Wednesday, October 7, 2009

October Horror-thon #7: "Night of the Living Dead" (1990)

They're coming to get you, Barbara...

The chilling words that helped usher in Night of the Living Dead are also used to kick off the beginning of its 1990 remake. Ostensibly, the scenario is the same. The aforementioned Barbara (Patricia Tallman) and her obnoxious brother (Bill Moseley, who'd probably deck you for calling him obnoxious) are on their way to pay respects at their mother's gravesite. But when they arrive, they discover that a horror beyond all imagination has taken shape. The dead have begun rising from their graves and attacking the living, their victims themselves resurrecting and joining their numbers. Barbara manages to survive an encouter with one of the zombies, making her way to a farmhouse that a handful of survivors have chosen to take shelter in. But as the undead masses continue to grow outside, tensions rise inside, giving Barbara just as much reason to fear her fellow man along with the gathering ghouls.

As Star Trek did a rollicking job of proving this past summer, sometimes the best way to appreciate something you love is to go back to basics. By the time the '90s Night came along, George Romero's reputation as a maestro of the macabre had been well-established. There was no question as to how he impacted the modern zombie film, but as the Deads Dawn and Day continued to accumulate fans on the cult circuit, a little something was needed to remind Romero fans of their roots. Night of the Living Dead sets out thusly, as it's a very lean and scaled-down affair (a sharp contrast to the crazy-go-nuts free-for-all that is Zombieland). "But," you might ask, "why not just release the original movie instead of wasting peoples' time with an unnecessary remake?" Well, dear readers -- you're absolutely right. This Night of the Living Dead was driven not by the need to tell a story frightening on multiple levels but to exploit name recognition for a few quick bucks. Sure, the plot essentially parrots that of the original, but it only serves to enhance what an overall useless endeavor it is. Gone is the biting social commentary that made the '68 film stand out so much; in its place are screaming matches between increasingly irritating characters you can't wait to become zombie chow. There's no soul to this production, nothing to watch but the filmmakers going through whatever motions some exec beating the Living Dead horse for all its worth condemned them to.

For all this venom, though, there are still some aspects of the film I admired. The ambience is simple yet undeniably unnerving at times, Tony Todd excells as Mark II of the heroic Ben character, and I thanked the heavens that Tallman transformed Barbara from a daft dame into a take-charge heroine Sigourney Weaver would be proud of. All in all, Night of the Living Dead is an okay movie with okay moments, but its hopes of attaining the original's greatness are better left buried six feet under.

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