A little while back I did a series of reviews of the original George Romero Zombie flicks and with summer in full swing I haven’t had quite enough time to dedicate myself to this blog. It hit me this weekend though that I’ve been meaning to spend a bit of time with the REMAKES of the Romero flicks, so this week I’ll be doing reviews of them all.
Starting with 1990’s remake of Night of the Living Dead.
I started high school in 1990 and watching this felt like a real step back in time to all the horrible horror movies I watched back then like Candyman and Doctor Giggles and even Psycho IV.
Directed by special effects master Tom Savini the film shows a real love for classic, physical effects. The movie came out near the end of the era of the traditional physical effects that Savini pioneered and the time when computer effects were really starting to ramp up. Although this dates the film and the effects look like make up and movie magic as opposed to looking like real zombies getting shot or bashed, if you’re a fan of the effects and how the movie itself is made you’ll like it. Zombies don’t look like real corpses up and moving about, they look like wax and rubber dummies which have been lovingly cast in some sort of neat resin then beat upon while the actors do their best to play against it. Again, it looks a bit fake and forced by today’s standards but judging it from a 1990 point of view it isn’t half bad. I remember being in love with the effects back then and I have the feeling someone like Savini sort of winks and wants you to know it’s an effect.
One area in which the film takes a bit of a step forward is that the female character of Barbara is no longer the panic stricken helpless female of the 1960’s version. She seems much more the modern woman in this film and a lot more willing and able to take on whatever she comes up against. She does have an initial freak out but who wouldn’t under the circumstances.
This is also an odd point at the start of the movie where Barbara and her brother seem very much embedded in the 1960’s. They are dressed like and act like kids from the 60’s with Barbara dressed up like a librarian of some sort. It’s nice to see them emerge from our expectations of what they were from the first movie but it makes the film seem staged from the onset. The emergence is almost play like and not a smooth at all.
So without knowing it I guess I’m already into The Bad.
Right from the get-go the soundtrack has stink written all over it. The poorly orchestrated music is particularly distracting. These horrible, overly eager stresses of sound driving the tension forward in the cheapest way. It sounds surprisingly similar to the sound track of the original Resident Evil / Biohazard video game and nothing like the brilliant Bernard Hermann music from decades before. I mention Bernard Hermann because he is the standard of horror movie grit when you want to use notes to signify a stress and push that unnerves the audience. He could do it. The musicians from this movie could not.
Bernard Hermann of course did the brilliant score for Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, which was also remade based on the original movie screenplay. Which brings up the whole issue of remakes in general. No they don’t bother me as long as they are well done. Plays are redone over and over again after all and no one complains about how they are done.
So the important question is not whether or not this is a decent remake but:
A. Is it a good production of the story? and
B. Is it a good movie?
A: By 1990’s standards, yes, it’s a decent production of a cheap zombie story. By today’s standards however it doesn’t hold up and at this point it’s worth stating that the original 1968 Night of the Living Dead DOES still hold up and did in 1990 as well. So 1968 scores one over the 1990 version. This more recent version lacks the social metaphor of the 1960’s and the power behind it to make an audience member imaging beyond what’s on the screen to the larger experience being hinted at, to move beyond their own personal life and feelings and immerse them in the story of the film.
(for a bit more on that click here for the review.)
B: Nooooooo, but crack a few bottles of ice cold beer with some snacks and a friend and either talk through half the movie or make out through half of it. That’s what made these sorts of horror movies so incredibly fun anyway.