Night of the Living Dead (1990 film)
|Night of the Living Dead|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Tom Savini|
|Screenplay by||George A. Romero|
|Based on||Night of the Living Dead|
by George A. Romero
John A. Russo
|Music by||Paul McCollough|
|Edited by||Tom Dubensky|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Box office||$5.8 million|
Night of the Living Dead is a 1990 American horror film directed by Tom Savini and starring Tony Todd, Patricia Tallman, and Tom Towles. It is a remake of George A. Romero's 1968 horror film of the same name. Romero rewrote the original 1968 screenplay he had originally co-authored with John A. Russo.
Siblings Barbara and Johnnie visit their mother's grave in a remote Pennsylvania cemetery. During their visit, Barbara is attacked by a zombie. Her brother comes to her defense, but is killed. Barbara flees the cemetery and discovers what at first seems to be an abandoned farmhouse. She seeks shelter there, only to find another pack of zombies. Shortly after, a man named Ben arrives, and the two clear the house of the dead and begin the process of barricading the doors and windows.
They discover other survivors who have been hiding in the cellar of the house: Harry Cooper, a selfish and argumentative husband; his wife Helen; their daughter Sarah, who was bitten by a zombie and has fallen seriously ill; and teenager lovers Tom Bitner and Judy Rose Larson. The group is divided over what their next course of action should be. Harry believes everyone should retreat to the cellar and barricade the door to wait for the authorities. Ben thinks the cellar is a "death trap" and that they would be better served fortifying the house, which at least has alternate escape routes, and Barbara suggests that the group should simply leave the house on foot after she notices the zombies' limited mobility. An argument between Ben and Harry leaves the Coopers in the basement to tend to their ailing daughter, and the remaining members remain upstairs to continue their work reinforcing the doors and windows. The loud construction attracts even more zombies to the farmhouse, soon collecting a large mob.
The group devises a plan to escape using Ben's truck, which is out of fuel, by refueling at a locked gas pump a few hundred yards away. A search of the corpse who lived in the farmhouse produces an unknown set of keys. Judy Rose, Tom, and Ben proceed 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 bunch they brought with them. When Tom shoots the lock off, the gasoline gushing forth is ignited by a burning piece of wood in the truck. The resulting explosion kills both Tom and Judy.
Ben returns to the house to find things beginning to dissolve into chaos. Harry has wrestled Barbara's gun away from her and is now armed. Unknown to the survivors upstairs, the Coopers' daughter Sarah has died from the bite on her arm and has transformed into a zombie; she attacks and bites her distraught mother, who does not defend herself. 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; Barbara shoots Sarah. Harry retreats upstairs to the attic, while Ben makes his way to the cellar, where he shoots a reanimated Helen. Ben gradually goes into shock, and after realizing the gas key has been in the cellar the entire time, he laughs mindlessly at the irony.
Meanwhile, Barbara leaves the house alone and attempts to find help. She eventually joins a group of countryside locals who are clearing the area of the undead, and awakes the next day surrounded by the safety of the media and townspeople. Noticing hillbillies playing around with a few zombies, she comments on the similarities between the living and the undead. She returns to the farmhouse to find Ben, who died of his wounds and has been reanimated; he gazes at Barbara before being shot by one of the posse members. When Harry emerges from the attic alive, Barbara kills him in a fit of rage for causing Ben to die, and turns to leave the house, telling the vigilantes they have "another one for the fire". The film ends as Barbara watches the bodies being burned on a pyre.
- Tony Todd as Ben
- Patricia Tallman as Barbara
- Tom Towles as Harry Cooper
- McKee Anderson as Helen Cooper
- William Butler as Tom Bitner
- Katie Finneran as Judy Rose Larson
- Heather Mazur as Sarah Cooper
- Bill Moseley as Johnny
- Russell Streiner as Sheriff McClelland
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 10, 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, Russo, and Steiner collaborated for the first time in 20 years. Savini was initially hired to perform the special effects, but was persuaded to direct by Romero. Savini was drawn to the remake because he was unavailable to do special effects on the original.
The special-effects team intentionally kept the effects restrained, as they felt that excessive gore would be disrespectful to the original film. 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". The zombie extras were recruited easily, as the film's reputation drew them from as far away as Kentucky.
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.
To avoid an NC-17 rating, Savini had to cut several scenes from the film. Savini attributed the film's lack of popularity among horror fans to these cuts. A Blu-ray version was released in a limited edition of 3,000 in October 2012 by Twilight Time. Australian film distributor Umbrella Entertainment released a special edition of the film featuring a restored print, alongside the 1968 original on Blu-ray in April 2016.
Initial reaction to the remake was negative. 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". 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." Variety called it "a crass bit of cinematic grave-robbing". 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." 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". 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 cliched. 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."
Modern criticism has been more appreciative. As of 2015, Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 68% of 31 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 6.3/10. 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." 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." 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". 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.
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- Freeland, Cynthia (2008-10-29). "Victim or Vigilante? The Case of the Two Barbras". PopMatters. Retrieved 2015-05-11.
- Kane, Joe (2010). Night of the Living Dead: Behind the Scenes of the Most Terrifying Zombie Movie Ever. Citadel Press. ISBN 978-0-8065-3331-5.
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