If there is one thing that horror movie fans are familiar with, it’s soulless shambling abominations before God and man. By which I mean remakes. All joking aside, there are very few properties in horror that aren’t revisited with a new interpretation, and while a “classic” in some other genres may occasionally be considered off-limits, in horror it’s just an additional guarantee that someone else will take a look at putting their own spin on things. So it’s no surprise to find a remake of George Romero’s ghoulish classic, Night of the Living Dead. Romero produced the remake, but left the directing to Tom Savini, a veteran of horror movie special effects. It was Savini’s first time in the director’s chair.
As remakes go, it’s actually not bad.
The film is based off a slightly modified version of the original film’s screenplay — some changes are apparently scenes that were intended but never shot in the first version, others are deliberate deviations from the original. The basic premise and cast of characters remain the same: an assembled group of strangers hole up in a farmhouse to survive the night when the dead have started returning to life for unknown reasons. Tensions mount as the survivors fight among themselves at the same time as they fight off the homicidal zombies. The character roles are mostly unchanged from the original. Ben (Tony Todd) is still the natural leader, if a bit short-tempered at times. Harry Cooper (Tom Towles) still has a big neon sign saying “More trouble than he’s worth” hanging off his neck. The assorted lesser characters are still fairly flat, there to pad out the body count. The one big change in personality is in Barbara. Still the character who first sees encounters the living dead, she isn’t quite as much a gibbering wreck as in the original film, instead becoming a practical fighter with uncannily good aim. Patricia Tallman channels Linda Hamilton pretty heavily in the role.
The acting is good, the directing is good. Characters are believable and all visual shots are reasonably effective — especially a gas explosion in one scene. The writing, being mostly unchanged, is also good — barring one scene which gets a little heavy-handed in its nod to the notion of “man’s inhumanity to man”. This was apparently a scene cut from the original version; it should have remained cut, it doesn’t work very well. But other than that, it’s all pretty solid.
It’s a decent film. But there’s a question hanging over it as I write my review, which is: is there a need for it? Is there a reason to watch this as opposed to the original? I don’t think there is. I suppose if you’re one of those poor benighted souls who can’t stand to watch a black and white film, this color remake is a worthwhile alternative, but it’s honestly one of those cases where it loses something in the transition. The original had a lot more atmosphere to it, it felt more tense than the remake does. And while everything is competent, there’s just nothing about the remake that pushes it over the original in any way. Although it is interesting to watch the slight differences play out.
It’s really more of a curiosity for people who have already seen the original. If you haven’t seen either… start with 1968.