Thursday, March 27, 2008

Night of the Living Dead (1990)

The Action Mutant…
says the MPAA are the real zombies!

Night of the Living Dead (1990)

review by Joe Burrows

You know, those that know me would think that if I had a time machine (and God willing, I will one day) I would take out Menahem Golan if he was planning to produce a color remake of the 1968 zombie classic (and one that was not helmed by original director George A. Romero). Remakes of horror films usually don’t pan out well, especially if the filmmaker is bent on changing certain characteristics that made the original so distinctive (color film? Well look who became Walt fucking Disney all of a sudden!) And, of course, some don’t change things enough (Last name: Van Sant. First name: Gus,). However, sometimes the brain-trust have their collective heads together just enough to make things work. And they can change a few things for the better, as well. Wait, why is it ok to change some things but not others? We moviegoers are a particular bunch, seeing as some contributed to Kangaroo Jack being the #1 film in America at one time.

The Plot, as it was:
I’m guessing if you’ve seen the 1968 original, then no real explanation of plot is needed. Just read the synopsis for that here.

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
Most would think the teaming of one of the kings of 80s Action mindlessness and one of the finest horror virtuosos wouldn’t work but dammed if it doesn’t. Romero and co-writer John A. Russo keep the spirit and content relatively the same (sans a few slight changes in the story) and have the ace of having horror makeup master Tom Savini as director. Granted, the underground vibe and social/racial undercurrent are less prevalent here (it was 1990, after all). And those expecting a bloody splatter fest will most likely be disappointed, thanks to our all mighty lords and saviors (the MPAA). Nevertheless, enough strong elements are available to make it a fun watch, particularly involving the two leads. Todd fills the strong, imposing shoes of Ben and has the audience empathize with his slowly spiraling downturn (I wonder where Keith David was in all of this, though). Despite the formidable characterization, I have to agree that Ben’s plan to deal with the zombies was not the right plan of action (not to mention the argument about it that brings up the one gaping plot hole that bugged me during watching this). Tallman is the perfect choice for Barbara, as the lead female role has changed from a catatonic waif in the original to Jane Kickass, Zombie Fucker-upper here. Romero wrote the role as an “apology” for the original imaging of Barbara and I willingly approve (not that I felt the original portrayal by Judith O’Dea was bad but I just find this one more appealing). The changing of Barbara’s dynamic definitely makes it more woman-friendly when matched up against the constant shouting between Ben and Harry Cooper (Tom Towles), as Harry is uncooperative almost from second number one as opposed the original. Towles plays Harry as even more of an asshole than Karl Hardman played him in the original, becoming more of an annoyance as the film went on (I mean, who the fuck calls anyone a “yo-yo” these days?). All in all, it’s not perfect but it isn’t a train wreck either and there’s more than enough fun and sly touches from the original to satisfy even the core fans.

Character/Supporting Actor Sighting!:
- Russ Streiner and Bill “Chilly Billy” Cardille (Johnny and Field Reporter from the original) show up as Sheriff McClelland (uncredited) and TV interviewer, respectively.

Body Count/Violence: 29 (6 mortal deaths and 23 on-screen zombie kills, not including the ending bonfire). The MPAA put their stamp on the proceedings by shortening some of the bloodier kills and excising some entirely (fuckers). Despite much of Savini’s madness being toned down, there’s still plenty of shotgun blasts to the heads of zombies to send them packing. There is also skull puncturing by crowbar and poker, zombies being lit on fire, neck biting and breaking, stabbing, car rundown, bonfires, hangings, light flesh eating, etc. A “Director’s Cut” would be nice one day.

Sexuality/Nudity: I may get disagreements but I was digging Patricia Tallman’s sexy, pixie-ish legs as she stripped to her underwear in one scene. Sometimes, it’s the subtlest things that work (though the symbolism in the scene isn’t quite subtle). If you want non-subtle, there’s a butt shot from a male zombie and a nude female zombie (nod to the original).

Language/Dialogue: About 2 F words and other obscenities. And Yo-yos!

How bad was it?:
Most critics couldn’t help but to compare it to the ’68 version, so most reviews were less than complementary. The gore crowd was disappointed by the lack of the red stuff and the fans of the first one didn’t care for the lack of subtext here. Critics have been kinder since its initial release but most reviews are still middling.

Did it make the studio’s day?:
Columbia Pictures paired up with Golan’s 21 Century Film Corp. to distribute NotLD in the U.S., releasing it on 10/19/90. Despite a fairly low budget of $4.2 million, the remake could only muster up a 6th place finish in its first weekend. It finished not long after that with a total gross of $5.8 million and an unfair distinction as “horrible”. The distribution to only 1,544 theaters at its height probably didn’t help matters.

Film: **1/2/*****
Entertainment value: ****/*****

Copyright 2007 The Action Mutant.


Anonymous said...

I love this movie and it led to my love of zombies in general.

I saw this one before the original and I actually prefer it over the original.

Joe Burrows said...

I though there were many great elements in this film but it's mainly because a) the original is the original and b) I saw the original first and it was rather monumental for me that I enjoyed the original more. However, this is not to discredit the remake in any way, as I felt this is one of the better remakes I've seen of any film.