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On July 16th of 2017 we lost a true legend; George Andrew Romero. Although he’s best know for writing and directing the ‘Living Dead’ films, Romero had quite a few other titles under his belt…and some are quite different from his work with the living dead. Thanks to Arrow Video’s Between Night and Dawn Collection we can delve into some of this lesser known material…so let’s kick things of with:
There’s Always Vanilla – Chris Bradley (Raymond Laine) a former soldier who’s now a drifter, musician, all around wiseass, and pimp, returns to his home town of Pittsburgh. After a night out with his father drinking at a local bar, they visit Chris’s old girlfriend Terri Terrific (yeah…that’s really her name), whom Chris learns he may have a child with. The next day Chris literally runs into Lynn (Judith Streiner) a model and commercial actress. Chris puts the moves on Lynn and soon the two are in love and living together. Will Chris and Lynn’s romance last or will Chris grow up and stay with Terri and his child?
Going in, I wasn’t expecting to like Vanilla. I knew it was an arty 70’s romance film (and one that Romero has no great love for), so I was greatly surprised when I found myself enjoying it. I mean not much happens here, but the acting, writing and direction keep your attention…and there are tiny bits of Romero’s future style present here.
Season of the Witch – Joan Mitchell (Jan White) is a housewife and mother who spends her days hanging out with the other haus fraus…but she soon grows bored and turns to witchcraft (as you do) and begins an affair with one of her daughter’s friends. This will either provide an answer for her problems, or lead her down a dark path…but whatever the outcome she must contend with her recurring nightmares of being attacked by a masked man in her house.
The first time I watched Season of the Witch was on an old VHS late at night, and though not really a horror film, the nightmare scenes were insanely eerie and really stuck with me. Since then the film has grown on me even more with repeat viewings, and it’s pervasive aesthetic of 70’s occult craziness has made it one I recommend highly.
The Crazies – In the small town of Evans City, Pennsylvania people have started turning homicidal. The military quickly (and quietly) sweeps into town, declaring martial law and rounding up the towns folk; quarantining them in the local high school. We soon learn that a military plane carrying a highly contagious bio-weapon (code-named “Trixie”) crashed outside of town, infecting the drinking water. Colonel Peckem (Lloyd Hollar) is sent in to contain the epidemic and if need be, nuke the town to be sure the virus doesn’t escape.
While it feels a bit like Night of the Living Dead, The Crazies does it’s own thing. Besides following a group of normal folks trying to survive the outbreak, we get to see the military’s efforts to contain the threat, as well as some prime Romero social commentary (this time the Vietnam war and the Kent State protest are the focus).
As for extras, Arrow has done an insane job here. You get High Definition versions of each film (each featuring a brand new restoration). You also get: audio commentaries on each film, interviews, image galleries, alternate credits, and trailers. A true creepy cornucopia of beastly bonuses!
In short, I can’t recommend this set highly enough. While the films themselves are a little uneven, they’re well worth viewing for a look at the evolution of a great director, and as a time capsule of America in the early 1970’s. With the films never looking better and tons of features, this is one of 2017’s best releases.
Guest Review By: Shane Migliavacca