NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 1990

Night of the Living Dead 1990

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 1990

Remaking a classic is always dangerous territory. If a movie is generally regarded as a masterpiece in its genre, why bother to risk alienating fans by telling its story again? Sure sometimes remakes update the story for the current generation (the 1970s version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers) or to take advantage of advances in filmmaking technology (Peter Jackson‘s recent update of King Kong). Sometimes a remake actually advances the concept of the original and actually turns out to be a classic itself (Carpenter’s The Thing and Cronenberg’s The Fly come to mind).

And then there’s the sequel made for the money.

Welcome to Tom Savini‘s version of Night of the Living Dead.

Any horror fan in his right mind would probably think that a newer NOTLD, with special effects wizard Tom Savini helming a script by the godfather of the genre himself, George Romero, could only amount to a gory classic, with some profound, updated social commentary. This should’ve been a masterpiece in the making. And yet, this movie fails on all cylinders. It’s important to discuss the reason for that before examining the disappointing results. The makers of the original NOTLD left the copyright symbol off the prints when they changed the film’s title. So though the movie made millions and was on the midnight movie and drive in circuit for years, Romero and the others saw scant profits. And so every so often, one or more of them tried to recoup those losses with variations on the original. Enter Romero’s motivation for creating this remake.

Romero’s first mistake was remolding Barbara in the likeness of Ripley from the Alien movies. Though critics invariably have always complained about Barbara’s catatonic state in the original, they never seem to realize that if a ghoul attacked your brother and killed him, then tried to eat you, catatonia would be one likely reaction. Also, because her body’s functioning without a mind behind it, I always thought it neat that Barbara is another example of a zombie. Plus, there were two other women in the besieged farmhouse, neither of which were sleepwalking in terror. But Romero gave in to public pressure and crafted a new Barbara who goes from schoolmarm to John J. Rambo in the course of a few short hours. Her character may represent a new feminist take on NOTLD, but it does the movie no favors.

In rewriting, Romero also changed the fates of many of the characters. Though the plot remains very much the same, the ending is markedly different, and removes the nihilistic view of the original, replacing it with a cheap "let’s kill the prick even though he’s not actually a zombie" ending that may have audiences cheering, but should have them questioning themselves for applauding. The acting is over the top from all parties involved, despite the presence of Tom Towles and a pre-Candyman Tony Todd; this does the script no favors.

The script isn’t the only problem here. Perhaps even a larger flaw is the special effects. I always thought Savini did the special effects for this film, but his directorial duties forced him to turn the reins over to John Vulich who, based on the rancid results here, should never have been allowed to make up a kid for trick or treating on Halloween. Bad special effects pull a horror audience right out of suspension of disbelief; Vulich’s work is so laughably bad, the gags so obviously phony, that he single handedly would have ruined this project even if it were otherwise flawless.

Savini waited for years to get a chance to direct a film. To this day, this is his only feature film as director. So I thought it would be interesting to get his take on the commentary track. Considering he’s always lively and has delivers interesting anecdotes on the tracks I’ve heard him do for Romero’s films, I was underwhelmed here. Yes, he gives plenty of background information here, but the track is thoroughly boring. He barely addresses the controversy with the MPAA over getting an R rating, or the behind the scenes troubles with producers and the like. Had he discussed these, perhaps I would have at least been entertained.

The disc also has a featurette about the history of the project. It features the typical behind the scenes stuff, and a few deleted scenes (but why weren’t they cut into the film for release as a director’s cut? Perhaps the studio didn’t care enough about this film). It’s almost half an hour long. You could skip it and not miss much. A few trailers round out the disc.

Is it worth remaking a classic? Most times I come down against the idea. But Romero and Savini thought it a solid idea with NOTLD 1990. If only the results were as solid.

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–Phil Fasso

  • http://www.iconsoffright.com robg

    I’m sorry Phil, but I have to disagree! I love this particular remake! Maybe it’s because I have such fond memories of catching it in theaters when I was 14. It wasn’t a shot for shot remake, and I liked the slight differences from the original. Of course, it can’t top the original, but for what it is, it’s still a well made entertaining horror movie. The best thing about the featurette on this DVD is seeing all the uncut gore bits that had to be cut out of the final movie. Would love to see a director’s cut if it’s even possible to put together at this point.