BR: Night of the Living Dead (1990)

April 30, 2013 | By

Return to: Home Blu-ray, DVD, Film Reviews / N to O

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Film: Very Good/ BR Transfer: Very Good/ BR Extras: Very Good

Label: Twilight Time / Region: All / Released: October 9, 2012

Genre: Horror / Zombies

Synopsis: Very successful remake of George Romero’s classic zombie film, updated with colour, a bit more gore, and a revised finale.

Special Features: Audio Commentary with director Tom Savini / Isolated Stereo Music Track / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment

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Review:

What seemed heretical in 1990 – remaking George Romero’s 1968 genre classic [M] in colour with augmented gore and contemporized characters – is virtually de rigueur now, given some of the most iconic horror films have been remade & re-imagined info hopeful franchises, but Tom Savini’s version (his only feature-length effort) still stands strong and proud, delivering a good dose of shocks.

The story of a woman surviving a night of visceral carnage with a desperate mix of fellow citizens remains wholly intact in what was also the directorial debut of makeup whiz Savini. After seeing her brother Johnny die at the hands of a zombie during a gravesite visit, Barbara (a superb Patricia Tallman) finds refuge in a blood-soaked farmhouse with noble Ben (Tony Todd, giving one of his finest performances), a rather mousy young couple, and a bickering husband & wife (Tom Towles & McKee Anderson) who’ve barricaded themselves in the basement with their suspiciously ill daughter (Heather Mazur) like fifties bomb shelter paranoiacs. A midnight run to a gasoline pump goes very badly, and infighting between the remaining humans spawns grievous mistakes, misdeeds, and a finale involving some really sweet payback.

The success to remaking Romero and John Russo’s bullet-proof, 1968 script is to maintain a strong level of fidelity, so the addition of wetter / redder gore, slight scene expansions (including a longer ending that’s sublimely nihilistic), and Barbara’s believable evolution from shrill victim to assertive heroine feel wholly organic in this surprisingly solid remake among NOTLD remakes (which at this stage includes a cheap 2006 3D version, a 2009 ‘reanimated’ mash-up set to the 1968 film’s soundtrack, and the 2012 riff Night of the Living Dead 3D: Re-Animation). The cast also resemble their original counterparts, and the sets and clothes evoke a bit of 1968 while remaining fairly contemporary.

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The 1990 DVD

Columbia’s original 1990 DVD featured full and widescreen versions, a slow-paced but decent director commentary track, and half-hour making-of featurette – elements that made the long out-of-print disc a top collectible, so it’s no surprise Twilight Time’s limited Blu-ray sold out during the pre-order stage. TT’s ported over the commentary and added a stereo score track featuring Paul McCollough’s still affecting score, but the featurette remains exclusive to the old DVD.

Some ardent fans were a little disturbed by the darkening of night scenes, and the differences are quite significant for fans accustomed to the brighter and more saturated colours (as evidenced in screen shots at DVDTalk). There’s fuzziness as to who authorized the changes, but according to a statement made to Cinema Lowdown, cinematographer Frank Prinzi was given a cursory consultation call by Sony when they were assembling their aborted anniversary special edition Blu-ray, but never signed off on the final changes. According to TT, director Savini is pleased with Sony’s transfer, which also features slightly different recomposing of shots. (The 1990 DVD features an unmated full screen and a 1.85:1 matted transfer on the single layer flipper disc, whereas Sony’s new HD transfer shifted some of the framing, as best evidenced when comparing nighttime shots of the house exterior.)

Fans have also claimed certain sound effects are missing in the new uncompressed DTS mix, so this may be a title Sony might revisit if there’s sufficient demand. 2013 marks the original film’s 45th anniversary, so perhaps 2018 will be the magic year when anyone and everyone owning anything in connected to Romero’s franchise will release HD special editions.

Be it overzealous revisionism or indiscrete tweaking, the changes don’t diminish this underrated remake which eclipses some of George Romero’s own recent sequels within the indestructible franchise.

Savini’s other rare directorial efforts include 3 episodes of Romero’s Tales from the Darkside TV series (1984-1988), and segments of The Theatre Bizarre (2011) and Deadtime Stories (2011). In a 2003 interview with Gary Schultz, Savini described his first major directorial gig as “the worst nightmare of my life,” due to production planning issues and two less than ideal producers (most likely exploitation veteran Menahem Golan, and sexploitation veteran Ami Artzi) whereas in an interview in Roy Frumkes’ Document of the Dead (1985) film, Romero describes two events that made the job difficult for Savini: near the end of production the money ran out, and unlike fast-footed Romero, Savini’s reliance on meticulous storyboards hindered his ability to think fast and improvise.

Perhaps due to his ability to carry a film, Tony Todd achieved a career high as the eponymous Candyman (1992), but in spite of his genuine dramatic skills and magnificent voice, he’s been underused in both dramatic films and horror, often cast in lesser works for marquee value much like Savini.

Patricia Tallman, who had a small role in Romero’s underrated Knightriders (1981), also appeared as a witch in Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness (1992) before enjoying a steady character on Babylon 5 (1995-1998).

Documentaries on Romeros’ Dead films include Document of the Dead [M] (1985), Night of the Living Dead: 25th Anniversary Documentary [M] (1993), and Autopsy of the Dead [M] (2009).

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© 2013 Mark R. Hasan

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External References:

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