This is actually the first of the Dead films I saw growing up. I’m fairly sure it was on TNT’s monster-vision and if not that then it was on a similar show. I actually prefer this 1990 remake directed by Tom Savini, over the original film. I really enjoy what Tom Savini did with this film as a director and can’t help but wonder why he hasn’t done more as a director. The update to color is nice, but the film does lose something in the transition. That said, what was lost is more than made up for.
Tom Savini’s Night of the Living Dead is almost beat for beat the same film as the original. Only with slight twists. Barbra (Patricia Tallman) and her brother Johnnie (Bill Moseley) are visiting the grave of their mother, rather than father as in the original. Johnnie mocks Barbra, though this time it comes off far more playful. Barbra is attacked by one of the undead, but rather than screaming she actually fights back. Johnnie joins the fray, but is knocked over and hits his head on a grave stone. With his death being far more apparent this time around. Barbara flees the car, where she’s trapped and escapes by pulling the brake and coasting down the hill. Where she hits a tree and flees in the woods. She again comes across a farm house and takes refuge inside. Where once again, she comes across the dead and flees out the front to be saved by Ben (Tony Todd). Once again, there are people that were taking refuge in the basement, Tom (William Butler) who lives there, his girlfriend Judy (Katie Finneran), Harry Cooper (Tom Towles), his wife Helen (McKee Anderson) and their sick daughter Sarah (Heather Mazur), who was bitten. Once again Ben and Harry clash over the best course of action. The group decides again to try for the locked up gas pump and find a pair of keys on one remains of one of the zombies that lived in the home. Though when they reach the pump, their the wrong keys. In frustration, Tom shoots off the lock causing the gas to explode, killing him and Judy…
The rest of the film changes pretty radically and I don’t want to spoil it as it is worth watching. Also, Barbra’s character takes a complete overhaul for this film. Going from a mostly comatose mess, to being highly functional and actually pretty bad-ass. Which is a really nice change-up from her character in the first film. Harry while still being a dick, isn’t as unlikable this time around and Ben comes off just as hot-headed. Helen is also more dynamic standing up the Harry, while Tom and Judy remain largely unchanged.
The zombies in the film are amazing, which I would expect now knowing the breadth and style of Tom Savini’s work. Though the advanced decay seen on some the dead make me wonder, how recently are the dead that have returned to life. The advanced makeup effects and… well budget, do a lot for this film. My favorite shot of a zombie is in the beginning when the burial cloths fall off one revealing the wounds from an autopsy. It’s a great shot that relies on minimal make-up and effects for maximum effect.
Final thoughts, I’m not sure why I so greatly prefer this film over the original and often I feel like I’m the only one that does. Tony Todd’s incredibly memorable performance has stuck with me for years and is part of what I most readily associate with the franchise. Just all aspects of this film are top-notch for me and I feel it’s one of the strongest films to be part of the Dead series. 9/10