Tuesday, December 25, 2012

DVD Review: THE DEFINITIVE DOCUMENT OF THE DEAD (1985)

THE DEFINITIVE DOCUMENT OF THE DEAD (1985) 
Region: 0 NTSC
Duration: 102 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33 Full Frame [Variable Aspect Ratio]
Audio: English Dolby Digital Mono 2.0
Cast: George A. Romero, Tom Savini, Roy Frumkes, Richard Rubinstein
Director: Roy Frumkes

Synopsis: George A. Romero, director of the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, is one of the horror genre’s most celebrated filmmakers. Roy Frumkes’ amazing 1978 documentary DOCUMENT OF THE DEAD was an intimate look at Romero’s creative process, with an outstanding collection of interviews, effects demonstrations (courtesy of make-up artist, Tom Savini) and behind-the-scenes footage from the classic horror film, DAWN OF THE DEAD.

Thirty years in the making Roy Frumke's DOCUMENT OF THE DEAD (1983) get s a new "Definitive Edition" from Synapse Films. Frumke's documentary was probably the first horror documentary I took in as a teen and it further cemented my love of George A. Romero's body of work, plus it really pulled back the curtain back and revealed to be the trials and tribulations of making a film, particularly as a Hollywood outsider as Romero was and still is to this day. It's a loving look at the filming of Romero's sequel to THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) while filming at the Monroeville Mall. Throughout Romero is in good spirits on set of DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) as the film crew capture tons of awesome behind-the-scenes stuff, even capturing Romero in the editing bay whom offers aspiring film makers an insider's look at the pre and post-production of  film.

It's a sprawling documentary that starts of contextualizing the importance of Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and then throws us into the pre-production of DAWN with interviews galore with Romero, producer Richard Rubenstein,  cinematographer Michael Gornick, lighting director Carl Augustine, special effects master Tom Savini, and the principle cast of the film plus many others. Romero's quite candid about his style, influences as a filmmaker and the sacrifices he had to make to maintain the integrity of his films.

Some of the additional footage includes Frumke catching up with Romero on the set of the Edgar Allen Poe anthology film TWO EVIL EYES (1990), the film that reunited Romero with his DAWN producer Dario Argento. We get some very cool behind-the-scenes footage as Romero onset slinging a yo yo to relieve not just the tension of a hard to capture effects shot but to curb his nicotine cravings having gone 5 weeks without a cigarette. I particularly enjoyed later interviews with wife Chris Romero and daughter Tina who reflects upon growing up on the set of Romero's films and acting in LAND OF THE DEAD (2005). We also get an odd meeting of actress Judith O'Dea of NIGHT with an amorous Joseph Pilato from DAY. In some of these bits Romero discusses Tom Savini's '90 NIGHT remake and filmmakers Edgar Wright's zombie love-letter SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004). The interviews end with a slightly grumpy George shooting DIARY OF THE DEAD (2007) which I didn't much care for but Frumke's admiration for the film maker is still there onscreen and it's contagious.


While the original version of the film is more specific and lean with a focus on DAWN I do love the additional follow-up interviews with Romero on the later films and interviews with cast and crew, while it loses it's focus it's still a loving document and tribute to the films of George A. Romero that's entertaining and insightful.


DVD: The original film elements were shot on 16mm and the remainder were shot over the next 30 years and the quality of the presentation jumps around a bit as technologies changed and as such it has the low-budget documentary aesthetic, it's a warts and all production with lots of grain. The audio is pretty decent, if equally disjointed from time to time.


The one special is a brand new audio commentary with writer/director Roy Frumke's who offers candid and revealing insights about the making of the film, he's quite frank about the ramshackle nature of the new footage and it makes for an interesting listen. If you loved the documentary the commentary will only add to your enjoyment. The other version of the documentary I have is on the Anchor Bay 4-Disc Ultimate Edition which is actually just the previous Synapse edition of the film minus the original commentary, six minutes of extra footage and the TWO EVIL EYES footage which are all sewn into this new expanded edition, if you're wondering I say it's worth the upgrade. Synapse is also offering a website only exclusive DVD/BD combo edition containing the new DVD version along with a high-definition Blu-ray of the original 1979 16mm version in 1080p.
 
Special Features:
- All-New Audio Commentary from Writer/Producer/Director, Roy Frumkes

Verdict: A  real find for fans of George A. Romero, a true love letter to his films and the independent spirit of horror film making. Frumke's love of  Romero is as infectious as a zombie plague and carries the film even when it gets a bit clunky, originally shot as a how-to make a documentary film for Frumke's film students this one has spawned quite a life of it's own - a must have for Romero fans and film nerds. 3.5 Outta 5 

   

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