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Tuesday 10 October 2023

Burl reviews Night of the Living Dead! (1990)


It’s Burl once again with the shambling and the moaning and the munching – yes, it’s zombies all right, and not only that but it’s the same zombies, almost! Yes, last time I reviewed Night of the Living Dead, and now here I am with a review of Night of the Living Dead! Ha ha!

This is the one directed by trick effects makeup man Tom Savini, who did his gory necromancy in pictures from The Burning to The Prowler! Here he’s behind the megaphone and leaving the rubber wrangling to others, and ha ha, did you know what – he did a decent job of it! Like Stan Winston with Pumpkinhead and Tom Burman when he made Meet the Hollowheads, Savini seems to have picked up mostly the right things from being on so many movie sets before taking up the megaphone himself!

Well, it’s the same old story: Barbara and her ever-complaining brother Johnny pull up to the graveyard, a zombie man jumps them, Johnny gets a klonking, and Barbara finds a farmhouse! But this time it’s in color, and Barbara is played by Patricia Tallman from Road House and Army of Darkness, and Johnny is good old Bill Moseley from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2! And when Ben pulls up to the farmhouse, knocking over a zombie along the way and clutching a mighty hayer’s hook like he’s auditioning for Candyman, he’s played by Tony Todd from Enemy Territory!

Again we find cowering in the basement an objectionable slaphead, this time played by Tom Towles from Mad Dog and Glory, and even meaner, barkier and more crazed than the 1968 version! Ha ha, I thought this was a setup for when Ben shoots Cooper, as he did in the original – you know, make Cooper dangerously insane so we don’t consider Ben's action egregious! But that’s not where the movie goes with this particular relationship! And along with Cooper we again have the wife, the ailing daughter, and the young hayseed couple! The lad in this latter duo is played by William Butler from Friday the 13th part VII: The New Blood, and he has about the same luck in both movies!

Aside from being in colour (though Savini’s idea, nixed by unimaginative moneymen I assume, was to start it in monochrome and gradually bring in the colour), the most remarked-upon change from the original is to reconfigure Barbara from a shock-paralyzed nobody to an actual character with agency! This is of course an improvement – one imagines that for Romero, who wrote the screenplay, offering the more badass Barbara was a sort of mea culpa for the wimpy old Barbara in his movie, ha ha! There are other small misdirects for those familiar with the 1968 version, and other welcome changes here and there, especially in the third act! But one thing they’ve kept: the incessant hammering of boards across windows! Ha ha, this update has even more hammering, I think, and it makes the middle act awfully monotonous! I also have to say that the inky, eerie, spookshow atmosphere of the original is almost entirely missing!

Most of the changes are improvements, however, even if they feel fairly strategic! Equally strategic are the things kept pointedly the same, like an appearance by Chilly Billy Cardille as a TV interviewer once again, and the return of the sheriff who says “They’re dead, they’re… all messed up!” (Ha ha, and that new sheriff is played by Russell Streiner, who was Johnny in the original, and was one of the producers of the old one too!) And of course the new movie is gorier than the original, but not as much as you'd think a movie directed by beloved goremeister Savini might be!

Altogether it turned out better than anyone could have expected it would! There’s nothing very organic or sincere about it, and I think it was at least in part a reaction to Return of the Living Dead (or maybe to Return of the Living Dead part II, which had just come out a year or two before), and generally designed to reclaim ownership of the Living Dead brand; but at least it was made by people connected to the original, who were willing and able to put some effort into it! It’s no 1968 Night of the Living Dead, but I’m going to give 1990 Night of the Living Dead two pairs of old man pants!

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