YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE...MAYBE TWICE!
Remakes are a touchy subject these days. I’m never quite sure why, they’ve always existed but now people seem to get really upset with them. That’s not always the case, however. There are some remakes that most folks can agree on as being pretty good. One remake that never seems to come up is Tom Savini’s Night of the Living Dead. Or maybe it does come up and I just haven’t noticed it. Whatever the case may be, I would certainly rank it up their with the best of them in terms of remakes. I’m not saying it’s better than the George Romero classic, but it is quite good and Romero was very much involved.
The film is very similar to the original. It opens with Barbara (Patricia Tallman) and Johnnie (Bill Moseley), a pair of siblings, out to visit their parents cemetery in rural Pennsylvania. Almost immediately Barbara is attacked by a man that we all know is a zombie. Johnnie does his best to help her but ends up dead. In a panic Barbara escapes and finds a farmhouse that appears to be empty. Barbara prepares to set up shelter inside the farmhouse when it is attacked by more zombies. Shortly after a man named Ben (Tony Todd) shows up and the two kill the zombies and clear the house.
At this point we all know the rest. We’re horror fans here after all and Night of the Living Dead is the zombie movie that shaped all future zombie movies. More people show up to the house and we’re stuck with a house full of strangers who not only must fend off hordes of zombies, but they also have to fend off one another. I mean with a house full of strangers and death knocking at the door, how do you determine who to trust? It’s every man for himself!
The big on the surfaces changes between Savini’s remake and Romero’s classic are pretty easy to spot. For starters Savini’s attempt is in color. That’s a pretty huge change from the original which has a very distinct black-and-white look. Apparently Savini had originally wanted the film to start in black-and-white and slowly change into color. That’s a kind of cool idea, but I think just going with color from the start was the right call.
The second big thing that will jump out are the practical effects. There are more of them this go around and they’re a lot more gruesome and just better all around. The film actually had to have some of the effects cut out to get an R rating. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the remake is more effects heavy given Savini is an effects wizard. The improvements in the quality of the effects can also be partially credited to Savini, but you also have to take into account that the remake had a much bigger budget and came 20+ years later at a time when effects of the practical variety had gotten a lot better.
I think both these changes are good and help update the movie but they’re just that – different than the original because the filmmaking landscaped had changed at that point. If you’re going to do a remake you have to do enough differently to justify a remake. Not getting into the profit aspect that was in play for Romero (and rightfully so), I wouldn’t say these updates alone are enough to warrant a remake. Fortunately Savini and Romero didn’t stop there.
While the plot is very similar to the original, the ending is vastly different. Romero’s classic ends tragically with Ben as the sole survivor of the zombie attack being shot the following morning by a posse and then tossed on a pile to burn with the dead zombies. While that ending is sadly still very relevant today, it was done to mirror society of the 60’s. Savini’s ending has more of the final girl approach that is seen in most slashers. It also toys with the idea that the living really aren’t all that different than the reanimated dead.
Both endings are powerful in different ways and if I had to choose I’d go with Romero’s as the better of the two, but I still appreciate Savini going in a different direction. If you’re going to remake a classic give us something different and Savini certainly did that.
Now onto the fantastic Blu-ray! The film was previously given a limited release in the US by Twilight Time but it suffered from some major blue tint that has the picture looking all kinds of weird. Some people don’t mind it, but it is very much noticeable. This new release from Australia’s Umbrella Entertainment fixes that tinting issue and delivers on a picture that looks awesome and completely stunning. And don’t be worried about it being an Australian release because it is very much region free!
Not only does the picture look great, this release is pretty loaded in the way of special features:
-Audio Commentary with Tom Savini
-The Dead Walk featurette
-Interview with Director Tom Savini
-Return to the Living Dead – Interview with Special Makeup Effects Supervisors John Vulich and Everett Burrell
-Interview with Lead Actress Patricia Tallman
-Behind the Scenes featurette
I haven’t listened to the audio commentary yet, but all the different interviews and the break down of the special effects are awesome. Savini discusses what they sent out to do with the remake and the whole point behind it. Savini is such a great mind to hear talk about film that I can’t imagine anyone not being thoroughly entertained and captivated by hearing him talk about his directorial debut.
Tom Savini’s Night of the Living Dead is an awesome remake. It stays true to the ideas of the original film while still managing to deliver on something new and different. Thanks to Umbrella Entertainment we finally have the excellent Blu-ray release that this movie deserves.
Night of the Living Dead is now available on Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment.
i like savini's remake i just feel it lacks some of the raw power the original had. you kinda lost the racial tension, also the ending wasn't as good. hard to beat old Ben taking one to the head like that.
i agree better production values but it just losses something int he translation, still a great watch though, and something new to add to my over extensive collection of movies.