2017 was a tough year for loss in the Entertainment Industry. But it was particularly hard for horror fans who lost one of the driving forces in horror and a true pioneer, George A. Romero. The father of the modern zombie as we know it, Romero made the tiny budget flick Night of the Living Dead in 1968 and broke a lot of molds when he did it. Not only did the film have an underlying social commentary about Vietnam and societal issues but it also features an African-American lead, which was pretty much unheard of at the time in horror. He followed up his classic with sequels Dawn of the Dead, which went on to become an even bigger cult phenomenon, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead as well as non-zombie horror classics like Martin, Creepshow, Monkey Shines, Two Evil Eyes with Dario Argento, and The Dark Half (one of the best Stephen King adaptations in my opinion). But he also strayed out of horror a few times and the good folks at Arrow Video have just released a new Blu-ray box set, Between Night and Dawn, that covers the period between his first two zombie films.
First up in the set is There’s Always Vanilla. A young man, Chris (Raymond Laine) returns home to Pittsburgh years after being discharged from the army and shacks up with Lynn (Judith Ridley), an older woman who is willing to support him financially and emotionally. But when Lynn becomes pregnant their relationship starts to dissolve as neither one is willing to commit to the other.
There’s Always Vanilla is probably Romero’s most straightforward drama. While it is not a great film by any stretch, it still has some interesting elements that help form Romero’s style in his films going forward. I doubt most people will watch this one more than once but it is essential for the Romero completist.
Next up is Season of the Witch. Joan Mitchell (Jan White) is a bored housewife frustrated with her distant husband and 19 year old daughter. After visiting a local tarot reader Joan is attracted to a secret black arts wicca group who inspire Joan to take control of her own life. As Joan dabbles deeper into witchcraft she withdraws into a fantasy world until her real life becomes entangled with it, endangering herself and her family.
Season of the Witch is a pretty cool little gem. Romero continues to try experimental techniques and artier approaches to his story, but this one is more interesting and actually keeps things moving at a good pace. And Jan White is excellent in the lead role of Joan. A fascinating progression of Romero’s work.
Lastly in the set is The Crazies. In the small town of Evan’s City, Pennsylvania a manmade combat virus gets loose and causes permanent insanity in those it infects. The inhabitants of the town struggle to survive amidst bouts of murder and rioting, but when the U.S. Army arrives to get things under control, things only escalate and get worse.
The Crazies is another film with social undertones and is a very effective thriller. The pace is fast and exciting, the cast do well with their parts and the story is still relevant today. The film was loosely remade in 2010 with Timothy Olyphant and that film is actually excellent as well if not more overtly horror.
All three of these films may represent some of the seemingly lesser works of Romero but are still essential puzzle pieces in examining the director’s progression as an artist. Arrow’s box set is also host to an insane amount of special features that are almost better than the films themselves including a limited edition 60 page booklet, brand new audio commentaries and making of featurettes for all the films, tons of archival bonus features, an alternate extended version of Season of the Witch, a featurette on Lynn Lowry and my favorite, When Romero met Del Toro, a long and fascinating conversation between Romero and long time fan Guillermo Del Toro in Toronto discussing Romero’s entire filmography. For Romero fans this is an amazing and essential Blu-ray box set and a jewel in any horror collector’s crown. Very highly recommended.