Night of the Living Dead (1990)

(Release Date: October 19, 1990)

It's not Shakespeare, but it's not so fucking bad!1/2

The Zombified Remake that never got a fair shake!

What I said then...

We age, we re-watch, we learn, we re-review... but the accountability remains:
Two Stars!Two Stars!
Oh, I don't know....
Five years after the last sequel (to that date) to the original Night of the Living Dead actor and makeup artist Tom Savini decided to have a go at starting the whole thing over again from scratch! Nothing wrong with that... I think we can all name some decent remakes. Unfortunately, this particular remake suffers from two blights upon late-eighties/ early-nineties movie making 1) The need for a happy ending and 2) the need for political correctness.

The original Night of the Living Dead was fascinating because it had at least one person we could identify with no matter who we were, and in many cases we could identify with the entire cast because each represented a part of ourselves. The film was also ahead of it's time because the Hero is African American and befriends the frightened woman and helps to protect everyone involved. The ending isn't a happy one, but it's very realistic.

The remake unfortunately elected to eliminate certain personality traits that we can identify with in favor of more politically correct motifs. For example, the frightened girl who is muted by fear and horror evolves into a female Rambo (played admittedly very well by Babylon 5's Patricia Tallman) who swoops in with the cavalry and saves the day at the last minute. Very PC, not very realistic.

The tone doesn't really promote sympathetic fear at all, and the happy ending where everything is tied up by the 180 shift of Tallman's character doesn't help this problem.

On the other hand the movie is not a total loss. The acting is not bad, and while you're never really scared as you are watching the original you're never moved into the realm of laughter either. Never let anyone tell you that this film is terrible... it isn't, but compared to the original it's not great either. Don't rent them on the same night by any means... rather, buy the original on DVD, and catch this remake on the Superstation. That way you waste nothing either way!


SEE ALSO these Zombie Favorites:

  Night of the Living Dead (1968)
What is a Zombie?
  Dawn of the Dead (1978)
And how the Franchises Link!
  Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Is it a Sequel or not?
  28 Days Later(2002)
J.C. is a budding sex god!
  Land of the Dead(2005)
Fourth time is a Real Charmer!
  Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Spoiler Free unless you hit CTRL+A!
  28 Days Later: The Soundtrack Album (2003)

J.C. Maçek III
The World's Greatest Critic!
It would be easier than a hooker in a room full of Donald Trumps to dismiss the remake of Night of the Living Dead as a derivative and inferior effort, as so many (including my own dumb ass [see sidebar]) have. Let me tell you, there were some big Ronald McDonald-size Clodhoppers to fill on that count! Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's not as good, or as groundbreaking as the original. How could it be? But, this isn't the worst remake since Motley Crue covered "Anarchy in the U.K.", either. Let's face facts: it's a safe statement that a whole bunch of other people have remade Night of the Living Dead without authorization anyway, so why in the name of Michael Bolton shouldn't someone do a decent remake? Well, after viewing our subject once again, I can say that someone did, and that someone was the makeup genius behind Friday the 13th, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, one Tom Savini!

Good choice, actually, because the Zombie special effects are sweeter than spiced sake and grosser than twelve dozen spoiled eggs (a gross of the gross). There are times that watching this film is as uncomfortable as that time I woke up in my neighbor's apartment instead of mine to find a trail of broken glass and my clothes behind me. Other times, especially if you know the original film, it most certainly falls flatter than a train-track-crushed penny during peak shipping season. As the film progresses, there are moments as inexplicable as why it's taking NBC this long to cancel The Office, and gory situations almost as lame as some of the idiotic metaphors I've made in this very review.

But let's focus on what they got right. Unlike that cornier-than-a-Cobb-Salad remake of Dawn of the Dead, this film utilized a script by George A. Romero, based pretty loyally on the original Night of the Living Dead by King George himself, and good old John Russo. Romero Executive Produced it, Russo Produced it, and, Tom Savini directed the HELL out of this movie!

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Tony Todd capably steps into the tretorns of Duane Jones as the take-charge Ben, charged with defending the survivors from an army of unexplained flesh-eating ghouls, calming Patricia Tallman's screaming Mimi Barbara, and working damned hard to keep the denizens of the house by the cemetery from turning on each other like Paris and Nicole after The Simple Life.

It's refreshing to see Todd playing such a human and down-to-Earth role, in which he plays the hero against the supernatural forces. However, this film is marred by unrealistic turns in many of the characters, most especially Tallman's Smurfette-turned Rambo, Barbara! Oh, she's pretty good on both sides of her coin, but it's the toss itself that reveals an unrealistic transition.

Romero's new script follows the original closer than Chip follows Dale at times, however, it feels like many of the same things are happening for completely different reasons. It's a much safer, and more politically correct film taking much of what was horrible and making it right, regardless of sensibility or impact. And, while I might have spoken too soon when I described the ending as "happy" (Romero's bleak social commentary is as subtle as El Nino here), it is more of the "proper" ending that the audience of 1990 would swallow like a chilled glass of Bacon Puree. In short, it's a far cry from the Midnight Movie extravaganza of edginess that the original was.

Savini makes the best of the budget he's given and (as you'd expect) the make-up and gore effects are pretty phenomenal. He's also not too bad a director (although not every actor is quite Oscar worthy). Make no mistake, though, the environment shift is wide, gaping and bleeding between this flick's 1990 release and that of the "Zombie Renaissance" that began with 2002's 28 Days Later..., has brought us through two Resident Evil flicks, a remake of Dawn of the Dead and our culmination in Romero's triumphant return in 2005's Land of the Dead. These days, frickin' huge studios are embracing the "B-Movie", people are taking their kids and grandparents, and the genre's as accepted in the mainstream as romantic comedies stuffed with cute pop stars placing product! Hell, in summer 2005, one of the highest acclaimed children's films was Corpse Bride, about a young Englishman marrying a risen Zombie... and that's for Kids! Not in 1990, though! Back then, there was still a stab at making it all look respectable, even if it was all in vain, so yeah, concessions were made back then, and the zeitgeist is reflected in this funhouse mirror.

Be that as it may, it's still a gore festival, worth the time to check out, and although, it's not the original, it's pretty much a must for Zombie Fans... and a delight for fans of the "accurate remake". For these reasons, as well as the consistency of the zombies (not changing to fit the needs of a scattershot script), I'm changing my rating (for the first time ever) from Two Stars to Three Stars out of Five... No, no wait... Two and one half Stars! The original review remains (right here on this very page), but even the critical eye could use a monocle once in a Zombie Moon.

What's next for me? Well, I'm thinking about making my own Zombie Movie, based on a script of my own. Aside from my proficiencies with Tantric sex, there are two things I do really well, one is writing and the other is gardening! Therefore, I'm thinking Lawn of the Dead! Yeah, that's it Lawn of the Dead. A bunch of rotting corpses, unholy living dead, rise again to prune hedges, cultivate rose bushes, maintain that green turf at a uniform height to make Golf Course caretakers jealous and offer up some really bitchin' landscaping. And their battle cry could be "Muuuuuuuuuulch!"

Yeah, and then some lil' kid like Sherman from Bullwinkle could come up and say "Excuse me, Mr. Zombie, sir, but aren't you all supposed to love Brains?"

And then the lead gardener of the Undead could be like "Well, I'm glad you asked that, Billy, because, yes, it does take Brains to be a great gardener! See my friend Wilbur over there? Why, he's pushing up daisies. Literally this time, and my how his garden grows, like Mary, Mary, quite contrary, whom he just ate! Yes, Billy, we do love our brains here at the lawn of the dead!"

Folks, I'm just scratching the surface here, this could be big, big, big. I'll start writing the script, and buying the African Violet potting soil. If you're a director who wants to shoot it, click on "Write It" below, and we'll get together! Anybody know Linnea Quigley?

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Night of the Living Dead (1990) reviewed by J.C. Maçek III who alone is responsible for the fall of the Berlin Wall (and this article, you Zombies)!
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