Home video makes it possible for some films to take on new and interesting guises, often giving filmmakers another crack at presenting a definitive version of their work. Usually, fans think of titles like Blade Runner when it comes to this sort of video resurrection but it can also apply to documentaries. Document Of The Dead is a noteworthy example as it has had many guises on home video: it began as a teaching tool in 1978, an expanded version was done in 1989 that has had a long life on VHS and DVD and now Synapse has teamed with documentarian Roy Frumkes for a final “definitive” cut that is available in both a DVD version and a limited edition blu-ray/DVD set.
Both versions of The Definitive Document Of The Dead feature the main attraction in DVD form. It has been re-edited by Frumkes to incorporate about a half-hour’s worth of new footage, including visits to the sets of Land Of The Dead, Diary Of The Dead and Survival Of The Dead. The finished article incorporates 16mm footage, standard-definition video footage and high-definition footage. Despite the grab-bag of styles and cameras, everything looks as good as the source materials and shooting conditions will permit. As Frumkes reveals on his commentary, the look of the original 16mm footage gets a real boost here because it has been remastered from the negative for the first time ever on home video. The result is easy on the eyes and also sounds good thanks to a careful 2.0 mono mix that keeps the sound from all the different footage carefully blended.
There is only one extra on the DVD but thankfully it’s a very substantial one: a full-length commentary from Frumkes. There is no moderator on the track but that is not a concern as Frumkes has no problem filling the track with worthwhile info on his own. He discusses all phases of the film’s evolution, from its genesis as a teaching tool through the reasoning behind the various reshoots and re-edits over the years. He also discusses what happened to his crew on the original version, what it was like to work with Susan Tyrrell on the narration and even points out which pieces of footage were the toughest to get the rights to. The result is a good listen, not just for fans of this documentary but students of the documentary format in general.
If you purchase the limited edition, you get a bonus inclusion that easily makes it worth the added expense: a high-definition restoration of the uncut, original 1978 version of Document Of The Dead. It’s the first time this version has gotten a full, unedited release on home video and the Synapse remastering job is excellent, retaining the gritty celluloid textures of the shot-on-the-fly 16mm footage while adding a wealth of color and clarity in detail that this footage has never had on home video before. It looks great – and the bump in quality for the clips used from Night Of The Living Dead and Martin will make you wish those films had blu-ray upgrades, too. There’s no additional features on this bare-bones blu-ray but the gorgeous transfer and the fact that it’s the only way to get this original cut of the film are enough to make fans happy.
In short, the standard-def DVD of The Definitive Document Of The Dead is worth the time for horror fans, particularly Romero scholars, but if you really love this documentary you’ll want to spring for the blu-ray/DVD set. If you want the latter, you better hurry – it’s limited to just 1500 units and the stock is running down fast. The limited set is only available from Synapse so click here to go directly the order page at their website.
To read Schlockmania’s film review for The Definitive Document Of The Dead, click here.