November 20, 2012

Night of the Living Dead

This 1990 remake of the George Romero cult classic isn't different enough to justify its existence, or bone-chilling enough to rival the original. But the dedicated will likely find things to enjoy in it. Tony Todd, as Ben (who was the strongest and subtlest character in the 1968 Night), is well-cast, and Patricia Tallman makes a convincing 90's Barbara: she inexplicably transforms from a mousy, wimpy schoolmarm-type to a hybrid of Sigourney Weaver from Alien and Sarah, the lead character from Romero's Day of the Dead. (She overacts as the wimpy Barbara, but she's fun to root for when she turns tough.)

Romero wrote the screenplay, which seems silly as this update isn't fresh enough to conjure up any comparison the way you can with, say, the Siegel and Kaufman versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 and 1978 respectively). With the Night remake, Romero's intent was to try and recoup the money he didn't make from the 1968 film. While the movie was a big hit eventually, Romero and company never saw any of the box office earnings, partly because they failed to copyright the film under its hastily-changed title (it was original called Night of the Flesheaters). But Romero had already made three zombie films, and by now his career had mostly petered out with a number of disappointing releases (including the third zombie flick, Day of the Dead, and 1988's Monkey Shines).

Romero turned the directing duties over to longtime collaborator Tom Savini (the make-up effects guy from Martin, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, and a number of non-Romero films including Friday the 13th). Savini doesn't do an embarrassing job, but he's too much of a novice to salvage the material from being just so-so. As a make-up artist, Savini's instincts are garishly disgusting and funny. As a director he seems too careful to invest any of that eccentric monster magic into the movie.

With Tom Towles, McKee Anderson, William Butler, Kate Finneran, and Bill Moseley. 88 mins.

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