Night of the Living Dead (1990 film)

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Night of the Living Dead
Theatrical release poster
Directed byTom Savini
Screenplay byGeorge A. Romero
Based on
Night of the Living Dead
by
Produced by
Starring
CinematographyFrank Prinzi
Edited byTom Dubensky
Music byPaul McCollough
Production
companies
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • October 19, 1990 (1990-10-19)
Running time
88 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$4.2 million[2]
Box office$5.8 million[3]

Night of the Living Dead (also known as George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead) is a 1990 American horror film directed by Tom Savini (in his feature directorial debut) and starring Tony Todd and Patricia Tallman. It is a remake of George A. Romero's 1968 film of the same title; Romero rewrote the original 1968 screenplay he had originally co-authored with John A. Russo.[4][5]

Like the original, the film follows seven strangers as they meet and survive in a rural farmhouse, following the awakening of cannibalistic zombies. It is the only "official" remake of the 1968 film, with other "unofficial" remakes coming out after, as a result of the source material's lack of copyright ownership (resulting in being in the public domain).

Night of the Living Dead was released by Columbia Pictures in the United States on October 19, 1990. The film received negative reviews upon initial release and grossed $5.8 million against a $4.2 million budget. Modern reviews have been more positive.

Plot[edit]

One idyllic August afternoon, siblings Barbara and Johnny visit their mother's grave in a remote cemetery in rural Pennsylvania. An elderly man with blood on his forehead bumps into them there, garbles something and bolts in terror. While offering to help him, they are attacked by a zombie. Johnny is killed while Barbara flees the cemetery and discovers what appears to be an abandoned farm house. She seeks shelter there, only to find another pack of zombies. Shortly after, a man named Ben, who fled Evans City, arrives and helps Barbara dispatch the zombies. The two quickly form a bond and clear the house of the undead and begin barricading the doors and windows as night falls.

They soon discover other survivors holed up in the cellar: a man named Harry Cooper; his wife Helen; their daughter Sarah, who was bitten by a zombie and has fallen seriously ill; and teenage lovers Tom Bitner and Judy Rose Larson. The group is divided over what their next course of action should be. Harry insists that everyone retreats to the cellar and hunker down to wait for the authorities. Ben disagrees believing that the cellar is a "death trap" and they would be better off fortifying the house and fending off the horde. Noticing the zombies' limited mobility, Barbara suggests that the group leave the house on foot. The discussion quickly turns hostile. A scuffle between Ben and Harry leaves the Coopers in the basement to tend to Sarah, while the other survivors continue reinforcing the doors and windows upstairs. The loud construction attracts a mob of zombies to the farmhouse. It doesn't take long for the infected to hem in, leaving the group trapped with nowhere to go.

The group devises a plan to escape using Ben's truck, which is out of fuel, by refueling at a locked gas pump nearby. They find a set of keys in Uncle Rege's corpse (the farm's owner) and proceed to drive up the hill toward the gas pump, but their plan begins to unravel when Ben falls from the bed of the truck and is left to defend himself. To their horror, the key to the gas pump is not among the set they brought with them. Realizing they are out of time, Tom shoots the lock off, causing gasoline to ignite a burning torch in the cargo bed. The truck and gas pump explode, killing both Tom and Judy.

Ben has no choice but to make his way back to the house, only to find things beginning to dissolve into chaos. Harry has wrestled Barbara's gun away from her and is now armed while the horde burst their way in. Unbeknownst to the survivors upstairs, Sarah has succumbed to the bite on her arm and has transformed into a zombie; she attacks and bites her distraught mother. When Sarah makes her way upstairs, she triggers a shootout between her father, who is trying to protect her, and Ben and Barbara, who are trying to protect themselves. Both Ben and Harry are badly wounded, and Barbara shoots Sarah. Harry retreats upstairs to the attic, while Ben staggers down to the cellar, where he shoots a reanimated Helen. Ben gradually goes into shock, and after realizing the gas pump key has been in the cellar the entire time, he laughs mindlessly at the irony before dying from his injuries.

Meanwhile, Barbara leaves the farm house alone and attempts to find help. She eventually joins a group of countryside locals who are clearing the area of the undead, and awakens the next day in a makeshift camp surrounded by the safety of the media and townspeople, led by Sheriff McClelland. Noticing a group of hillbillies drunkenly antagonizing a small group of captured zombies, she comments on the similarities between the living and the undead. She returns to the farmhouse to find Ben, who is now zombified; he gazes at Barbara before being shot. When Harry emerges from the attic alive, Barbara kills him in a fit of rage and retribution for causing Ben's death, and turns to leave the house, telling the vigilantes they have "another one for the fire." Barbara watches grimly as the bodies are burned on a pyre.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Night of the Living Dead (1968) director and co-writer George A. Romero said that the remake came about in part because of issues over profits of the original film. A lengthy court battle over the rights to the film, plus an oversight that caused the copyright notice not to be included, caused Romero to see little in the way of profit. Romero's production company, Image Ten, eventually won the lawsuit, but the distributor went out of business before they could collect any money. Another issue was the fact that the filmmakers were worried that someone else might make an unauthorized remake. Romero contacted Menahem Golan when he heard that 21st Century Film Corporation was interested in a remake, and Romero, John A. Russo, and Russell Streiner collaborated for the first time in 20 years.[2] Tom Savini was initially hired to perform the special effects, but was persuaded to direct by Romero.[6] Savini was drawn to the remake because he was unavailable to do special effects on the original.[7]

The special effects team intentionally kept the effects restrained, as they felt that excessive gore would be disrespectful to the original film.[2] To keep the effects realistic, they used as inspiration a real autopsy, forensic pathology textbooks, and Nazi death camp footage. Savini said that he wanted to keep the film artistic despite his reputation as "the king of splatter".[2] The zombie extras were recruited easily, as the film's reputation drew them from as far away as Kentucky.[8]

The production was not easy for Savini, who described it as "the worst nightmare of my life". Savini said that only 40% of his ideas made it into the final film. Without Romero on set, he clashed with the producers, who did not allow him to explore his vision for the film.[7]

Release[edit]

To avoid an X rating, Savini had to cut several scenes from the film. Savini attributed the film's lack of popularity among horror fans to these cuts.[7] A Blu-ray version was released in a limited edition of 3,000 on October 9, 2012, by Twilight Time.[9] Australian film distributor Umbrella Entertainment released a special edition of the film featuring a restored print, alongside the 1968 original on Blu-ray on April 6, 2016.[10]

Reception[edit]

Contemporary[edit]

The initial response and critical consensus among both audience members and critics was generally negative.[8]

Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly rated it D+ and wrote, "In the history of bad ideas, George Romero's decision to produce a color remake of his disturbingly frenzied 1968 zombiefest Night of the Living Dead has to rank right up there with New Coke...The original Night was taken by some to be a statement about the Vietnam War; this one isn’t about anything larger than Romero’s desire to make a buck."[11] Writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert awarded the film one star out of a possible four, writing, "The remake is so close to the original that there is no reason to see both".[12] Caryn James of The New York Times wrote, "There was no real need to remake a film that lives on the campy cult appeal it has acquired over time. But as B-movies and remakes go, this one knows how to bring tired zombies back to life."[13] Variety called it "a crass bit of cinematic grave-robbing".[14] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "While this Night hasn't the chilling, almost cinema-verite credibility of the original, it is certainly a well-sustained entertainment".[15] In The Washington Post, Richard Harrington criticized the film as a purely financial effort that lacks the shock of the original film now that zombie film tropes have become clichéd.[16] Dave Kehr of the Chicago Tribune rated it three out of four stars and wrote that although Savini's direction is a bit too literal, the film "contains some intriguing further development of the ideas of the first film, as well as some mistakes corrected and dramatic relationships tightened."[17]

Retrospective[edit]

Modern criticism has been more appreciative.[18] As of 2023, Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 68% of 34 critics have given the film a positive review; the average rating is 6.3/10. The critical consensus reads: "Night of the Living Dead doesn't quite reinvent the original's narrative, but its sleek action and amplified gore turn it into a worthy horror showcase."[19] On Metacritic it has a score of 54 out of 100 based on reviews from 18 critics, indicating mixed to average reviews.[20] Bloody Disgusting rated it four-and-a-half out of five stars and wrote, "This film works on so many levels. Normally, remakes are horrible, and diverge so much from the original film. This one is so close to the original it's scary."[21] Reviewing the Twilight Time Blu-ray, Adam Tyner of DVD Talk rated it 3.5/5 stars and wrote, "We'll never get a chance to see the remake that Tom Savini set out to direct. Still, despite the many missteps of this severely compromised version, Night of the Living Dead manages to distinguish itself as one of the more effective horror remakes out there."[22] Reviewing the same disc at DVD Verdict, Patrick Naugle rated it 83 out of 100 and called it "one of the superior zombies movies available".[23] In a retrospective at PopMatters, academic Cynthia Freeland compared the racial politics of the original film and the gender politics of the remake. Freeland concludes that the original film's depiction of Barbara makes for better cinema, and the more feminist-friendly update of Barbara is too derivative of standard "final girl" tropes.[24]

Savini often screens an uncut work print VHS copy of the film at conventions.[25] According to Savini, "Years later I was at a midnight showing and did a Q&A before the movie, and I wasn't going to sit down and watch it, but I did...And it was the first time that I saw it objectively, and it's good!"[25]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Night of the Living Dead". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved August 18, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d Steigerwald, Bill (August 5, 1990). "The Zombie Movie That Won't Die : George Romero and company are remaking their classic 'Night of the Living Dead' because they've got a score to settle". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  3. ^ "Night of the Living Dead". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  4. ^ Maçek, J.C. III (June 15, 2012). "The Zombification Family Tree: Legacy of the Living Dead". PopMatters.
  5. ^ James, Caryn (October 19, 1990). "The Zombies Return, in Living (or Is It Dead?) Color". The New York Times.
  6. ^ Kane 2010, p. 160.
  7. ^ a b c Schultz, Gary (January 14, 2003). "An Interview with Tom Savini". FilmMonthly.com. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  8. ^ a b Kane 2010, p. 163.
  9. ^ Barton, Steve (September 14, 2012). "Tom Savini's Night of the Living Dead Coming to Blu-ray". Dread Central. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  10. ^ "Night of the Living Dead 1968 & 1990 Blu-ray". Blu-ray.com. Retrieved March 11, 2016.
  11. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (October 26, 1990). "Night of the Living Dead (Movie - 1990)". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  12. ^ Ebert, Roger (October 19, 1990). "Night Of The Living Dead". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved February 8, 2020.
  13. ^ James, Caryn (October 19, 1990). "Night of the Living Dead (1990)". The New York Times. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  14. ^ "Review: 'Night of the Living Dead'". Variety. December 31, 1989. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  15. ^ Thomas, Kevin (October 19, 1990). "MOVIE REVIEW : Darkly Humorous Remake of 'Living Dead'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  16. ^ Harrington, Richard (October 22, 1990). "'Night of the Living Dead' (R)". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  17. ^ Kehr, Dave (October 19, 1990). "Reliving 'Dead'". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  18. ^ Kane 2010, p. 164.
  19. ^ "Night of the Living Dead (1990)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 25, 2023.
  20. ^ "Night of the Living Dead". Metacritic. Retrieved May 4, 2020.
  21. ^ "Night of the Living Dead". Bloody Disgusting. October 22, 2004. Archived from the original on February 9, 2015. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  22. ^ Tyner, Adam (October 6, 2012). "Night of the Living Dead (1990) (Blu-ray)". DVD Talk. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  23. ^ Naugle, Patrick (October 5, 2012). "Night of the Living Dead (1990) (Blu-ray)". DVD Verdict. Archived from the original on October 8, 2012. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  24. ^ Freeland, Cynthia (October 29, 2008). "Victim or Vigilante? The Case of the Two Barbras". PopMatters. Retrieved May 11, 2015.
  25. ^ a b "Interview: Tom Savini on Life After 'Dead'". November 13, 2022.

Bibliography[edit]

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