In 1990, 22 years after the release of George Romero’s classic Night of the Living Dead , special effects master Tom Savini directed his first and only film with this very decent remake . Needless to say, he was also in charge of the graphic and bountiful gore effects, which is probably where a lot of the movie’s 4,200,000 budget went. The film was anything but successful in theatres, however, and grossed only about 6,000,000 at the box office, so it’s probably safe to say that the zombie subgenre had lost a good bit of popularity among audiences in 1990. Savini had some interesting ideas, like having the film begin in black and while and slowly lapsing into color, but Columbia refused and wanted a more user-friendly horror flick. 1990’s Night of the Living Dead recreates the original virtually scene by scene, so it was really just an attempt to add extreme gore to the original story and not much more (but for one difference, that being that our heroine survives the ordea), but it’s still very entertaining and exciting.
As I’ve mentioned, the plot of Night of the Living Dead is exactly the same as the original and begins in a graveyard, where Barbra (Patricia Tallman) and her brother Johnny (Bill Moseley) are attacked by a number of mindless zombie, one of which kills Johnny. Again, Barbra flees the scene in a state of shock and happens upon a two-story, where she holes up with Ben (Tony Todd) and a small group of other refuges that includes lovey-dovey couple Tom (William Butler) and Judy Rose (Katie Finneran), as well as family of three — lecherous Harry Cooper (Tom Towles), his patient wife Helen (McKee Anderson), and daughter Sarah (Heather Mazur). The characters all clash vehemently while trying to fend off the outside zombies as in the original Night of the Living Dead , with Cooper and Ben fighting for dominance of the basement and house and Barbra transforming from a terrified victim to a tough-as-nails, rifle-wielding heroine.
The acting is great. Patricia Tallman doesn’t look like one would expect based on the original with her short red hair, but it’s inconsequential because she delivers a terrific performance. Tony Todd is very similar in looks and acting ability to Duane Jones in the original , and it was this film that helped him snag the part of the title charater in Candyman . Tom Towles ( Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer ) plays a similarly descipable role (which he’s always a natural at) here as stubbon narcissist Henry who refuses to aid the others in boarding up the house. Rabid horror fans will recognize Bill Moseley ( Chop Top in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and Ricky in Silent Night, Deadly Night III ) as goofy Johnny, who meets his end at the very beginning of the film. McKee Anderson plays the ill-fated Helen quite well, and like the first is killer by her own daughter, except that rather than stabbing Mom with a garden spade she bites into her neck and sprays blood over a hanging spade in homage to the first . The scene’s not as scary as in the original , due partially to its lack of shadows, but it’s effective nonetheless.
Tom Savini’s Night of the Living Dead is worth seeing for the gore effects if nothing else, but it’s not required as the original is for horror fans. Those who haven’t seen the original will no doubt enjoy it much more due to its fast pace, hysterical drama and blood. I rate it at 7 of 10 and recommend it mainly to fans of Tom Savini and gorehounds.