Visceral Beginnings – George A. Romero: Between Night and Dawn (DVD Review)

The world of cinema faced a huge blow when legendary filmmaker and innovator of cinema George A. Romero passed away in July this year. He was a true risk taker who was unafraid of attempting different filmmaking forms and styles, and to this day will always be best known as the “King of the Zombies”. He started out big with his 1968 low-budget masterpiece Night of the Living Dead, a perfect blend of zombie horror and social allegories, which brought on a slew of zombie movies and inspired many new generations of filmmakers as a result. Now, Arrow Films have released this prestigious boxset containing the three movies he made after Night of the Living Dead.

The first movie in the collection, There’s Always Vanilla (1971), is a strange and peculiar beast, and is one that Romero rarely brought up. The film is pretty much a product of its time and is very reflective of the pop culture-inflected society if the late ’60s and early ’70s, while also being a jab at that culture itself – particularly capitalism as a whole. But at its heart, this is a romantic comedy that features some charming performances from Raymond Laine and Judith Ridley. But the film also feels very rough around the edges and is very scatty and unfocussed, despite having something of an offbeat charm to it.

In Season of the Witch (1972), Romero creates a psychological thriller that once again shows off his trait of infusing stories with jabs at the social structures of the period. The film comes across like a dark exploitation movie that harkens back to both the Hammer movie The Witches and Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, where you have this housewife retreating into witchcraft as a result of both her abusive husband and her runaway daughter. The film cleverly combines a genuinely fascinating viewpoint on Middle America with this surreal, unhinged portrait of a strong female psyche. It’s an impressive movie from Romero, and you can clearly see how this would go on to inspire this year’s psychedelic The Love Witch.

The third and final movie in the collection, The Crazies (1973), is where Romero truly goes all-out balls-to-the-wall style. He retreads zombie horror territory that involves the citizens of a small town in Pennsylvania acting crazy as a result of an outbreak, and this family is trying to survive the chaos of both the outbreak and the military intervention. The film throws us right into the action, carrying on at a breakneck pace before it reaches its bleak conclusion. It’s the perfect mixture of sci-fi, horror and action that brilliantly builds on its intensity and tension, and is frankly one of Romero’s most underrated movies.

Overall, if you are a huge George A. Romero fan, then this set is definitely worth picking up; it is visceral, trippy and febrile, and shows just how much creativity Romero was going to unleash upon the world of cinema.

 

George A. Romero: Between Night and Dawn is out now on DVD and Blu-ray.