As a George Romero fan...as a Tom Savini fan...how is it that before today I had never seen Savini's 1990 remake of Romero's '68 classic Night of the Living Dead? I should make myself go sit in the corner.
There's a huge amount of remakes coming out of Hollywood nowadays (they're even talking about remaking Friday the 13th, for Charles Nelson Reilly's sake!), as we all know. It's like Remakemania, or Remake-a-go-go, or Remakegate, or Remakeapalooza, or...ok, I'll stop. These new versions of old favorites are, almost across the board, reviled more than Potted Meat. Savini's NotLD seems to fare pretty well in public opinion, though, with good reason. George Romero wrote the screenplay (he co-wrote the original with John Russo), so he DID have a major hand in the way the new version would stack up.
While the basic plot of the film remains true to the original- a bunch of people end up stranded in a Pennsylvania farmhouse trying to survive the onslaught by the living dead- the characterizations in the two versions are different to varying degrees. Most notably, Barbara has gone from being a near-mute lump on the couch (as portrayed by Judith O'Dea in '68) to a take-charge ass-kicker (as portrayed by Patricia Tallman). While she starts the film in a long skirt, she ends up in pants, big boots and a tank top. She's about one pair of glacier glasses away from being Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2. She's a more interesting character to watch in this version, I suppose, but to me the shell-shocked Barbara seems more realistic.
There's alot of points to compare and contrast between the two movies, and I can't seem to form big, smart sentences easily tonight. Thus, I will do this thang as if the two versions of Night of the Living Dead are locked in a steel cage, prepared to kick each other in the nuts until one cries "uncle". Let's get ready to comparrrrrrrrre the two mooooovieeeeeeees!
Barbara vs. Barbara- I know Romero was ashamed of the original Barbara. He felt she was weak and he's sought to make his female characters strong ever since. He's going for that here, and I suppose he succeeds, but I empathized much more with the black and white Babs. Winner: I'm in the minority, here, but I'll go with 1968.
Ben vs. Ben- Tony Todd does such a great job in the new version...he's much more human than Duane Jones's's's Supermanesque Ben. The new Ben still takes charge, but he makes mistakes. He's much more affected by what's going on in the world around him, and, aw shucks- he cries. Winner: 1990.
The killing of Mrs. Cooper- When Land of the Dead, Romero's newest zombie flick, hit the screen, people were bitching about zombies using tools and weapons. Well, it was an idea he introduced in 1968, folks! Poor little Karen Cooper (Kyra Schon) comes back to life and kills her mother with a fucking garden trowel in a harrowing scene. Romero uses funky camera and sound techniques while Karen's stabbing away that are really, truly, unsettling. 30 years later, Karen is now "Sarah" (Heather Mazur), and she just chomps on mom like any other dumb old zombie would. Boo! Winner: 1968.
Johnny: Yes, he of the horn-rimmed glasses, polka-dotted tie, and driving gloves. He, the annoying brother who delivers the infamous line "They're coming to get you Barbara!". Let's just say that New Johnny (Bill Moseley) has a better death scene in the cemetery, but that's his only advantage. He's far more annoying than the Old Johnny (Russ Streiner), and has none of the humor. AND he just ends up in a zombie pig pile in the back of a truck- he doesn't come back after Barbara or nuthin'! Winner: 1968.
Gore/FX: I haven't listened to Tom Savini's commentary track or watched any of the DVD bonuses yet, but from what I've read, I understand that Savini was only able to bring about half of his vision for the film to the screen. That may account for a noticeable lack of full-color gore. I was shocked, flabbergasted, taken aback, and dumbstruck (in that order) by the fact that other Savini zombie efforts were so much more explicit. Maybe it's because he was too busy directing and Everett Burrell was Special Makeup Effects Supervisor, I don't know. I expected a real gross-out feast scene after the pickup truck explodes, and to my surprise the '68 version was wayyy more graphic. The zombies themselves, however, look far superior in '90. Winner: tie!
The ending: Romero's classic version ends with such a downward spiral to the final bonfire scene. Everyone we've come to care about is dead, whether through their own undoing or circumstance. The still images shown with the credits- the meathooks, the bodies, the fire- are haunting and accompanied by very little sound. In Savini's version, Barbara survives. She becomes the eyes of the audience as she watches the zombie-bustin' posse using the living dead for sport (another idea revisited in Land of the Dead), laughing and carrying on amidst the horror and carnage. We kinda get smacked over the head with the whole just who ARE the savages here ? idea when she utters, "They're us. We're them, and they're us.". Why not put a big flashing neon arrow onscreen, blinking "METAPHOR!"? And quite frankly, something about the music and dancing around during the final bonfire scene brought only one image to mind, and I hope you know what I'm talkin' bout, Willis: Yub Yub! Winner: 1968.
All in all, I did like the Savini version. I just like Romero's better. But how does this movie stand on it's own? What does it rate if I get all Quantum Leap and pretend the B&W version never was? It's a fun movie. Not really scary, but enjoyable- although I did spend alot of time trying to shoot lasers out of my eyes at the TV to make Judy Rose (Katie Finneran) stop the fucking screaming already. Overall, though? 7 out of 10 stinky corpses.
BUT WAIT! I cannot end this without mentioning that this movie contains he who is now my all-time favorite big screen zombie. Move over, Bub. Here comes this guy:
Him hate fire! I don't know who he is, but he is hamming it up SO MUCH that I absolutely love it. He's like Silent Film Zombie or something.