Wednesday, April 2, 2014

'Night of The Living Dead (1990)' (Movie Review)

There are two horror movies that are intrinsically burned into my mind from my childhood. The first is Graveyard Shift, and the second is the Tom Savini remake of Night of The Living Dead. I still remember sneaking downstairs late at night to watch Showtime and this movie being on almost weekly. It later fell into rotation on "Spine Tingler Theater" which was a Saturday horror double-feature program on the local NYC affiliate. I have the utmost respect for the original NoTLD and everything it did to essentially spawn an entire sub-genre, but one thing Romero's original vision lacked was pre-Candyman Tony Todd going totally bonkers.

There are so many conflicting opinions about this movie. In 1990, there wasn't a high profile "reboot" being announced every week, and even then people asked "is this really necessary?" Apparently George Romero thought it was, and put Tom Savini in the director's chair. What resulted was a faithful re-creation of the 1968 original with a few important elements shaken up and a much cooler soundtrack.

The movie is essentially a shot-for-shot remake with a different stylistic approach. What I love most is Patricia Tallman and Tony Todd's sublime level of over-acting. It's incredible. Most scenes feel like they were re-created "dialed up to 11" because everyone is either screaming, crying, or running around bashing zombies in the face while screaming and crying. A major change arrives about thirty minutes into the flick when Barbara goes from "lunatic" to "angry lunatic-mercenary" and becomes an expert marksman. It's unexplained, but works somehow. Harry Cooper is also portrayed as far more of a douche in this version and is totally unhelpful to the group in any way. I won't spoil the alternate ending suffice to say that it's ironic and ties into both Dawn of The Dead and Day of The Dead a little more smoothly.

The special effects are leaps and bounds better than the original, and I remember the shrieking window zombie in particular scaring the hell out of me as a kid. The undead are portrayed in a frightening yet strangely comical and incidentally dangerous way. They stupidly shamble around bumping into walls and eating bugs. Their origins are a mystery and luckily Savini didn't feel the need to address a back story. In fact, the TV and radio segments are more sparse in this version. I remember that feeling of extreme isolation freaking me out when I watched it so many years ago.

Almost 25 years after its creation and Night of The Living Dead is now on Netflix for everyone to enjoy. It suffered in obscurity for a while, not receiving any official modern home release until sometime around 1999. I have to say as an adult I enjoyed it for a host of new reasons. The insane overacting and extreme sweatiness of Harry Cooper, along with that cheesy grittiness only late 80's and early 90's horror movies achieved. Patricia Tallman is absolutely out of control as well, to the point where a lot of viewers will probably hate her. If you're a fan of the original, you owe it to yourself to check out this version. Hopefully you'll love it as much as I still do.

Grade: A
Reviewed on VOD via Netflix. Running time 92 MIN.

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