Thursday, August 23, 2007

Night of the Living Dead (1990)

I had never gotten around to seeing Tom Savini’s remake of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Maybe I had better things to do (doubtful), maybe I was lazy (probable) or maybe I just thought a remake of THE great zombie film could never live up to its source material. Whichever the case, I’m glad my boyfriend turned me on to Savini’s fantastic remake of the original or I might never have seen it!

The remake follows almost the exact same storyline as the original Night of the Living Dead, with a very different ending. It all begins with Johnnie (Bill Moseley) and Barbara (Patricia Tallman) driving to a cemetery in the middle of nowhere to visit their mother’s grave. Before you can say, “Barbara, they’re coming to get you,” they are attacked by the newly risen dead. Barbara flees to a nearby farmhouse and is soon joined by survivors Ben (Tony Todd), Tom (William Butler), Judy Rose (Katie Finneran), and the Cooper family, Harry (Tom Towles), Helen (McKee Anderson) and little girl Sarah (Heather Mazur). Can the group survive the growing numbers of zombies that appear outside?

Tom Savini sure did a heck of a job remaking one of the most revered zombie films of all time. He stuck close enough to the original to keep the same terror-filled atmosphere of Romero’s movie, but added a new ending that seemed like a very appropriate update.

This version moves quickly and when the action begins with the first zombie attacking Johnnie and Barbara in the cemetery, it doesn’t relent. The action after that comes fast and furious. Chaos, bickering and bloodshed all take place once the survivors take refuge in the farmhouse and the zombies slowly surround the place. The suspense and terror really start to build, even though most of us have seen the original Night.

The film’s characters are all pretty similar to the original, with the exception of Barbara. This time around, Barbara is much stronger and tougher. I appreciated the make-over of Barbara’s character and really enjoyed seeing Patricia Tallman in her take-charge role. The rest of the cast do a fantastic job, though Tony Todd could never live up to Bill “Chilly Billy” Cardille’s performance as Ben. Tom Towles does a fantastic job playing the highly unlikable Harry Cooper and you’ll be clapping when he meets his surprising demise.The remake does a great job at recreating that claustrophobic atmosphere that is so prevalent in Romero’s version. The farmhouse is spectacularly spooky and very dark and depressing. Everything from the basement up to the attic is dank and you never know what might be waiting for you in the shadows or around a corner. The gore is limited (surprising with Savini behind the scenes), but is still effective for a Night of the Living Dead remake.

Now, the ending is completely different but it is still shocking, though perhaps not so much as in the original version. Of course, it attempts to go the politically correct route, though the rednecks still love their guns and their zombie huntin’. Even so, I thought it was a nice 90’s update and it definitely added to the film instead of spoiling it.

Tom Savini’s 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead is definitely worth checking out, whether you are already a fan of Romero’s Night or if you’ve never even seen the original. This zombie movie doesn’t deserve many of the negative comments that it has received and really should be placed alongside another successful and entertaining remake of a Romero Dead film – the Dawn of the Dead remake.

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