Seven strangers barricade themselves in a farmhouse
in an attempt to hide from a horde of flesh-eating monsters.
Night of the Living Dead (1990)
Directed by Tom Savini
Written by George A. Romero
Starring Patricia Tallman, Tony Todd, Tom Towles,
Bill Moseley, McKee Anderson, William Butler,
Kate Finneran, Heather Mazur, Bill Cardille
Remake of 1968's Night of the Living Dead
George Romero’s seminal 1968 film of the same title is one who’s influence cannot be understated. It is one of the most successful independent films of all time that came along during one of the country’s most tumultuous times and showed the talents of Duane Jones as a hero at a time when black men were not that prominent in film. This film also gave rise to the godfather of the modern zombie as we know it today, so why remake it?
If anybody other than George Romero or Tom Savini had teamed up to make this, it would have failed miserably. I think this can be seen in how other attempts to recreate this story have had mixed results leaning slightly more towards the lower end in terms of quality of story. Even seeing Menahem Golan’s name could give one pause for thought as his company, Cannon Films, was known for outlandish and over-the-top action films during the 80s and into the 90s. It says a lot that he backed off to let George and Tom do their thing.
Johnny (Moseley) and his sister, Barbara (Tallman), are visiting their mother’s grave in the Pennsylvania countryside. Johnny is complaining about the drive while Barbara just wants to get the trip over with. Like most brother’s, Johnny teases his sister “They’re coming to get you, Barbara. They’re horny and they’ve been dead a long time.” this is a line that has become immortal in film (Nick Frost uses it in Shaun of the Dead a movie that owes much to Romero’s zombie flicks) and you can say it to anyone and they know what you’re talking about. The joking around is short lived as a zombie attacks the siblings, ultimately killing Johnny and sending Barbara into a panic. She gets back to their car only to realize that Johnny still has the keys and is set upon by the aforementioned shambling menace and a new one revealed expertly from behind (pun intended) showing his improvised suit and for Barbara to discover by seeing its autopsy stitching. While not actually setting up the FX himself, Savini does know how to shoot them and this is one of the strong points of the film as his trademark misdirection ideas are present with zombie that look like they’re snapped in half and clawing their way along the ground with their hands. There is a scene early on when Barbara gets to the farmhouse where she meets Uncle Reg and beats him with a fire poker where, if you look close enough, you can tell that the top half of the zombie is a puppet being worked for maximum effect. As she comes to this house, so does another wayward soul and that is Ben played by the inimitable Tony Todd stepping into the shoes of the role Duane Jones held in 1968. His performance would have made Duane proud as Ben is strong, smart, and hold his own against the frightened, control freak in Cooper (the amazing Tom Towles). Their constant struggle for order is at the heart of the original Romero film and became an analog for the civil rights movement happening for real at the time of the film’s initial release. What is different in this iteration is how Barbara is portrayed and that arc is done well by Patricia Tallman who had worked previously with Romero and Savini in Knightriders, an allegorical film about LARPing knights on motorcycles living by their own means just as Romero was making his own way in filmmaking on the fringes of the studio system. Not content to sit on the couch with a frozen expression, this iteration of Barbara follows closely in the footsteps of another badass lady in Ellen Ripley. She loses her schoolteacher look for more appropriate ass-kicking attire complete with rifle and handgun. In fact, she becomes the voice of reason at one point and solidifies their predicament in a brutal way as she shoots an incoming zombie in the chest repeatedly asking, “Is he dead?!” until finally putting a bullet in its brain to drop it. Babs is not fucking around this time. As with the first film, these survivors must work together or be assimilated (or eaten) by the ever increasing horde of undead descending on their sanctuary. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t end well for most of the group but I’ll leave the final reveal for anyone who hasn’t seen this yet.
I think this film is a good remake especially in that you have Romero coming back to write along with Tom Savini who helped create the look of so many of George’s ghouls that it still holds up against the myriad other attempts to copy it that have shambled in its wake. The differences in plot and tone are enough to let both stand on their own and not feel like Savini’s film is just flat out copying shot for shot the previous film. I actually saw this version of Night of the Living Dead before the 1968 one and it is still one of my favorite zombie movies. Give me shambling, rotting corpses hungry for human flesh and a good story of the struggles of humanity to not consume themselves any day, call me old-fashioned.