As much as I hate to admit it, I’m one of those people. You know the ones. I’m one of those self-righteous purists who decries every single remake or reimagining of a classic movie as nothing more than a cash grab for all involved. I rail loudly about the lack of original ideas coming out of Hollywood and swear on the names of the original greats that I’ll never, ever see that hack-job of a remake that should’ve never been made.
Then, of course, I go out and see the remake.
Now, I know why I do this. Most remakes suck (so do most sequels). It’s a very rare, notable occasion that the remake of a film comes even close to matching, let alone besting, the original story, but my underappreciated film is the rare remake that is both faithful to the original story, and as good (or perhaps better) than the original.
The original Night of the Living Dead is a landmark in cinema. It launched a genre, after all, and was one of the first movies to feature a racially mixed cast with a black male as the hero. Unfortunately, it also has a stereotypical (but probably realistic, considering she watched her brother get killed by a corpse) hysterical female lead character, mediocre zombie makeup, and a shoestring budget.
I know you’re familiar with the original Night of the Living Dead, in which the dead inexplicably come back to live and shamble around in groups, killing the living and consuming chunks of them. Then the people who have been killed by zombies rise from the dead and become zombies themselves, continuing the pattern of killing and munching. A diverse crew of survivors barricades themselves into a farmhouse and must confront both the undead threat outside the door and the human threat inside the door in their attempts to survive the night.
So why do I say this is an underappreciated horror film? Well, glancing at the IMDB, Night of the Living Dead 1990 is rated as 6.4 out of 10, while the original Night of the Living Dead is a 7.9. Night of the Living Dead is a staple of all those Halloween anthology shows dedicated to scary moments, but Night of the Living Dead 1990 is rarely, if ever, mentioned despite better special effects.
The script for Night of the Living Dead ’90 has improved as well, restoring some of Romero’s original scenes (including a zombie lynching cut due to racial tension in 1960’s America) and adding some of his ideas that were removed from the original film. Barbara gets a much-needed update as well, transforming from a frightened mouse to an ass-kickingly strong woman. Some plot holes are filled, some scenes are tightened, and a new twist ending is supplied.
The cast itself has undergone a drastic improvement as well. The cast of Night of the Living Dead 1990 is filled out by horror and b-movie veterans like Tom Towles (Harry Cooper, better known as Otis from Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer or Sheriff Wydell from House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects), Bill Moseley (Johnnie, better known as Chop Top from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and Otis from The Devil’s Rejects and House of 1000 Corpses), William Butler (Tom, who has been in Ghoulies II, Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, and Friday the 13th Part VII, among others), and Tony Todd (Ben, better known as Candyman). Even Patricia Tallman, as the new Barbara, had a bunch of credits to her name, particularly from Babylon 5.
Night of the Living Dead ‘90 doesn’t break any new ground. It doesn’t have to. It takes the source material and updated it while still being respectful to the legacy of the original. That’s about all you can ask of a remake. Well, that and a bigger budget, better acting, and improved gore effects. Night of the Living Dead ’90 delivers on all of these things in spades.
Don’t be afraid to check it out. It’s one of the rare good remakes.