead: Reanimated as a standalone film. You really must approach it as if you were walking into a museum and viewing artworks as separate entities but unified by a common theme or storyline. When I first viewed the film, I mistakenly watched it as though I would any film, and I found myself easily distracted. This was likely because initially it is difficult to adjust to the different artists' interpretations of the characters. In the first few scenes, this isn't too taxing because the story focuses on Barbra and Johnny but it is still jarring when you see the one character drawn (or represented) in a number of different ways in a short matter of time, though you quickly grow accustomed to the changes in style. My caution to potential viewers is to approach the film as an artwork reinterpretation, to contemplate how the styles work or don't work together, how scenes have been interpreted differently by different artists, and how this, and the particular style of the art, can influence how one perceives the story.

During several scenes of action and intensity in the first half of the film the images are still drawings rather than moving images, which really detracts from the moment if you don't understand what's happening, especially because you hear so many different sounds of things happening (fists, guns, and so forth), but you only see one thing in the still frame. However, this does change later in the film as the animations change rapidly to keep up with the pace of the action. The result is chaotic and tense, which is perfect for the depiction of these heightened scenes. In some cases, the artwork, in its visceral, scratched state is arguably more effective than the images from the original film. The best example of this is Calum MacAskill's minimalist abstract illustrations, because they are so deviant that I initially didn't know what was going on until I realised his geometric shapes represented the zombies, and the ethereal, unreal, quality they possess really creeped me out more than any other representation. This is because he obfuscated what is actually depicted, which causes your mind to take over and build even more terrifying pictures of what might be going on than what is in the actual original footage.

Night Of The Living Dead: ReanimatedThe primary difficulty I had with watching Night Of The Living Dead: Reanimated is that the magnitude of the groundbreaking and historical scene - in which Ben, who is black, punches Barbra, who is white, in the face - is lost in the artist rendering because the drawings are unclear, and there is the palpable distance between the animation and the act, as opposed to the reality of the human performance and the act of violence.

In contrast, the use of the computer animation during the final scene with Ben enhances the significance of the scene because we actually get to see the violence of the act committed, as opposed to when Ben punches Barbra. In the original film, this final sequence was portrayed in still photos, so to see the action in the form of an animated final scene of Night Of The Living Dead: Reanimated makes the ending all the more harrowing.

Over 500 animators contributed a great amount of work to this project and, according to Mike Schneider in the commentary, only about 125 made the final cut, so the end result comes down to the curatorship and editing of Mike Schneider. Organising this project must have taken a great deal of effort on Mike's part with so many selections from which to choose. There are also several scenes that appear to be the original footage with an effects filter. It was not clear if this was someone's artwork, or if this was a way for Mike Schneider to fill in the gaps of the scenes that remained after receiving the artist submissions. This presents some confusion for the viewer, as the filtered images are incongruous with the submitted artwork.

Night Of The Living Dead: Reanimated

Some of the art is so life like and exquisite that you find yourself wishing you had more of it. For me this is especially true of the art of artists Jeff Mitchell and Jeremy Dyer. In contrast, there are some works I don't really care for, as I perceived them as being rudimentary, or they paled in comparison to the intricate attention to detail of the aforementioned artists. Other artists utilised styles that are inventive and clever, such as Jose Negron, who provided illustrations in a comic-book style, and Zina Lahr Gabriel Dutton, who provided the above-mentioned LEGO art. It would be nearly impossible to highlight all of the artists who contributed to the project, though this vast number demonstrates how much of a collective experience and cultural icon Night Of The Living Dead has become over four decades.

An example of a well-crafted and very memorable scene is when the characters watch the news broadcast documenting the worldwide terror of the zombie apocalypse. This scene is especially well done because the camera moves behind the characters and we see their silhouettes up against the broadcast on the television as the plot thickens. This moment is expertly illustrated by Sean Fitzgerald, and Simon Aukeela. Even when the animation style changes to R.D. Nicklow's sock puppets, the seriousness of the plot is not lost in the moment, though you will certainly chuckle with the comedic turn.

Night Of The Living Dead: ReanimatedWith over two hours of bonus material, Night Of The Living Dead: Reanimated is full of information and interesting history of the project, as well as of Night Of The Living Dead. Especially intriguing are the behind-the-scenes segments in which you have a chance to see how Ryan Sigg created his stop-animation sequences and Mike Boas created the rotoscoping techniques, which included the use of QuickTime Pro and Flash. I found this particularly interesting because I have been fascinated with rotoscoping since watching Richard Linklater's Waking Life, though the artist feature was far too short.

There is also a feature that covers the box art for the Night Of The Living Dead films. Although it was fascinating to watch as an exposé of fandom, it was difficult to watch because the camera does not focus on much of the box art so you can see it in detail. I found myself yelling at the TV screen, begging the cameraman to zoom in or move slightly to the right so I could see the detail and variation of the box art over the years.

In addition to these extras, there are three extended scenes, including one of the Barbie zombies, which is fascinating and especially disturbing. There are three different trailers for the film, as well as trailers for other Wild Eye releases. The artist gallery extra is an exciting experience for any viewer, and I would highly recommend you watch this both before and after you view the film, as then you will have an idea of the art you really enjoy and want to look forward to, and the art that worked (or didn't work) for a particular scene in the film. In addition to the artist gallery is a gallery of the Night Of The Living Dead: Reanimated colouring book contest winners, most of which were created by adults with incredible colouring talent, though you are left wondering what the prize was.

Night Of The Living Dead: ReanimatedThe most considerable extra is The Zombie Encounter, a live zombie panel from 10 October 2009 that was held in Ramsey, New Jersey, USA. This was a panel discussion, at the film's theatrical debut, which focused on all things zombie. The panel featured authors Jonathan Maberry, Dr Kim Paffenroth, John Joseph Adams, and David Barr Kirtley, with producers Rob Hauschild and Peter Gutierrez (also a journalist). The members of the group discuss some of their favourite films and graphic novels having to do with zombie culture. They also discuss the most effective weapons with which to fight off a zombie attack and how to survive a zombie apocalypse, which results in a lot of laughter from the audience.

This first commentary track with Mike Schneider, Jonathan Maberry, and Peter Gutierrez offers a wealth of information, which would be overwhelming to discuss completely in this review, and is best experienced. Some of the topics include why Mike Schneider chose to reconceptualise Night Of The Living Dead as opposed to another film, the lasting mythology and popularity of zombies that George A Romero established, discussions on zombies versus the now ubiquitous vampire, and the possibility of George A Romero being influenced by comic books because of how well his film translates to comic media. One of the best points made in this commentary is that the zombies in this film (and the original) are not mindless beings. What truly makes them terrifying and enhances the idea of the tragedy of a zombie apocalypse is that the zombies in Night Of The Living Dead appear to have thoughts and human responses. There is evidence from this when the zombies back away from the exploding truck to avoid the fire and, more importantly, when Johnny becomes a zombie he comes back for Barbra, which shows there is possibly some shred of humanity left in him.

The "Making Of" commentary with Mike Schneider, Keith Crocker, and Corpse S Chris of Horror Host Graveyard also offers a large amount of information. A crucial piece of this commentary occurs when Keith Crocker asks Mike Schneider how he chose the artwork for each scene, and Mike stresses that he let the artists have free reign to create the scenes they felt the most connected to, and the artists' responses dictated the direction of the film. Corpse S Chris discusses how people will have strong reactions to the project, and that he has heard people comment that they wished the film was all in one style, and both Mike and Chris agree that having one style would lose the point of the film as a curated art show. One of the things I found most important in this commentary came from Mike Schneider, when he mentioned that a drawback of Night Of The Living Dead: Reanimated is that, while viewing the film, one has no access to information regarding the process of the artists' work, their inspirations, and the work methods they utilise to create the art (though the extras included with the DVD help to make up for this deficiency). Mike also discussed how a lot of the artwork simply "fell in place"; he would open his inbox and see three or four contributions from different artists who had no contact with each other, but they had created works that fell into place sequentially. He also explained that he received very little overlap in the submissions, because he contacted a wide range of artists who specialised in an even wider range of media.

Night Of The Living Dead: Reanimated

Finally, the Artist Call-In commentaries offer an opportunity for the artists to discuss their artwork, creative process, and their involvement in the film. This is one of the best commentaries because of the organisation. You are allowed to choose from 28 artists to hear their comments on the film. This commentary gives you a chance see a still image of their artwork while listening to the artists give their commentary, rather than watching the film over again with the commentary audio played on top of the original audio. Several of the artists (April Guadiana, Carla Rodrigues, and Chris Garcia, as examples) indicated this was their first time with their chosen media, so Night Of The Living Dead: Reanimated pushed their boundaries as artists. A failing of this commentary is that the artists only speak over one still image of their contributions, and I feel this commentary could have been an opportunity to show more of the artwork each artist contributed as they explained their involvement in the film.

Unfortunately, we were unable to view the Comics And Editorial DVD-ROM content on either of the review copies, so I am unable to provide any information. It appears that this content includes the DVD liner notes, zombie and horror comics by some of the artists, and a feature article written by Peter Gutierrez. Considering that there are so many other extras on this DVD you don't feel as though you've been cheated but it is strange to see these items listed (they're mentioned on the back cover and there's a menu screen on the DVD telling you to insert the DVD into a computer – at which point nothing happens) but have no access to them. It is possible that the review copies we received did not have this content included but we've been unable to ascertain, thus far, if this is the case.

Night Of The Living Dead: Reanimated is a fascinating attempt at recreating, and paying homage to, a classic horror film that changed the world. While some of the components of this project are successful and others are not, you can watch this film over and over to discuss the artists' interpretations in depth, the same way that you may stand in front of a painting in a museum for more than 10 minutes contemplating the interpretation, process, and creativity behind the artwork. The result is a film that occasionally confuses the viewer due to continuity shifts, but excels in the wide variety of artworks, animations, and styles that are presented.

The review copies of Night Of The Living Dead: Reanimated were provided by MVD Entertainment Group. Opinion Share
Rating - Film: 7/10
Rating - Extras: 8/10
In One Word: Imaginative

Key Facts: Night Of The Living Dead: Reanimated
Year: 2009 (film), 2010 (DVD)
Running Time: 101 minutes (approx)
Genre: Action, Animation, Drama, Horror
Film Format: Feature; Full screen 1.33:1; Black and white
DVD Format: Region 0; NTSC
Language: English
Country: USA
Reanimation Process: Winsor McCay
Original Concept: Mike Schneider
Organiser/Curator: Mike Schneider
Prospectus: Mike Schneider
Posting: Sean Williams
Digital Camera: Mike Schneider
Editing: Mike Schneider
Web Site: Mike Schneider
French Text: Matthieu Lefebvre
Portuguese Text: Carla Rodrigues
German Text: Manuela Bachler
Romanian Text: Nicolae Colcer
Spanish Text: April Guadiana
Finnish Text: Katri Dahlstrm
Russian Text: Evrica Team
Greek Text: Con Chrisoulis
Print Consultant: Peter Gutierrez
DVD Producer: Rob Hauschild, Peter Gutierrez
DVD Intro: Simon Aukeela
DVD Music: Jean Paul Roy III
Additional Scores: Jean Paul Roy III, Kevin MacLeod
• Commentary with Mike Schneider, Jonathan Maberry, Peter Gutierrez, and Rob Hauschild
• "Making Of" commentary with Mike Schneider, filmmaker Keith Crocker and Corpse S Chris of Horror Host Graveyard
• Artist call-in commentaries
• Mat mix extended scene (Barbie zombies)
• Voodoo Velvet extended scene (Cooper Scooper)
• Andres Silva extended scene in full colour (cats and mice)
• Making of NOTLD:R Behind The Scenes Videos with Ryan Sigg
• Making of NOTLD:R Behind The Scenes Videos with Calum MacAskill
• Making of NOTLD:R Behind The Scenes Videos with Mike Boas
• The Zombie Encounter (live zombie panel)
• Fearwerx NOTLD figure promo
• Night Of The Living Dead Box Art (collecting NOTLD cover art)
• "Night Of The Gaming Dead" – Voodoo Velvet
• "Silo" – Anthony Amos
• "Dawn Of The Ape" – Andres Silva
• NOTLD:R Colouring book contest winner
• NOTLD:R Official DVD trailer
• NOTLD:R trailer #2
• NOTLD:R trailer #3
• Count Gore De Vol's Every Other Day Is Halloween trailer
• Horror Host Graveyard promo video
• Wild Eye trailers
• Artist Gallery
• Zombie and horror comics by NOTLD:R artists
• Feature article: "1968: The Year That Changed Horror" by Peter Gutierrez
• NOTLD:R DVD liner notes

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