Reviews

Night of the Living Dead: Millennium Edition (1968)

Marco Lanzagorta

The casting of Duane Jones provides the film with a racial subtext, overtly linked to the social and political turmoil of late 1960s U.S.


Night of the Living Dead: Millennium Edition

Director: George A. Romero
Cast: Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea, Karl Hardman, Russell Streiner, Marilyn Eastman
MPAA rating: Not Rated
Studio: Image Ten Productions
First date: 1968
US DVD Release Date: 2002-03-12

Filmed in stark black and white and featuring mostly unknown actors, Night of the Living Dead is one of the most inspired, celebrated, and influential horror films to haunt the screen. Made on a low budget, George A. Romero's first zombie flick combines frightening situations, gruesome carnage, mordant humor, and incisive social criticism and has earned a dedicated cult following. It may also be the only film that has been colorized, sequelized, remade, and reedited with new footage within the lifetime of its director.

While the film's violence is uncompromising, its narrative is not exactly original. In this apocalyptic scenario, the bodies of the recently dead are reanimated as mindless zombies eager to feed on the flesh of the living. Romero and co-writer John Russo have acknowledged that I Am Legend, Richard Matheson's influential 1954 novella, inspired their script. In I Am Legend, hordes of vampires assail the last human survivor who has barricaded himself inside his house. Highly acclaimed by writers like Stephen King, Matheson's novella brings the gothic vampire into our technological world. The vampires of I Am Legend are the product of a biological agent. Similarly, Night deconstructs zombie mythology in flesh-eating monsters far removed from their voodoo origins.

Night begins with the arrival of Barbara (Judith O'Dea) and her brother, Johnny (Russell Streiner), at a cemetery, to visit their father's grave. Johnny grumbles about having to drive for miles, bitterly confessing that he barely remembers their father as Barbara attempts to placate him. When a strange man in a suit shuffles towards them, Johnny scares his sister rather than continue their argument: "They're coming to get you, Barbara!"

The strange man, of course, is undead. He kills Johnny and chases Barbara to a nearby farmhouse. Here she discovers the rotten remains of the owners, as well as a couple of zombies. As she tries to flee, Ben (Duane Jones) arrives and begins to barricade the doors and windows. While Romero claims he hired Jones because he was the "best" actor available, the casting of this lone black actor also provides the film with a racial subtext, overtly linked to the social and political turmoil of late 1960s U.S.

Night was released the same year that Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Images of Ben destroying furniture to barricade the house, and putting fire to a sofa to keep the zombies away bring to mind images of urban violence and rioting. This implication is complicated in scenes where Ben tends to the nearly catatonic Barbara, as these suggest what was then still a forbidden interracial relationship. This reading is reinforced when one takes into account that the attacking zombies -- not to mention the cops who come to murder Ben in the end -- are all white, resembling lynch mobs.

Such race anxieties are redoubled in the other survivors who have been hiding in the farmhouse basement. These include the dysfunctional Cooper family, Harry (Karl Hardman), his frustrated wife Helen (Marilyn Eastman), and bitten daughter Karen (Kyra Schon), as well as the young couple, Tom (Keith Wayne) and Judy (Judith Ridley). According to Harry, the basement is the best place to hide, while Ben believes they should stay upstairs, as the closed underground appears a deadly trap. Their conflict comes to a head over their only gun. At this point, the fight for survival turns into a battle for phallic control between two alpha males.

Even though Ben and Harry's quarrels have an unquestionable racial backdrop, Romero is also interested in highlighting the irrational aspects of unrestrained destructive masculinity. The catastrophic fate that awaits this group of survivors is as much due to real or metaphoric bigotry, as it is the result of male selfishness and stubbornness. At the same time, second wave feminism (at the time of the film's release, visible in street demonstrations and elsewhere) is conspicuously absent. Barbara barely speaks, Helen barely dares defy her husband, and Judy follows Tom wherever he goes, even to their fiery deaths. Tellingly, as the human characters are increasingly divided, the zombies present a united, voracious front.

Sadly, following the film's unexpected success at the time of its original release, Romero and his collaborators lost control of their intellectual property, having signed hasty distribution deals. This explains why the movie is available on several DVD editions of varying quality. Elite Entertainment's Millennium Edition is by far the best, offering a pristine new transfer and extra features lifted from the 1996 Special Edition laserdisc.

The first audio commentary features George Romero and co-writer John Russo, as well as actors Hardman and Eastman, offering amusing anecdotes about the production, including their use of chocolate syrup and leftovers from the local butcher shop to create gory images. A second audio commentary, by actors Bill Hinzman (the cemetery zombie), Wayne, Streiner, O'Dea, Schon and Vince Survinski (a member of the sheriff's posse), provides further trivia. The principal actors unavailable for the new audio commentaries, Jones and Ridley, appear in two past interviews.

Of these, Jones' is most surprising. Recorded for the 20th anniversary of the film (his last interview before his death in 1988), it reveals that he is, in fact, disinterested in Night of the Living Dead and the horror genre in general. Jones confesses to not having seen any other Romero film, and openly expresses his displeasure at being repeatedly asked the same questions by horror film fans. In contrast to Jones' efforts to distance himself from the film, an extensive poster and stills gallery seems almost a shrine. The images include domestic and foreign posters, production stills, newspaper advertisements, and official "documents" from the production. Equally fan-pleasing are the original treatment and shooting screenplay. In a brief introduction to this extra, John Russo reveals that Night was initially intended to be a horror-comedy aimed at "teens." As it turns out, the movie is much more, integral to the histories of low-budget, independent cinema, as well as horror and cult films.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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