It’s that time of year again! Time to celebrate the Resurrection with a weeklong plunge into all things zombie! Here’s the history: In 2008, Dr. Girlfriend and I decided to spend a week or so each year marathoning through zombie films that we’d never seen before and I would blog short reviews. And simple as that, the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon was born. For the curious, here are links to 2008, 2009 (a bad year), 2010, 2011, 2012 (when we left the blog behind), and 2013. This year, we’re going old school and present to you the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon 2014: Classic Edition! Holy Shit Saturday (part one) Night of the Living Dead (1990) Written by: George A. Romero Directed by: Tom Savini Something I didn’t mention in my write-up of the original Night of the Living Dead was something most horror fans already know about, but since it’s an essential element in the origins of the 1990 remake, I think this is the place for it. Night was originally going to be called Night of the Flesh Eaters, however, after all the marketing had begun, posters and banners made, etc. George A. Romero was contacted by a lawyer letting him know that there was already a film by that name. As a last-minute switch, Romero and co-writer John A. Russo changed the name and a legend was born. Unfortunately, whoever cut the new titles into the film accidentally cut out the copyright declaration completely. After a few years, when the film had blown up and was raking in money all over the world, but Romero and Russo weren’t seeing any of it, they found out what had happened and discovered the film was being copied and sold as a public-domain work and despite years of lawsuits, there was nothing they could do about it. This was partially what got Romero back into the zombie game in 1978 with Dawn of the Dead and helped lead to his split with Russo, which, in turn, lead to the creation of Return of the Living Dead in 1985. Unable to really let it go, Russo took another stab at reclaiming the rights by releasing an independently orchestrated “30th Anniversary Edition” of the original film, with new added footage and soundtrack. It was awful. More than that, it’s kind of an affront to the memory of the film and an insult to Romero. It should be avoided at all cost. If that wasn’t enough, he tried again to cash in on the memory of Night with a low-budget “sequel” in 2001 called Children of the Living Dead. The only thing notable about the film is that Tom Savini is in it, and the reviews are unanimously bad. Not just bad, but damning. Before those acts of desperation took place, though, Romero had re-teamed with Russo and producer Russell Streiner (he’d produced the original film and had co-wrote the original story that was turned into Return of the Living Dead with Russo) in an attempt to shore up their copyright battle for the original film by remaking Night of the Living Dead. Due to scheduling conflicts, Romero was unable to direct, so those duties fell to first-time feature film director and make-up artist extraordinaire, Tom Savini. Although Romero was on set a lot and heavily involved in the production, whenever he wasn’t there, Russo and Streiner refused to cooperate with Savini, resenting the fact that Romero chose him to direct over one of them, hamstringing what turned into a totally hamstrung project. The lack of budget limited their options for the soundtrack, which ended up being performed entirely by one man and a synthesizer, Paul McCollough. It’s not a bad score, but it wears its limitations on its sleeve. In addition to these problems, the MPAA ordered massive cuts, threatening an X rating. Without Savini’s input, the cuts were made, dulling the brutal edge the film was intended to have (Savini has since said he’s okay with how the film turned out, suggesting that leaving things to the imagination works better sometimes — which is true, but is not necessarily the case here). Then, the day of the film’s release, the US launched the Gulf War, crippling audience turn out. And when they did turn out, they weren’t happy. Night was derided by fans and critics alike, and the film barely made back its miniscule four million dollar budget. But guess what? This is a wonderful film that embraces everything that made the original great, while playing with audience expectations and making some changes that improve on weaknesses of the ’68 version. I wouldn’t say it’s a better made film, but it’s just as enjoyable as Romero’s own. The majority of the film is almost a word-for-word remake, only with more dead people and better effects. The shift to color forces the loss of those dramatic shadows and expressionistic tendencies, moving the film from that newsreel style to a more traditional film style. But that loss also forces a strange new cognitive dissonance as the horrors of the dead rising begin in broad beautiful daylight. Since he was in the director’s chair, Savini turned over the effects reins to the Optic Nerve team, founded by John Vulich and Everett Burrell, and they did amazing work. This is a different approach from Savini’s own zombie work (last seen in Day of the Dead), focusing on yellow, bloated corpse effects with washed out eyes. There are one or two shots where the dummy stand-ins are obvious, but for the most part, this is a very graphic and disturbing visual take on the walking dead. The strongest elements of the film, however, are the performers. Tony Todd takes on the role of Ben and makes it his own, while the villain of the piece, Harry Cooper, is played by Tom Towles just a couple of years after horrifying viewers as Otis in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Both actors go all out, playing against one another with such open hostility that there was never any chance of their characters working together. While this undercuts the original’s more existential vibe, it ramps up the tension and contributes to an overall sense of hopeless dread. The star of the show, however, is Patricia Tallman, who had gotten her start with Romero on Knightriders (1981). Her Barbara is a radically different interpretation from the original, as Romero’s script provides her with actual character evolution over the course of the film. She almost serves as a living tribute to each of the female leads in Romero’s previous Dead films, moving from mousy and almost comatose to more assertive to finally becoming the cool-headed leader — and ultimately, the only survivor. When the conclusion hits, it doesn’t have the same impact of the original, but it is still a powerful and ironic ending that has me cheering every time I see it. And while it is invigorating to see Tallman step up and become the hero, it’s not without its cost. Barbara comes out of the film psychologically damaged — almost sociopathic — as she realizes and makes plain (for those few who aren’t able to make the connection) that the humans are just as monstrous as the dead. This is handled with pretty much no subtlety as the redneck army has the undead strung up from trees, making the original’s implications of racism and lynch mobs, blatant. As such, the variation on the photo montage ending doesn’t really work as effectively as in ’68. Although ending on a close-up of Barbara’s cold stare is a nice touch. This is the first of two Romero remakes that really got it right, and the only one that he actively participated in and approved. The second, Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, is up next, as we skip the chronological ordering of our marathon so far, to look at these films side-by-side. Even after all this time, Night of the Living Dead 1990 is only readily available on DVD. There was an extremely limited (only 3,000 units) Blu-ray release in 2012, which is ridiculously overpriced and according to reviews features unneeded changes in the remastering process. Savini approved the digital darkening of the entire film. Check out the comparison shots in this editorial by Steve Barton over at Dread Central and prepare to be stunned by how bad the Blu-ray turned out. See larger image Night of the Living Dead New From: $5.79 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... 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