Towards the end of last week I was looking through my Netflix Instant queue and realized that a whole bunch of movies I wanted to watch were going to leave the streaming service on July 1st. That day has come and gone and I got to watch three out of 20 films, which is just about what I expected to get done.
One of those movies was Tom Savini’s 1990 remake of George A. Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead. I realized as I was cueing the movie up that this was actually my first foray into the world of Romero’s films (even if tangentially) and very well might have been my first straight-ahead zombie film. I remember getting the movie from my beloved Family Video and taking it over to my buddy Andy’s house for an overnight movie marathon. I didn’t remember too much, but that scene where Johnnie gets tackled into the grave stone has stuck with me forever because it came out of nowhere and looked so damn real.
This time around I might have been able to see some of the movie magic involved in that particular scene, I was actually much more taken with the plot of this film. I’m not saying that the remake will ever take the place of the original in my heart, but there is a whole lot to like in this version which goes a few different places the original doesn’t. Those differences are important and, as far as I’m concerned, the only reason to do a remake. You’ve got to have something new to say or do, otherwise, what’s the point?
The set-up of this film is the same as the original in that Barbara (Patricia Tallman) and her brother Johnnie (Bill Moseley) heading way out in the middle of nowhere to put flowers on their mom’s grave. While there they encounter their first zombie. Barbara escapes and runs to a farm house where she meets fellow survivor Ben (Tony Todd), basement dwellers Harry (Tom Towles), Helen (McKee Anderson) and Sarah Cooper (Heather Mazur) and young couple Tom (William Butler) and Judy Rose (Katie Finneran).The group must not only deal with the oncoming hordes of the undead, but their differing opinions on how to stay alive.
I won’t get into all the differences between the films because, honestly, my memory isn’t solid enough to do that without watching the original right after the remake and I had Death Wish sequels to watch, so that’s not happening. Plus, since I saw this one first, the details stick in my head more than the original even though I’ve seen that one far more times. But, the main difference that makes me think this remake has its own value comes in the form of Barbara. While the original version of the character is a screaming mess throughout most of the film, this new version goes through a fantastic metamorphosis that starts where the original character began and changes her into an incredibly capable, bad ass character.
I noticed while watching this time that her evolution can be documented by the clothing changes she makes throughout the film. In the beginning she’s wearing a dress. Not long after she meets Ben, she’s putting on socks and boots. Later she pulls pants on under her dress and eventually she ditches that garment altogether and rolls with just a white tank top. With each wardrobe change, you get the feeling that she’s adapting more and more to this crazy new world she’s a part of. Some people might read this as a kind of “man-ification,” but I saw the changes are coming from a place of pure practicality, but then again, I hate gender-based labels.
So, if you’re a Romero fan who shies away from the many (MANY) remakes of his films or just someone who missed out on this 1990 offering, I’d say give it a shot. Maybe wait until the original isn’t so fresh in your mind, but try to go in with an open mind and look for the good changes within. Plus, this being a Savini joint, it’s got some rad gore effects and actually looks really great all around. I wonder why he doesn’t direct more.