Night Of The Living Bread, a short film included on the new DVD edition of George Romero's horror classic Night Of The Living Dead, may be as obvious a parody as its title suggests, but it essentially takes the backdoor route to the same destination as Romero's original. A group of transients find themselves confined to an abandoned farmhouse, surrounded by flesh-eating slices of bread. When they turn on the radio, what at first seemed like an isolated incident is revealed as a much wider phenomenon. "We realize how absurd this report sounds," says the newscaster, almost by way of apology, but whether bread or dead, shocking absurdity is the name of the game. Hitting theaters as the unrest of the '60s drew to a climax, Night Of The Living Dead took the notion of a world turned upside down to its literally visceral extreme. As if the overturning of accepted notions had seeped down to a biological level, the dead prey on the living without hesitation, and the film's many imitators, even its fine sequels, have done little to dull the impact of Romero's original. Shot in creepy black and white, its technical proficiency is rendered all the more remarkable by the Pittsburgh production team's lack of previous feature experience and its budgetary constraints. On one of the many extras (two commentaries, much archival material, Living Bread) included on this "Millennium Edition" DVD, one team member recalls chipping through the ice in the office toilet each day in order to make use of it. While it only adds a few elements to an already excellent version made available during the early days of DVD, the Millennium Edition supersedes all other versions currently on the market, all the more reason to avoid one of the cheaply produced public-domain editions. If Night Of The Living Dead still represents an apex of low-budget chills, its status as a gore champion has long since been superseded. Among those pouring out buckets of blood: Re-Animator, which retrieved the idea of reviving the dead from Romero's free-floating metaphor back to the realm of mad science. Loosely adapting a series of H.P. Lovecraft stories, in 1985 director Stuart Gordon made what might best be described as a comedic look at body horror. A first-time director with roots in avant-garde theater, Gordon gleefully pushes the edges with Re-Animator, courting infamy with one scene after another. "You can't be funny and scary at the same time. Laughter is the antidote to fear," Gordon muses on a commentary track. Instead, he plays laughter against fear, the tension of one released by the other as the amusing would-be Frankenstein Jeffrey Combs creates chaos by raising the dead in a tight-knit university community. Another "Millennium Edition," the features-packed two-disc Re-Animator improves its previous DVD incarnation by only small degrees. But given that the old version had a tendency to come and go out of print without warning, for most viewers this should be the definitive repackaging of a film whose best justification lies in its ability to create nervous laughter from the horrific absurdity Romero exploited so well.
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