PITTSBURGH MADE: Night of the Living Dead: 30th Anniversary Edition (1999)

You have a lot of choices as to how you can watch Night of the Living Dead. The Criterion collection, the original, colorized, animated, deep faked, you name it, you have so many ways to drink in the 1968 classic. Except please, whatever you do, please please please stay away from this one.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary. Anchor Bay put out this version that has the original co-writer John A. Russo writing and directing all new scenes. You think ll the changes to the Star Wars films was horrible? Well, I’ve got news for you.

I’ve avoided this for years because, well, I kind of enjoy Russo’s films on their own and know that he probably shouldn’t meedle with a movie that yeah, he feels some ownership toward, but that he should not put his signature on someone else’s painting.

There’s also a new music score, re-editing and remastering of the film and you know — yes, the remaster helps, it looks better — but as much of a cliche as “if it’s not broke is,” some cliches are written because they’re true.

Patton Oswalt said it best: “I don’t give a **** where the stuff I love comes from, I just love the stuff I love!” I don’t need to know how William Hinzman’s cemetery zombie got there. It doesn’t add anything to the classic at all. I don’t need to know that he was a child molester when he was once alive. I don’t need to see new footage of Dan (Grant Kramer), Mike (Adam Knox) and guard Charlie (Scott Kerschbaumer) loading up the body. Nor do I need to know that the outbreak first happened at Beekman’s Diner, which is the location of the sequel to this, Children of the Dead.

Debbie Rochon also shows up as a therapist interviewing Reverend John Hicks (Scott Vladimir Licina, who also did the music for this and nearly died of a “heart stroke” while filming). Before all this, he opened Hinzman’s coffin so that Arthur (George Drennen) and Hilda Krantz (Julie Wallace), the parents of one of his victims, could spit into it. Then, in the midst of the zombies running wild, he gets bitten by Hinzman right in the face. And he survives!

What takes away from it even more is the new ending — which literally breaks the dread that happens when — spoiler warning for a movie made before I was born — Ben dies and we shockingly watch him burn. Now, there’s a new close with Rochon coming back to interview the now deranged priest who says that he was healed by Holy Water and that the dead are literally demons, thereby telling us exactly why the dead have returned.

There’s also a gory car crash and the undead naked woman is gone, which is funny, because Russo is the man who brought us Scream Queens Swimsuit Sensations and Scream Queen’s Naked Christmas.

Russo isn’t all to blame for the 17 new minutes. Hinzman was produced and edited, while originals Russell Streiner, Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman were all part of this too. They cut twenty minutes from the real movie for this new stuff. Can you even imagine? Well, it happened. And none of the footage matches.

On the commentary, Russo claims that this story is what Romero wanted to do in 1968 but didn’t have the budget. Who can say?

The April 19, 1999 Entertainment Weekly reported: “Director George Romero owns the copyright on the title of his cult horror phenomenon Night of the Living Dead – but that’s about it. For a special anniversary edition due this fall, the film’s writer, John Russo, gathered members of the 1968 ghoul-fest’s crew in Pittsburgh to film 15 minutes of new footage. So they dug up some original equipment and dressed cinematographer Bill Hinzman as “the Cemetary Zombie.”

Romero, busy with his upcoming project Resident Evil, opted instead to put his name on the 20th anniversary director’s cut of the sequel, 1979’s Dawn of the Dead, due April 27. “I didn’t want to touch Night of the Living Dead” Romero says of his $114,000 feature debut, to which Russo has added prologue, epilogue, and extra zombie footage.

Of the reanimated film, Hinzman says, “We looked at it as, had we the money in 1968, how would we have made it?” But there’s no bad blood between the team, who all live in Pittsburgh: A long-standing deal gives both Romero and Russo the right to do as they please with the film. And the director is the kind of guy who never says die. Of future Night visions, Romero says, “I’ll do the one for the millennium.””

Guess what? I’ve now seen Children of the Living Dead and I’m going to put you through that one soon.

2 thoughts on “PITTSBURGH MADE: Night of the Living Dead: 30th Anniversary Edition (1999)

  1. I remember thinking “Wasn’t the opening a little scarier when we DIDN’T already know Bill Hinzman was an approaching zombie??” It was downhill from there.

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  2. If they’d done this ten years earlier as an updated 20th Anniversary Edition, the new Bill Hinzman footage would’ve worked a lot better. Still would’ve been idiotic. But, you look at Flesheater (I still prefer the VHS title Revenge of the Living Zombies) which Bill Hinzman made in 1988, there are occasional shots where he looks a LOT like skinny Hinzman ’68.

    Hey, speaking of Children of the Living Dead… If I’m not mistaken that was originally planned as a sequel to the NOTLD 30th Anniversary Edition – until the executive producer’s daughter. But the weird thing is, it actually works better as an unofficial sequel to Flesheater than as a sequel to the 30th Anniversary Edition. Also, Bill Hinzman was the D.P. and they lost a full day of footage because his camera operator loaded the film backwards. The one day when they had a lot of zombie extras.

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