Document of the Dead (Synapse)

Production Year: 1978
Release Date: 11/13/2012
Studio: Synapse
Collection Number: 284

Recently Synapse reissued a new cut of Roy Frumkes "Document of the Dead."  If you're like me you've probably owned this documentary at some point, if not through one of the few stand alone releases than as an extra on one of Dawn of the Dead's many releases.

So you might be saying to yourself "why bother with this release?"  It's a good question.  As mentioned before this one has been an extra on a few of (the countless) Dawn of the Dead releases, is this really any different than the featurette offered on one of those?  The short answer is yes.

This isn't just a simple repackaging.  The blu-ray isn't just a simple "upgrade" in PQ.  The documentary is recut and actually features new footage Frumkes shot during Romero's latest film outings   It makes for a more well rounded look at Romero's career.

If you're familar with the film you might skip this paragraph, if not than read on.  Document of the Dead was filmed in the mid 70's when Romero started working on what would become the undead epic Dawn of the Dead.  Everything is touched on here from the writing of the film, to the FX, to the actors, all the way down to the actual editing.  Once the film was in the can Roy continuted on wards with the documentary following up Romero's career with segments covering Creepshow, Monkey Shines, and eventually Two Evil Eyes.  For fan's of the director it's a nice peek into a decade of his career.  It also covers his working relationship with Savini, in fact there's a nice section during the filming of Two Evil Eyes showing the tribulations of trying to get an effect "just right."

So that's where the original cut pretty much ends.  The new cut changes things up a bit and jumps forward to Romero's resurgence during Land of the Dead.  It eventually follows through to it's predacessor Diary of the Dead and ends with Survival of the Dead.  Along the way there's interviews with a handful of people involved.  The best part of the new footage is right at the end of the documentary.  A group of very familiar faces get together in a room, drink, and recant about working with Romero over the years.  That alone makes this set worth the upgrade.  Everyone makes an appearance from Tom Savini to Bill Cardille.  If you're a fan of the director and his films it's really a necessary viewing.

Now that we've got both cuts of the documentary out of the way let's discuss the limited edition blu-ray shall we?  Exclusive to the Synapse website and limited to 1500 units is the blu-ray release.  The blu-ray combo pack includes the original documentary in high def complete with a transfer from the original negatives.  The DVD included features the new cut of the documentary along with an optional commentary.  Rounding out the set is a poster featuring the newly commissioned artwork.  Curious as to why the new cut didn't get the HD upgrade?  Don May Jr had this to say...
"Unlike some companies, Synapse Films is very concerned about the quality of their releases, so we chose not to do a “fake” upscale to fool our customers into thinking something is in HD. While doing research on this project, it was discovered Frumkes still retained the original 16mm negative for the 66 minute version he produced as a learning tool at New York’s The School of Visual Arts in 1978/79. When we found this out, we decided to do an HD transfer of the negative for our fans, so they could at least have a true high-definition version of the very first version of the film. This transfer is included as a Blu-ray in the limited website edition."
It's too bad that the new cut featured footage that wasn't worth the jump to hd, however considering some companies have a habit of upscaling and then lying to the consumer, it's nice to see a fan friendly company make a statement like that.

So to wrap things up I was more than pleased with the set.  I originally saw the documentary on Anchor
Bay's "Ultimate" edition of Dawn of the Dead.  I thought it was a very informative look at the filmmaking process of one of the genre's best directors.  While it still is, given the new footage, it also feels like a retrospective of George's long career.  It is required viewing for fans of the living dead and anyone interest in a career in filmmaking.

Synapse still has a few copies left, but this is one exclusive that's bound to sell out.  Click here to order.