Night of the Living Dead (1990) Movie Review

It should be obvious by now that I don’t look at movies like “Night of the Living Dead” and say, “The Hours”, the same way. Some people like to go to the movies to be bored to death by pretentious wonderings on why the world isn’t full of homosexuals, that way the world would be full of happy people, or some such other New York Intelligentsia gobblely-gook. Personally, I go to the movies to have a good time, and if a movie happens to provoke more than just a sense that I haven’t wasted 2 hours of my life, all the better.

“Night of the Living Dead” is the 1990 remake of George Romero’s 1968 classic of the same name (the review for that one is here). The budget is bigger and the movie is now shot in color, with a better camera, and special effects make-up guru Tom Savini stepping into the director’s chair. The cast is, of course, also different, but for the most part they’re still made up of unknowns, all the better to save money required to pay “big name actors”, so that the money can go to where it matters most — film production. Patricia Tallman (TV’s “Babylon 5”) steps into the role of Barbara, and Tony Todd (the “Candyman” franchise) plays Ben.

“NOTLD 90” opens the same way the original did, which is no surprise because the movie is based entirely on the original screenplay, with some minor revisions by Romero to accommodate the 1990 realities. The first noticeable difference is that Barbara doesn’t waste much time turning from damsel in distress to Ellen Ripley ala “Aliens”. Once Ben arrives at the farmhouse and barricades himself and Barbara in from the living dead, Barbara is right next to him, rifle in hand. The fact that Ben is black and everyone else is white also seems to be irrelevant.

Tom Towles takes over the role of the irredeemable Harry Cooper, whose job is to act the part of the Professional Jerk. The constantly screeching and generally useless Judy Rose is played by Katie Finneran, who constantly screeches and is, well, generally useless. William Butler is Tom, Judy’s boyfriend, who is somewhat helpful, although not by much. With this cast of rejects, it’s no wonder that the only salvation for mankind rests in the hands of drunken rednecks with too much bullets, time, beer, and general disregard for life — dead or otherwise — on their hands.

Because the movie is such a faithful adaptation of Romero’s original, it’s unnecessary to talk about the plot/storyline. Director Tom Savini does a very good job offering up some things Romero didn’t take advantage of in his movie. There are a number of scenes, especially early on, when characters stroll past windows and doors, and the camera lingers on them. We expect the windows to break open and a zombie hand to reach out, but this never happens — at least not when we expect it to. I appreciated this sense of “will they, won’t they?” brought to the table by Savini.

What is obviously missing is the moody, somber look and vibe of the original, which was shot in grainy black and white. But Savini does just fine with what he has, which is an abundant of gore, very inspired kill scenes (including a tire iron to the head), and very believable prosthetic makeup. In one scene, Ben drives over a zombie, leaving the zombie to lay twisted on the ground with its entire lower body twisted at an odd angle. Very good stuff, and one wouldn’t expect anything less from Savini.

Maybe because it owes a lot to the original screenplay, or perhaps an obvious love for the genre brought to the project by Savini, but “NOTLD 90” is a terrific and effective Zombies Attack movie. It’s much better than a lot of the Zombies Attack films that have come after it, and those that have come before. The simplicity of the original story is still there, and an enthusiasm by the filmmakers that is nicely translated onto the screen. Savini deserves all the credit in the world for lavishing the film with obvious love and honor. Can someone tell me why the man hasn’t directed more movies?

Although that whole sequence toward the end, with gun-toting, keg-drinking rednecks is a bit much. (Everyone knows rednecks don’t drink from kegs!) There’s definitely no subtlety when it comes to the motivations of the rednecks, and this unfortunately dulls much of the movie’s attempt at social commentary. It doesn’t help that every single redneck seems to come straight from Stereotype Casting Central.

Tom Savini (director) / John A. Russo, George A. Romero (screenplay)
CAST: Tony Todd …. Ben
Patricia Tallman …. Barbara
Tom Towles …. Harry Cooper
McKee Anderson …. Helen Cooper
William Butler …. Tom

Buy Night of the Living Dead on DVD