"Night of the Living Dead" is playing at the Redwood Drive-in with "Lord of the Flies," and considering that both are unnecessary play-by-play remakes, it's hard to imagine a more appropriate co-feature.
Back in 1968, George A. Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" was a shoestring black-and-white production that shocked audiences and changed the face of horror films, opening the door for more explicit violence in mainstream movies.Countless imitations followed and the gore level rose dramatically so that the original "Night of the Living Dead" is really quite tame compared to the likes of "RoboCop 2" or "Total Recall."
Yet despite a few admittedly hokey moments, Romero's film still packs a powerful punch in its tale of the dead rising from their graves to feed on the living, focusing primarily on a few panicky individuals who barricade themselves in a small farmhouse. And there's no question that the low budget and black-and-white photography add to the film's edginess.
Now comes "Night of the Living Dead" 1990-style, in "living" color, of course, with Romero contributing the screenplay and co-executive producing. And if ever there was a remake that seems redundant, this is it.
Tom Savini, Romero's long-time makeup expert, makes his directing bow here and there's good news and bad news. Savini has elected to keep the goriest moments - zombies eating human flesh - in the background, just hinting at what goes on. But he's also jazzed things up, and not always for the better. The first scene, for example, a late-afternoon attack by the "living dead" in a graveyard, takes off much more rapidly. While Savini and his editors no doubt felt that would better appeal to the let's-get-moving, rapid-fire, MTV generation, the result is less time for anticipation and for tension to build.
If you've seen the first movie, you'll recognize that the story here isn't much different, with the exception of the lead female being a forceful, take-charge woman of the '90s as opposed to the first film's whimpering ninny and a few minor changes in the story toward the end. The worst decision was to alter the last scene, a powerful ironic statement in the original, a dubious conscious decision here.
Tom Savini's "Night of the Living Dead," rated R for violence, profanity and some nudity, isn't unwatchable. But I had the same feeling I have when I hear a remake of an old '60s song that sounds virtually the same as the original. If you aren't going to bring anything particularly new and fresh to the material, why bother?
If this is the beginning of a trend, will Savini next give us remakes of "Dawn of the Dead" and "Day of the Dead," followed by his versions of "Return of the Living Dead" and "Return of the Living Dead, Part II"?
That's scarier than any of those movies.