In Memoriam: George A Romero 1940 - 2017
On July 16th 2017 we lost George Romero, one of the most influential film-makers of the last fifty years. Best known for his DEAD trilogy, horror fans also loved him for MARTIN (1976), CREEPSHOW (1982), and THE DARK HALF (1993) amongst others. Planned before his death, but only just now coming out, is this new box set dual format release of three Romero projects from the early 1970s, two of which have always been hard to locate in any format, and all three of which will hopefully help cement his reputation as an important film-maker in the eyes of the mainstream. So let's tale a look at what we've got here:
There's Always Vanilla (1971)
The set kicks off with the most obscure of the bunch. Romero's first film post NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1969) was this romantic comedy drama. Chris (Raymond Laine) returns from Vietnam and bums around, refusing his father's offer of a 'vanilla' job in a factory because it doesn't suit his free and easy lifestyle. He moves in with an older woman on whom he starts to become dependent.
Horror fans might find THERE'S ALWAYS VANILLA a bit hard going, but anyone with a penchant for movies from the 'happy hippy' / dropout subgenre that existed mainly in the US for a couple of years might enjoy this colourful movie, and Laine makes for an engaging lead.
Extras include a commentary track from Travis Crawford, a brand new making of featuring key personnel (some of whom worked on NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD), a location gallery, an archive interview with Romero about this and SEASON OF THE WITCH and a trailer.
Season of the Witch (1972)
Otherwise known as HUNGRY WIVES (the onscreen title) when it was repackaged for the soft porn market (!), Romero's follow-on from THERE'S ALWAYS VANILLA opens with a fantastic dream sequence in which a woman is led through a misty forest to a set of buildings. She has a leash fitted to the collar she is wearing and is then placed in a cage. Nothing else in the movie comes close to this dreamy, lurid opening sequence that's reminiscent of the works of Jess Franco. The rest of the movie is not without interest, though. It's essentially a character study of bored housewife Jan White, who finds herself dabbling in witchcraft. Her exploits lead to an extra-marital affair, tragedy and death.
Arrow have given us a 4k restoration of the original 90 minute print, and the 104 minute version is included as an extra. You also get a Travis Crawford audio commentary, an archive interview with Jan White, a location gallery, and a conversation between Romero and Guillermo del Toro.
The Crazies (1973)
What for many is going to be the highlight of this set, what's perhaps most disturbing about THE CRAZIES is how it feels like a more realistic, angry, and relevant picture than its rather glossier 2010 Breck Eisner remake. A plane carrying a bacteriological weapon crashes and releases the infection into the local water supply, either killing the nearby town's inhabitants, or driving them insane. The military is disorganised and unprepared, and because of its own blunders it looks like there's no hope for humanity (there isn't).
Arrow's 4k restoration looks great, especially if you only remember this from its BBC2 late night double bill showings. There's a location featurette, an audio interview with producer Lee Hessel, behind the scenes footage, and two interviews with Lynn Lowry, one of which was conducted at last year's Abertoir. That's me asking her about Paul Schrader, by the way. You also get a commentary by Travis Crawford, trailers & alternate opening titles.
Each of the discs come with reversible sleeves and you also get a 60 page booklet featuring new writing on all three films by Kat Ellinger, Kier-La Janisse and Heather Drain. A valuable and vital piece of restoration and preservation work from Arrow here, which will be treasured by film scholars and Romero fans alike.
GEORGE ROMERO: BETWEEN NIGHT AND DAWN is out on dual format from Arrow Films on Monday 23rd October 2017