follow On sale 23rd October from Arrow Video.
George Romero’s name may be synonymous with the living dead subgenre, but his filmography is far richer and more varied than his reputation as the zombie guy would suggest. Following the breakout success of his debut feature Night of the Living Dead, the director would embark upon a series of projects which, whilst firmly rooted in the horror genre for the most part, demonstrate a master filmmaker with more than mere gut-munching on his mind.
In There s Always Vanilla, Romero s sophomore 1971 directorial effort, young drifter Chris and beautiful model Lynn embark upon a tumultuous relationship which seems doomed from the outset. 1972 s Season of the Witch (originally filmed as Jack s Wife but released to theaters under the title of Hungry Wives) follows the exploits of Joan Mitchell a housewife whose dissatisfaction with her humdrum life leads to an unhealthy interest in the occult. Lastly, 1973 s The Crazies, which sees Romero returning to more straight horror territory, has a small rural town finding itself in the grip of an infection which send its hosts into a violent, homicidal frenzy.
Taken together, these three early works, made in the period between Romero s celebrated living dead outings Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, serve to display the broader thematic concerns and auteurist leanings of a skilled craftsman too often pigeonholed within the genre.
In July this year the world of cinema lost a true visionary and trailblazer when George Romero passed away at the age of 77. It was shortly around this time that Arrow Video had announced the release of a dual format boxset called Between Night and Dawn.
It collects the three films that Romero directed after Night of the Living Dead but before Dawn of the Dead (hence, the sets title). One of them is widely known amongst genre fans while the other two are more likely for Romero diehards. One of them was long believed to be ‘lost’.
The Crazies (1973) is the as-pointed-out better known flick and was even remade into a decent 2010 version. The story has several layers and, much like Night, is trying to use horror as a metaphor for something else. A community in crisis due to an epidemic the director shows the viewer both sides of the story although it is clear who we should side with. The outbreak touches areas of American life that weren’t new to cinema but the outcome was. Family boundaries, a callous and uncaring government and army plus nuclear weapons are all topics that get that ‘Romero treatment’. This was his fourth feature film and its power shows that George had gotten comfortable with the genre he had tried not to be pigeonholed into.
There’s Always Vanilla (1971) is Romero trying his hand at non-horror, with this being a romantic comedy. Viewers going into this should know that George has described this as his worst work, so that is a pretty good signifier of the quality of the title. It’s a muddle for sure and its evident that rom com is that the father of the zombie flick’s forte. The production had a lot of issues that would have long lasting impacts on George as well as John Russo. The only positive is the performance of Raymond Laine as Chris. It has a hippie/’free love’ vibe to it and is unlike anything Romero would go on to do. Bill Hinzman, aka ‘the original zombie’ in Night of the Living Dead (1968), has a cameo as a drunk.
Season of the Witch (1973) has been released under other titles well as as being released as part of different genres of cinema. Released under the name Hungry Wives Romero must have not been happy with this. He did most of the work on the film, not just directing duties. He felt like he did a salvage job on this. Season of the Witch is disappointing, the run time feels as if it is way longer than it actually is (which is actually too long) and it doesn’t quite hit the vibe George was going for.
For several years after its release Hungry Wives would be released as different cuts either under the Hungry Wives name or Jack’s Wife. It wouldn’t be until the early eighties it was re-released as Season of the Witch.
Each movie comes with a commentary by Travis Crawford and his talk tracks are full of information on the titles in question as well as Romero. They are enlightening and will fill in the gaps in peoples knowledge about this period of the director. He also discusses the issues
Out of the trio The Crazies has the better HD thanks in part to its 4k restoration. The picture quality is excellent, the best The Crazies has ever looked. There’s Always Vanilla (2k) and Season of the Witch (4k) aren’t as impressive though.
Pick of the extras.
Making of There’s Always Vanilla (30 mins) – Newly made and featuring interviews with cast and crew. Raymond Laine (who passed away in 2000) is praised, conflict during filming, The Latent Image, issues with the movies vibe and more.
When Guillermo Del Toro met Romero (55 mins) – Recorded in February 2016, the two directing legends have a thoroughly entertaining about their careers. It’s apparent from the first minute these two highly respect each other. Del Toro believes that Night of the Living Dead invented the zombie genre, Dawn of the Dead and distributors, hope and despair in Romero’s works and so much more is covered.
Locating The Crazies (12 mins) – Lawrence DeVincentz goes to Evans City, PA to show viewers the shooting locations of Night of the Living Dead and The Crazies as they are today. The town is certainly proud of its part in cult cinema history as they have plaques making note of the works shot there. DeVincentz is undoubtedly a huge fan of The Crazies, him talking about his efforts to locate buildings from the feature shows this.
The set also comes with a 60 page book (not available to review).
This set acts as a reminder of George Romero’s abilities early into his career with features that are often over looked or are essentially forgotten. Based on Between Night and Dawn’s success it is hoped that Arrow Video (or another distributor) make efforts to get his later, lesser celebrated work re-issued. The Dark Half (1993) and Bruiser (2000) would be worthy of this treatment.