One of the formerly grubbiest-looking horror classics of all time is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with a youth-restoring face-lift.
Casual observers might qualify that face-lift as more ironic than youthful ... ironic, in that most of the faces on view are in advanced stages of decomposition.
But for fans of George A. Romero's 1968 horror movie game-changer, "Night of the Living Dead," the new digital restoration, scanned at an ultra-revealing 4K resolution, has been cause for celebration ever since it was first announced several years back.
The results of that yeoman effort, completed under Romero's supervision before his untimely passing last year, will be unveiled for the first time locally in a special weekend-only booking at the Normal Theater.
The Normal is giving us three chances to see the Pittsburgh-made zombie opus in all its refurbished gory-glory on the big screen: at 7 p.m. Thursday and Saturday, with a 1 p.m. matinee Sunday for those who prefer their horror administered before dark.
The legend of "Night of the Living Dead" was forged after it was unwisely booked into a series of kiddie friendly matinees in its original release in late 1968, becoming a sanctioned outrage after an ambitious young Chicago-based film critic named Roger Ebert attended one of those matinees.
The Champaign-Urbana native's grimly detailed, finger-wagging response to the nihilistic thriller about a horde of flesh-eating zombies besieging the occupants of an isolated farmhouse was circulated nationally via Reader's Digest magazine.
With that mainstream notoriety, the film that might have been swept under the pop culture rug without notice was instantly re-branded as an outlaw midnight movie attraction.
There, its raising the blood/gore bar kept Romero's film the gold standard until Wes Craven's "Last House on the Left" and Tobe Hooper's "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" came along a half-decade later.
The reclamation of the indie black-and-white cheapie, originally shot in 16mm on a budget of $114,000, is the climactic stage in a series of attempted restorations of vary degrees of success that have been carried out since the dawn of the DVD era.
But the version now at hand, restored by the Museum of Modern Art and the Film Foundation with partial funding from the George Lucas Foundation, is considered to be the last word in this realm.
For years, "Night of the Living Dead" was in a state of advanced decomposition that was a result of not only its meager budget, but also its plunge into the public domain after its copyright renewal was botched somewhere along the way.
Once Romero's cheap but brilliantly made film hit those skids, it became prey to any low-rent video peddler who transferred a blurry eighth-generation dupe of a battered 16mm print onto videocassette and sold it for a buck a pop.
For years, that was the perception of "Night of the Living Dead," even as its critical cache began to soar, courtesy of film theorists ferreting out parallels in Romero's modest zombie apocalypse to the greater social implosions of the time, from Vietnam to the then-recent assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
Though finally watchable versions of the film began to surface at the beginning of the DVD era, notably with Elite Entertainment's bar-setting 2002 release which, for its day, was a revelation.
In the years since, "Night of the Living Dead" has been subjected to everything from a truly scary computer-colored version to another appended with newly shot footage.
But the version being shown at the Normal Theater this weekend is The One: being released to cinemas via Janus Films, the company behind the Tiffany's of home video, the Criterion Collection.
If you can't make the Normal Theater showings, take heart (or liver or the entrail of your choice): Just two days later, on Feb. 13, the same restoration makes its Blu-ray debut as part of the Criterion Collection, complete with a stunning battery of extras, as well as the film's legendary "work print" version, "Night of Anubis," in its home video premiere.