Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Trick or Trailers: Night of the Living Dead (1990)

Released on October 19th, 1990, the Halloween horror crowd did not show up for Tom Savini's directorial debut but I dug it then and time hasn't dulled any of my affection for it.

Now that we live in a world where a zombie movie can make over $500 million worldwide and a zombie TV show is one of the highest rated programs on TV it's hard to believe that zombies were ever unpopular but in 1990, zombies actually were, like, dead-dead.

Maybe Michael Jackson's Thriller video was to blame. Or maybe it was the likes of 1988's Return of the Living Dead Part II (which, unlike the classic original, did not successfully mix comedy and horror) or Dead Heat. Whatever the case, zombies were perceived as corny by the mass public while horror fans were fond of the hardcore, unrated style of zombie fare that was not possible in a mainstream US film (even the greatest practitioners of undead mayhem, the Italians, had pretty much stopped by that time) so that left Savini's NotLD remake with a huge uphill battle to fight.

Working from a George Romero script which made some fresh tweaks to the original (even if none of the changes improved on the original necessarily, it was still interesting to see how Romero reapproached the material), Savini did a really fine job. Over the years, he's vented about the various frustrations he encountered while making the film but while a better film might have resulted had he had more time or resources or support or whatever, the film that he made, under whatever trying circumstances, is good.

Granted, it's not the original but at the time (and still now) I appreciated that it was a serious horror movie. The genre was on the wane back then and what little did make it to the screen was often times disappointing latter-day slasher sequels, like Halloween V or Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. In that context, I appreciated that Savini had directed a sincere, non-campy horror pic that took time for emotional moments (like when Barbara abstains from shooting a zombie clutching a doll) that other films wouldn't have. I also really liked the performances of Tony Todd and Patricia Tallman and thought that the zombies looked terrific - even now they remain some of the most memorable in any zombie film.

I mean, who can forget this guy:

Savini's directing career didn't go far after this, which is a real crime as he has the chops as a filmmaker. While the Night of the Living Dead remake didn't change the face of fear like the original did, I'm still awfully fond of it.


Timmy Crabcakes said...

Yep, I was one of the ones who showed up for this in the theaters as well. Really, I wasn't expecting much but the pickings were slim in those days. Surprise, I really liked it. It had a lot of callouts to fans of the original... and the changeouts were interesting, not just new for the sake of new.
It's one of the few remakes I think goes almost as a set with the original... as a sort of commentary that actually adds something to the tale they share.

Jeff Allard said...

Yeah, it's a nice companion piece to original. And I think it looks even better now given the many horror remakes that have come along since that have shown so little regard to the originals.