Blu-ray Review: George A. Romero: Between Night and Dawn

Filmmaking is a difficult art form for creative people. They don’t want to be pigeon holed into a genre and have to spend the rest of their life stuck in a single genre. They want to expand and produce films without boundaries. They want to make their Western, war film, detective flick, romance or that Best Picture at the Oscars. But making movie requires a lot of money. And getting money involves finding backers who want prior success to reflect future earnings to their investment. Unless you’ve won hundreds of millions in the lottery, you’re constantly breaking out of your genre without going bankrupt. After George A. Romero became an overnight horror legend with Night of the Living Dead, he wasn’t just going to stick to making more flesh eating zombies. George A. Romero Between Night and Dawn boxset contains three films he made to avoid being all about the undead.

There’s Always Vanilla (1971 – 93 minutes) is major departure from Night of the Living Dead. Romero completely changes things up with a rather arty film about a man child forced to accept adulthood. After being a session guitarist in Los Angeles, Chris Bradley (Raymond Laine) ditches California for a one way ticket back to Pittsburgh. The roaming guy (and former G.I.) hangs out with his dad, but refuses to take a straight job in the family’s baby food factory. He hooks up with Lynn (Judith Ridley), a local model and actress in TV commercials. She likes Chris, but can’t deal with his irresponsible ways. She becomes pregnant and isn’t sure if she can have a child with him since he’s so flighty. The movie reflects those troubled guy coming of age films that became popular in the late ’60s. Even though Romero was big money in home video with fans eager to rent his Dead movies for scary nights, There’s Always Vanilla was just listed in books and magazines with zero legit VHS release. Horror fans would not be happy although the film represented Romero’s life since it had plenty of footage around Pittsburgh and dealt with making regional commercials. That was Romero’s paying gig at the time. The film is interesting to watch, but not enough to make you feel Romero should have been allowed to remake Billy Liar.

Season of the Witch (1973 – 90 minutes) brings George back to the supernatural with a tale of spells in the suburbs. This seem normal for Joan Mitchell (Jan White) as the wife to Jack (Bill Thunhurst) and mom to Nikki (Joedda McClain). But things aren’t right as Jack becomes more of a monster. Joan finds out that a new woman in town is into witchcraft. This ends up intriguing Joan who gets her Tarot read. This escalate when Jack goes on a work trip and Joan uses a witchcraft spell to seduce her daughter’s boyfriend. Has she been completely seduced into this new lifestyle? The film is a bit more artsy than Dead with plenty of dream sequence moments. Season of the Witch plays like an episode of Night Gallery. The effects aren’t over the top. There are spooky atmospherics as the dreams and spells get more intense. Jan White is amazing as the wife who accepts spells into her life. Also included is the Extended Cut that’s 104 minutes long and uses footage in standard definition. You’ll know what was cut away for the original release.

The Crazies (1973 – 103 minutes) returns Romero to the world of the paranoid where you can’t count on people. In a small Pennsylvania town, people are losing their sanity and becoming homicidal maniacs. Firefighters David (Will McMillan) and Clank (Harold Wayne Jones) quickly that something is wrong. When the military arrives to “help,” they’re in all white safe suits, breathing through gas masks and ready to set bodies on fire. David is concerned for his wife Judy (Lane Carroll). She’s pregnant. The military wants to quarantine the whole town. David, Clank and Judy weapon up and hit the woods to escape the men in white. Along the way they meet up with Kathy (Lynn Lowry). Turns out that a military aircraft crashed days earlier near the town and a bio weapon named Trixie had leaked into the water supply. That’s what’s turning people nuts. The film gives the event from both the perspective of the escaping quartet and the military to give a greater sense of the breakdown. The Crazies is the perfect next step after Night of the Living Dead. George continues to explore a society breaking down as humans change state. People aren’t undead although they overtaken by the bioweapon to become destructive monsters. The Crazies keeps up the high tension and jeopardy as the outbreak rises. This is only of my favorite Romero’s non-Dead films.

Sadly the big thing all three films have in common is that they underperformed at the box office. There are various reasons for bad distribution deals to horrible name changes. The Crazies was originally released as Code Name Trixie which made it sound more like a nudie film than There’s Always Vanilla. The failure had George get involved with the TV series The Winners about sports icons that did rather well. But eventually he was brought back to the world of the undead. He’d gain legendary director status instead of being a one hit wonder with the release of Dawn of the Dead. George A. Romero: Between Night and Dawn is an important retrospective in giving a sense of how Romero developed as a filmmaker when he tried to expand.

The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic for The Crazies. The other two films are 1.33:1. The transfers look fine although the first two films were shot in 16mm so they are a bit more grainy. The audio is LPCM 1.0 mono. The mix levels are fine. The movies are subtitled.

Audio Commentary on all three films are provided by Travis Crawford. His talk covers a lot of ground and history when it comes to Romero.

Affair of the Heart: The Making of There’s Always Vanilla (29:43) has cast and crew discuss how the film lost its way during production and seemed dated when it was done since the culture and society had changed a bit. They were also disappointed that the film’s distributor lack of effort to release it.

Digging Up the Dead: The Lost Films (15:56) has George Romero talk about the botched releases of both films. He doesn’t have many memories of There’s Only Vanilla, but enjoys Season of the Witch. He wants to remake the second title. But he did marry one of the stars of the film so Vanilla had a positive action on his heart.

Image Galleries contains location photos and promotional items for the film. There’s even a piece on the odd Pittsburgh train. The location photos have commentary for Lawrence DeVicentz. He gives plenty of history and addresses so you can visit them when you have you George Romero vacation.

Trailer (1:45) sells the art house feel of the film.

When Romero Met Del Toro (55:40) has the two directors talk in George’s place in Toronto in Feb. 2016. Guillermo del Toro is a massive fan and has so many questions and a few ideas about George’s work. This isn’t just a guy reading question cards. He has a passion for George’s cinema.

The Secret Life of Jack’s Wife (17:17) is a vintage interview with Jan White. She talks about her enigmatic role. Her sister hooked her up with Season of the Witch.

Alternate Opening Titles has the movie when it was called Jack’s Wife, Hungry Wives and finally Season of the Witch.

Image Galleries include filming locations and Collectible scans. Lawrence DeVicentz gives a short still tour.

Trailers include the releases for Hungry Wives and Season of the Witch.

Romero Was Here: Locating the Crazies (12:24) visits Evans City, Pennsylvania the location of both The Crazies and Night of the Living Dead. Lawrence DeVicentz gives a fine tour and shows off the museum in the town. This is so enticing for vacation.

Crazy for Lynn Lowry (15:54) has the actress talk about her early years and cult film success. She was also in Radley Metzger’s Score and David Cronenberg’s Shivers. She talks about being frustrated as a model since photographers were always trying to tempt her into dropping her top to shoot “art.” Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman is part of her discovery since he got her to be in The Battle of Love’s Return.

Q&A with Lynn Lowry (35:52) is from the 2016 Abertoir film festival. The host brings up that she had a trio of infection films. She also explains the rumor that she stabbed David Cronenberg on the set of Shivers.

Lee Hessel Audio Interview (4:32) was record by his son. He admits he lost money on the film.

Behind-the-Scenes Footage (6:26) is 8mm film shot during the filming. You can listen to Lawrence DeVicentz explain what you’re seeing. George shows up.

Alternate Opening Titles (0:35) is for when it was called “Code Name Trixie.” That is not a good title unless you were doing a nudie spy flick.

Images include the locations and promotional photos from the release.

Trailers and TV Spots let us know the Crazies are coming.

Arrow Video presents George A. Romero: Between Night and DawnDirected by: George A. Romero. Starring: Raymond Laine, Judith Ridley, Jan White, Ann Muffy, Lane Carroll. Boxset contents: 3 movies on 3 DVDs and 3 Blu-rays. Rated: R. Released: November 14, 2017.

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