The George A. Romero Collection (1972 - 1978)
By: Mr Intolerance on June 23, 2009  | 
DVD
Umbrella Entertainment (Australia). All Regions, PAL (Dawn of the Dead, The Crazies, NTSC (Martin). 1.85:1 (Dawn of the Dead, The Crazies), 1.78:1 (Martin). English DD 5.1 (The Crazies, Martin, Dawn of the Dead), English DD 2.0 (The Crazies, Dawn of the Dead). 320 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: George A. Romero
Starring: Lane Carroll, WG McMillan, Harold Wayne Jones, Lloyd Hollar, Lynn Lowry, Richard Liberty; John Amplas, Lincoln Maazel, Christine Forrest, Elayne Nadeau, Sarah Venable, Tom Savini, Fran Middleton, Al Levitsky; David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H Reiniger, Gaylen Ross
Screenplay: George A. Romero
Country: USA
External Links
Purchase
If you're a horror fan you know who George A. Romero is, even if you only know him from his "Dead" films. He's still one of the heavy-hitters of the genre, and a director who consistently serves up intelligent, visceral films for his audience, films that tap into societal fears of the day, and lambast social wrongs such as abuse of power by authority, lack of connection or understanding between people or blind consumerism and the mob mentality, all of which are dealt with here in The Crazies, Martin and Dawn of the Dead respectively, three fine films from that Golden Age of US horror, the 1970s.

Now all three of these films have been reviewed for this website before, so in terms of a detailed plot synopsis, you're probably better off having a look at those stand-alone reviews, as in that regard here, I'll be brief, otherwise I could cheerfully go banging on about Romero's films all day long, and while I might enjoy it – you might not. Unleash the capsule reviews!

The Crazies

Evans City, Pennsylvania, has a problem – a big problem. An experimental military germ warfare weapon (Codename: "Trixie") has been accidentally released into their water supply. The net upshot of this is that after exposure to the toxin, the victim starts to lose their reason with an escalating, frightening rapidity, becoming creatures of instinct – that is not a good thing; they become homicidal. The military try to contain the outbreak by quarantining the small town, the hazmat-suited and gas-masked soldiers ruthlessly suppressing any attempt to break the cordon, while simultaneously looting the town. The local populace aren't too keen on these heavy-handed bully-boy tactics and guerilla warfare ensues.

One small band of survivors tries to escape the slowly closing net with a show of force of their own, but it soon becomes apparent that some of them may well have fallen prey to Trixie's clutches. It's a very literal race against time for all concerned – our survivors need to get away from Evans City while survival still means something to them, the scientists need to contain the outbreak and find a cure before the military and the government decide on a very frightening alternative indeed to stem the flood of infectees.

Made in 1972 while the Vietnam War was limping to a close and the US population were becoming increasingly disaffected with not only their military involvement in South East Asia, but also more openly cynical about their own government and its priorities due to the Watergate scandal, the contemporary political allegories run pretty high in The Crazies. This is certainly one of Romero's most openly subversive attacks on authority and abuse of power. Now you might think that the idea of US soldiers opening fire on unarmed US civilians is going a little too far into the realms of incredulity – have a look what happened at Kent State University when the National Guard turned up to quell a student protest not even 6 years prior to the release of this film. A priest self-immolating in protest to US military intervention? Thic Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk did exactly that, and the image was beamed into TV sets all across America. The US developing a lethal airborne weapon capable of horrifying effects upon an innocent civilian population? Agent Orange ring any bells? The excesses of the film are actually the most believable aspects of it, and a US audience of the day would have connected strongly with the anti-militaristic vibe Romero was trying to convey (although the film did kind of stiff on its release). An excellent and under-rated film, if one one with a few flaws in pacing.

Martin

A sad, haunting and elegaic film in many ways, Martin is the story of a lonely and disturbed young man who lives life as a vampire. No, not like Dracula – Martin is practically the anit-Dracula in that regard; he's a vampire who has to drug his female victims and then bleed them with a razor blade, to make their deaths seem like suicides. Martin has had a traumatic past to say the least, to the point where he actually believes that he is indeed the undead (when the film moves into beautifully shot black and white sequences detailing a period piece look and feel of a more traditional vampire film, we see the world Martin believes to be his past), but as a young man being packed off to the big smoke to live with his religious nutcase uncle Cuda, his psychological state is about to get a hell of a lot worse. Y'see, Cuda also thinks that Martin is a vampire, addressing him as "Nosferatu", and telling the young fella categorically that he will save his soul before he destroys him.

Like the traditional vampire of old, Martin is an outsider – he doesn't belong anywhere and least of all with his family. As he peforms his menial tasks as a delivery boy for Cuda's grocery store, he moves through a suburban squalor that he is equally not at home in – viewing all manner of behaviour that he can't understand or simply disapproves of. His blood-lust increases in this environment as he lashes out at a society that has no place for him, and that doesn't care.

Martin is a vampire tale for the modern age. The romanticised elements of the traditional vampire film (the period piece setting and costumes, the square-jawed hero, the dark and enigmatic villain with a strange power over the female of the species) are absent. The film takes place in grimy urban squalor, the traditional hero (in this case Cuda, the fella trying to stop the crimes of his vampiric nephew) is an unlikable repressive bully, the villain (Martin, our focus for sympathy in the film) weak, slight and practically ineffectual. In the old Universal and Hammer films the strongest force for good is the Church – it's always a rock solid bastion of light against the dark; here it's little more than a business, more concerned with fleecing the public than it is for the welfare of their eternal souls.

A quiet, introspective film with some startling and bloody effects by Tom Savini and some explosive murder sequences, Martin is one of Romero's least watched films, despite the fact that it's the director's personal favourite from his own body of work. John Amplas' turn as the eponymous Martin is an excellent performance, equal parts sympathetic and chilling. The trademark Romero social commentary is also present, with the Church being one particular target (an antiquated and complacent throwback that cannot meet the spiritual needs of its parishioners in a modern context), the petty nature of our society at large and what we deem important is another, but the main target is notion of family and the lack of understanding between generations. Much as in Bram Stoker's Dracula, the concept of the old versus the new is raised, but unlike that text, here both are found to be wanting – the more we immerse ourselves in today's modernity, the more we are distanced from ourselves, but harking back to the past to close that gap means that we simply can't live effectively in the present.

Dawn of the Dead

What can I possibly say about this film that has not been said before? Very little, so despite the fact that I could quite honestly say that it's my all-time favourite film and that I could go on for ever about it, I'll be brief.

In 1968 George A. Romero unleashed the gut-munching zombie armageddon classic Night of the Living Dead upon a largely unsuspecting audience, most of whom were not ready for the explicit scenes of violence and viscera-chomping. Sure, drive-in audiences had been entertained since 1963 by the campy full colour gore-tastic films of the likes of Herschell Gordon Lewis' Blood Feast, but Romero's bleak-to-the-point-of-nihilistic black and white zombie apocalypse packed a wallop like no other film of its day, combining tense personal, racial, gender and generational conflicts, left-wing versus right wing political struggles, and attacks on the media and authority with flesh-tearing carnage, all-played dead straight with nary a laugh in sight.

One of the strengths of Romero's zombie films is the apparent innocuous nature of the zombies. At a distance, they are slow moving, seemingly confused, and easily beatable with a rifle shot to the head. At close quarters they are a much greater threat, even singular, but if it's just you and say there are three of them getting up close and personal, then you're probably fucked. More than that and then I guess undeath and a taste for human flesh are certain to be in your immediate future. This is where a lot of the tension comes from, and a lot of characters depart this mortal coil having underestimated their zombified foes, usually through macho over-confidence or simply through being overly-hasty.

Ten years later after the varied success of a range of quite diverse films in and out of the horror genre, Romero, persuaded in some part by Italian auteur Dario Argento, returned to his zombie-plagued world of middle America for instalment number two in a series that has spanned five decades and spawned five films – Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead (with another in the works as I type this), re-makes of Night..., Dawn..., and Day... (including one remake of Night... in 3-D), spin-offs like Day of the Dead 2: Contagium and Children of the Living Dead (two of the worst horror films of all time, unfortunately), the sporadically entertaining Return of the Living Dead franchise, comics such as Escape of the Living Dead, parodies such as Night of the Living Bread, Night of the Living Jews or Night of the Day of the Dawn of the Son of the Bride of the Return of the Revenge of the Terror of the Attack of the Evil Mutant Hellbound Flesh-Eating Subhumanoid Living Dead, Part 2, loving homages such as Shaun of the Dead, computer games such as the Resident Evil and House of the Dead franchises, Left For Dead and of course most obviously Dead Rising, which given its zombie siege in a shopping mall focus, brings us neatly back to the film at hand: Dawn of the Dead.

The plot of the film is reasonably simple: we start almost directly after the carnage of Night..., with the zombie menace having spread out of control and all attempts to stop it failing dismally. The zombies have reached the big cities, basically rendering large built-up areas into death-traps full of the hungry dead, and once they bite you, you end up as one of them. Two SWAT team members, Peter and Roger, and two co-workers from a local TV network, Fran and Stephen ("Flyboy") take charge of a helicopter from the network and get the hell out of town. After having realised that the infestation is even more wide-spread than they thought, they happen upon a large enclosed shopping mall.

After a brief sortie inside, having landed on the roof, the group realise that if they can secure the place from the outside and mop up the shambling undead inside, then they can comfortably hole up here for as long as they need. However, it's also full of things that other people need too, and is still surrounded by legions of zombies who also want back in – Stephen points out at one point of the film that zombies feel some kind of primitive need to access the mall because, "This was an important place in their lives". Exactly how the zombies came to be what they are is ultimately never addressed. Sure there are some tantalising little ideas in both Dawn... and Night... to make some sense of things – hallucinogen experiments, a satelltite crashing to earth with some kind of radiation, religious apocalypse – but we're always left to draw our own conclusions. Of the two great methods to explain the inexplicable, religion can't seem to help, simply falling back on superstition and appeals to reason that simply won't work in the context the characters find themselves in, and science is logical in its attempts to address the situation to the point of callousness and inhumanity. I guess that the idea is that we have to solve the problem ourselves, authority cannot be relied on, and as is more explicitly stated by John in Day of the Dead, we need to scrap the old system, which was obviously not working, and build a new one that does, because if we just recycle the same ideas that came before, the whole damn thing is just going to happen again.

What you do get however, besides some at time goofy black humour, is some absolutely eye-popping late 70s gore courtesy of Tom Savini, and despite the slightly dated feel of the make-up and blood, the fact that this is all appliance and prosthetic make-up makes it a hell of a lot more real than CGI effects ever could, and that makes it still a bit of a seat-squirmer at times. On screen special effects rule, and Savini really out-did himself with this film – the exploding head shot at the beginning of the film is still pretty darned impressive by anyone's standards, let me tell you (and was no doubt one of the scenes that led to this film being banned in Queensland for many years after its release). You also get a lot of social commentary, as by now I think you're beginning to suspect is something I like in a Romero film. The satire on 70s US consumerism via the zombies is obvious and heavy-handed, sure, but it's also accurate, and played out with more subtlety via the leads – living in the temple of consumerism that the Monroeville Mall so obviously is, is ultimately a soul-destroying lifestyle. If you can have whatever you want, and do whatever you want for as long as you want – life will quickly lose it's sheen, and if you only had three other people to interact with for the rest of your life, well, things might just start to become a little tense and in any event, being trapped in the one enclosed space forever is doubtlessly going to cause cabin fever. The characters' dissatisfaction with their lot is palpable.

All in all, Dawn of the Dead is one of the greatest horror films of all time. That's not just my opinion, by the way – have a trawl around the internet and see what other critics have to say. Not owning this film in your collection will make you look like you have no idea about the genre; it is a bona fide classic, and a genre-defining film, too. Often copied, but never topped.

Umbrella have released a number of these Collection packs – there are one each out there for Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper, and two for Dario Argento – but I think that this is the best of the five and the one that most adequately represents the director's body of work, although I guess that they've been limited to which films they have the rights to distribute. I think they're a good idea, but they would lead you possibly to believe that Wes Craven's reputation should be judged on the truly appalling The Hills Have Eyes 2, or Argento's on the equally dreadful Phantom of the Opera. Both extrapolations would do a great disservice to the director at hand. But here you get three films that really showcase the talent of the fella behind them There's not a dud to be found.

So where are the Carpenter and Cronenberg Collections?
Video
All three films offer a fine 16:9 enhanced image, although Martin is presented in a forced 1.77:1 aspect ratio, rather than the 4:3 which Romero states in the commentary is the desired one – he further goes on to say that widescreen hurts the image. That said, all three look the business generally, but I think Dawn of the Dead ends up looking the best of the three; the PAL image is sharp and crisp. The Crazies is a little soft in terms of the image, but that's probably just nit-picking. All are anamorphically enhanced.
Audio
Again, these are all sounding good, too. Dawn of the Dead makes the best use of the 5.1 surround sound out of the three; it seems oddly redundant to have that sound on a film as quiet and introspective as Martin, however. The Crazies, as a more action based film, uses that sound well. The scores for the films may seem a little dated, but I still like 'em a lot – to me they all emphasise aspects of the narrative that are of prime concern to the film – for example: the action scenes from Dawn of the Dead benefit from Goblin's taut, pounding prog-rock score, the predominantly sad strains of the score for Martin really push the tragic elements of the tale without making it maudlin.
Extra Features
All over, this is a pretty impressive package of extras for a box set which simply clumps together three previously released discs – if you already own these versions of the films, there's nothing new on offer for you here; regardless, it's a lot better than Umbrella' s Tobe Hoope Collection, which essentially gave you the films and a bunch of trailers, and that's it. The Crazies: An interesting and enlightening commentary track by George A. Romero, moderated by horror director and Blue Underground head-honcho Bill Lustig, who keeps things moving at a good pace and keeps it focussed, is the main drawcard here and one that any Romero fan should listen to. The rest of the package is pretty pat: original theatrical trailers, TV spots, a stills and poster gallery, a text bio for Romero and a bunch of horror trailers for Spontaneous Combustion, Candyman, Driller Killer and Masters of Terror Volume 1: Mario Bava. Not exactly an essential package, but there you go. Martin: again there's a commentary track with Romero, where he's joined by special effects maestro Tom Savini, the DP Michael Gornick, producer Richard P Rubinstein and writer of the original score, Donald Rubinstein – again, an interesting and worthwhile listen. There's what is probably the shortest "making of" featurette; 'Making Martin' clocks in at around 10 minutes, as well as the usual grab bag of the original trailer, the TV ads and a photo gallery. I can't help thinking that maybe some interview footage with John Amplas might have been nice, seeing as how he drives this movie and all. There's also the inevitable collection of Umbrella horror titles: Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, The Crazies and Thirst. Dawn of the Dead: The best package of the three films, if only for the fact that it has a quite substantial 75 minute documentary, 'The Dead Will Walk' – essential viewing for fans of the film, before you go out and grab Roy Frumkes' Document of the Dead – there's a feature length audio commentary track with George A. Romero, Tom Savini and Assistant Director Chris Romero, and another separate one with producer Richard P Rubinstein, various text bios for Gaylen Ross, David Emge, Ken Foree, Scot H Reiniger and George A. Romero, the original radio spots, text reproductions of the original reviews, a photo gallery and the original German (which shows you practically nothing from the film) and US theatrical trailers (after I watched the US theatrical, it got me so in the mood for this film that I had to watch it again).
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
If you have an interest in the horror genre and are looking for a good place to start, then this box set is for you. Three strong films (in the case of Dawn of the Dead, an unbeatable one) from one of the genre's most respected and intelligent directors. Romero invests all of his films with intensity, social commentary and a razor sharp, acerbic wit that raises what might be seen as simple genre fare (The Crazies, for example), to another level. Furthermore, even though he may appear to have little sympathy for his leads, the intensely personal aspect of his films and the level of heart that he approaches characterisation with (Martin is a prime example) belie that – we feel their victories and their failures acutely, their triumphs and their tragedies. Romero deserves his reputation as one of horror's most important directors – this box set of three of his most important films will show you why.

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