Written by: George A. Romero
Directed by: Tom Savini
Reviewed by: Dave Dunwoody
The zombie movie that created zombie movies, Night of the Living Dead Ď68 is a masterpiece, but the granddaddy of undead cinema didnít get to do everything he wanted with this vision of the apocalypse. So, in 1990, he done gone and remade it himself. This time he had the money and the equipment and the mind of director/FX guru Tom Savini, who grew up watching Georgeís original outbreak and even died in one of its episodes. I really frown on remakes that arenít from the heart. This is all heart and then some Ė a bloody burst of viscera that will never be forgotten.
Bill Moseley and Patricia Tallman are our bickering siblings, off to pay their respects in an isolated graveyard on a sunny afternoon. All is well until a shell-shocked mourner stumbles by, heralding the arrival of the first zombie, a fantastic scare that sends poor Johnny into the afterlife and Tallmanís Barbara into a tree. Luckily thereís a car to brace the impact and Barbara is now wandering the woods in search of civilization.
Already we see in Tallman the strong, independent woman that Romero couldnít sell in his original film. Traumatized as she is she manages to make it to a farmhouse where further confirmation of the horrible plague awaits. But also on the way to the farmhouse, running on fumes and hope, is Tony Toddís Ben Ė truly an understated, powerful performance that dominates much of the movie.
Itís quickly clear that they have to barricade themselves in the house. Itís in this frenzy of pulling out doors and boards that Ben and Barbara discover the tenants in the cellar Ė the Cooper family, as well as Tom and Judy. Tomís uncle, now twice-deceased, is the owner of the house, but control of it has fallen to these desperate survivors. And so a battle of wills begins between Tom Towlesí Harry Cooper and Ben. Both are fantastic in their roles and ratchet the tension up before the night Ė and the dead - befall the farmhouse and its inhabitants.
Saviniís undead are fantastic, with several memorable standouts ranging from the cemetery zombie that kills Johnny, to the emaciated Mr. McGruder, to the twisted bugger that eats Benís pickup truck and keeps on coming. As twilight falls and the night of horror begins, we are assailed with a tableau of gratuitous gruesomeness that never fails to satisfy. And all the while the temperature is rising inside the house, as Cooper watches over his bitten daughter and Ben tries to formulate a plan of escape.
Romeroís original script is largely intact, with some changes made by the man himself to make Barbara stronger and not just a hysterical bystander. The change that affects Benís ultimate fate isnít preferred by many fans, but I think itís just as tragic as the original ending in which heís mistaken for a zombie and gunned down. Here we see Benís final moments as, mortally wounded, he locks himself in the cellar and prepares for the grim transformation that will come with the dawn.
But before that even happens weíve still got to get through loads of bloodletting, gut-munching and explosive deaths lighting up the night sky. Weíve got paranoia, racism and mistrust bringing the in-house conflict to the boiling point. It doesnít have the same surreal out-there quality as the original black-and-white version, but the full-color viscera of NOTLD í90 is still something to love. And again, Tony Toddís Ben rules the night.
I regard this retelling as a classic alongside the original. It can never recapture what the original did to people, and to cinema, but it delivers the same nightmare punch with a few extras sanctioned by the creator of the Dead saga. George Lucas sharted all over his franchise when he went back to polish it up, not so with our man Romero. And though some may not be happy with the newest chapters in the story of the Dead world, we can certainly look back on the original trilogy, and this remake, with a sense of enjoyment.
With a truckload of official-yet-unofficial sequels and remakes (Night of the Living Dead 3-D, Day of the Dead 2: Contagium, and John Russoís upcoming latest shit on the legacy of NOTLD with Escape of the Living Dead), plus stinkers like Children of the Dead, the respectable tagalongs Zombie and Return of the Living Dead, the loving Dawn of the Dead remake andÖfuck, Iíve got a headache. Letís just say that this one is among the best of the bunch. Itís from the master himself. Itís from Savini. Itís Night of the Living Dead. And itís Essential!
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