John Ary here with another installment of Ain’t It Scary Reviews. Today, seven people stuck in a rural farmhouse fight off an onslaught of zombies.
Who doesn’t love the original Night of the Living Dead? It’s a classic, one that every fan of horror should appreciate. It wrote the rules for modern zombie movies and serves as a terrific example of independent filmmaking. That’s why I have always been apprehensive about watching the 1990 remake directed by Tom Savini. The experience wasn’t as gut-wrenching as I expected.
This updated version follows the same basic plot of the original. Barbara and her brother drive up to visit the grave of their mother at a Pennsylvania cemetery. Shortly after pulling in, they’re attacked by the walking dead. Barbara seeks refuge in a secluded farmhouse where she meets up with Tony Todd, a young couple, and a family of three. The seven strangers spend more time squabbling than preparing for the zombie onslaught. Survival depends on keeping a level head and staying at least one step ahead of the horde.
While Savini took over directing duties, George Romero and John Russo returned to update their screenplay. The filmmakers have tweaked each of the main characters and events don’t play out the same way as they did in 1968. You have a basic idea of what will happen, but Barbara has now turned into stronger character that visually morphs through the movie from a meek victim into a determined independent warrior. This changes the outcome of the story in a mostly satisfying way. Ben and Harry Cooper’s relationship appears much more antagonistic, which leads to an extended screaming match that seems to never end. Savini, Romero and Russo remove some of the subtleties from the original with more pronounced visual cues and action. An excellent example of this happens during the final minutes, when one of the surviving characters reflects on one of the primary themes of the movie out loud while watching several zombies dangle from a tree as a redneck mob throws rocks at them. “They’re us. We’re them and they’re us.” That maybe where the film feels the most flawed. Those subtleties of the original made it a classic. We didn’t need to see Ben and Harry physically attack each other multiple times to understand their problems. The armed militia is given more onscreen time with lines and a menacing tone. These are changes I could have done without.
The most noticeable difference between the two films though is the impact of the film stock: color versus the original’s grainy black and white. Even with the colorful blood spills, forceful head bashing, visible autopsy scars on the bodies, and bullet wounds, the original felt more violent and gory. When the black and white zombies would eat the entrails of the recently departed, my mind would fill in the details. The walking dead from 1968 also seemed more faceless and less defined. You could imprint your own phobias and characteristics upon them. Perhaps there are benefits to shooting with a limited budget.
The updated Night of the Living Dead is a good zombie survival tale in its own right. Not as good as the original, but better than most of the imitators that have come along since. Savini, Romero and Russo have made some interesting changes to the original, but in the end, this retelling will make you appreciate the version we all know and love even more.
Night of the Living Dead is currently streaming on Crackle and Youtube. It’s also available on a very sought after Blu-ray ($109.99) here.
Check back in tomorrow for another Ain’t It Scary Review as Vincent Price goes mad in a film based on an Edgar Allan Poe short story.
Here’s a look back at the Ain’t It Scary Review installments that you might have missed:
The Ground Rules to the Project
#1 Son of Frankenstein
#2 Scream, Blacula, Scream!
#3 Black Sabbath
#5 Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
#6 Invisible Invaders
#7 The Mummy’s Curse
#8 Lord of Illusions
#9 Night of the Demons
#10 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
#11 The House of the Devil
#12 Dr. Phibes Rises Again!
#14 The Catman of Paris
#17 Werewolf of London
#18 Tales from the Hood
#19 The Keep
#20 The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog
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