Night of the Living Dead (1990)

Night of the Living Dead was a major hit upon release despite the controversy of it being much more violent and frightening than the usual Saturday matinee fare.  It quickly became a cult and critical favorite and made a lot of money.  However, it didn't make any money for its creator, writer/director George A. Romero.  He failed to put the correct copyright information on prints of the film meaning, under the law of the time, Night of the Living Dead immediately went into public domain.

While for the public this means that the original film is easy to access, it also means one doesn't always know what they're getting.  It could be the horrible colorized version or it could be a print of any quality, from sharp cleaned-up black and white in the original aspect to near-unwatchable washed-out prints. In the late 1980s Romero decided to do something about it by writing a new script and working with original producer John Russo as well as Menahem Golan to remake the movie so, even if the original remained in public domain, at least the story would be his and under his control.  

Barbara (Patricia Tallman) and her brother Johnnie (Bill Moseley) are headed to a remote cemetery to visit their mother's grave.  When they get there, as Johnnie taunts Barbara about being afraid, a real threat emerges as they are attacked by what appears to be walking corpses.  Johnnie is killed but Barbara manages to escape and make it to a nearby farmhouse where she finds more of the creatures.  While fighting with them Ben (Tony Todd) arrives looking for refuge or another vehicle.  He helps her clear out the remaining creatures, and the two decide what their next steps will be. 

They soon find out they are not the only ones hiding in the house.  Tom (William Butler), the nephew of the deceased owner, and his girlfriend Judy Rose (Katie Finneran) are hiding in the cellar with Harry Cooper (Tom Towles), his wife Helen (McKee Anderson) and their wounded daughter Sarah (Heather Mazur).  Harry is hostile with Ben from the start, demanding everyone retreat to the cellar, while Ben wants to board up the windows to the house in order to give more opportunities for escape.  As the night goes on more and more of the dead converge on the house and, through in-fighting and failed attempts to escape, things begin to look grim for all involved.

Tom Savini ended up directing this and, as it was his first movie, most of his suggestions to Russo and Golan were ignored.  Golan, as usual, began ripping pages out of the script while trying to save a penny here and there.  There was also the MPAA to deal with since, even though Savini sought to keep the violence down due to the original being restrained, they still gave it an X rating and demanded cuts.  Night of the Living Dead was viewed as an unnecessary remake and, after all of Savini's efforts, was ignored at the box office, although it still did its job of securing Romero's copyright. 

Where Savini could have done a shot-by-shot remake he made several changes to the story.  In the original Barbara is catatonic most of the movie, while in this one she has a brief moment to get ahold of herself before helping to fortify and defend the house along with Ben.  Thus, she becomes a strong lead character rather than a bit of an afterthought.  

What is not a welcome change is that the rivalry between Ben and Harry has been amped up.  I think one thing that works against this version is that the audience becomes as frustrated listening to the two of them argue as does everyone in the house.  The original contained more underlying tension between the two, while in this one they go on like reality show contestants.  That doesn't take away from the fact that Tony Todd still gives a great performance.  Another disappointment is that the documentary feel of the original is gone, with all the action taking place within the house until the end. 

Despite these flaws it is still a good movie on its own.  There is enough different, as well as a few surprises, to make this worth watching.  It is an alternate take on the original story rather than just being the same thing but in color with modern effects.  There are some haunting scenes toward the end that stick in the memory, some of which were meant to be in the original, that help to drive home the point of the movie even if the ending of this version doesn't have the same impact as the original. 

Night of the Living Dead (1990)
Time: 92 minutes
Starring: Tony Todd, Patricia Tallman, Tom Towles
Director: Tom Savini



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