This poster hangs on the wall next to my desk. This is a totally unbiased review 😉
Night of the Living Dead is a classic, it introduced the world to the modern zombie and it changed horror forever. It’s a great movie, but it isn’t the director’s favourite version of the movie. George A. Romero preferred the 1990 remake, even though he wasn’t the director. He was the principal screenwriter and producer. For a director, he picked Tom Savini, legendary special effects artist and Vietnam vet. Savini has said that much of his zombie design comes from his experience as a medic in Vietnam.
At that point, zombie movies had become mostly fodder for comedy. People would try to make the most ridiculous, over the top, cheesy zombie movie they could. Savini went back to the roots of the genre, creating an atmospheric movie full of slowly building terror, relentless and unstoppable. It uses the genre to illustrate issues with our society. This may not have been Romero’s goal when he cast a black man as the protagonist in the 1967 version, but he embraced it, and it became his signature, this movie continues that tradition, working on the continued racism in America and introducing elements that challenged the narrative of women’s role in society.
The major difference between the original and the remake is the character of Barbara. Barbara in the original is close to catatonic with terror. In the remake, she is an active protagonist who drives the plot and has one of the best character arcs in cinema. She is the introductory character in both versions, a meek woman visiting her mothers grave with her brother when the dead rise.
Barbara ends up fleeing to a farmhouse, where she encounters other survivors. Most importantly Ben and Harry. Ben is a black man, Harry is white. They have different views on the best way to survive and they clash against each other. That forms a major source of conflict in both movies. In this version there is a third voice, Barbara saying “They’re so slow, we could just walk right past them”.
In the end, it becomes her active goal vs. the stay in place strategies of the men. There is no question, Ben is the good guy, and Harry is the villain, but Barbara is the real strength here, and despite the brilliance of Tony Todd as Ben, Patricia Tallman is the standout in this movie.
The conflict is made more difficult by the fact that Harry has his wife and daughter with him, and the daughter has been bitten. Harry wants to hide in the basement, while Ben wants to secure the upper floors using the basement as a fallback. Barbara wants to walk out into the horde, relying on speed and mobility to stay ahead of them.
There are two other survivors as well, a young couple – the boy is related to the owner of the house, dead by the start of the movie.
They concoct various plans for escape, all of them met with disaster.
The movie is relentless, never letting up for a moment. The dead keep coming, the numbers around the house growing by the minute. It goes from scary to terrifying in minutes and remains scarier than any other zombie movie I have ever seen.
Many of the tropes we associate with good horror movies come from either the original version of Night of the Living Dead or this version. If you avoid zombie movies because they are silly, stupid, unoriginal – watch this one. It’s better than the rest – far, far better. Either version will do, but the 1990 remake is actually slightly superior.
Traverse Davies is a writer and journalist based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. You can read more of his work at http://dreamtime.logic11.com