Twilight Time // 1990 // 88 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // October 5th, 2012
There is a fate worse than death.
So you think the horror movie remake bandwagon started rolling only a few years ago with the Michael Bay produced The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Not a chance. Horror remakes have been happening for decades: John Badham's Dracula, John Carpenter's The Thing, David Cronenberg's The Fly. Heck, this gimmick goes so far back even some of Universal's original horror movies were technically remakes (Dracula / Nosferatu, anyone?). And so it was in 1990 that horror master George A. Romero had a chance to revisit his first film, Night of the Living Dead. Dismissed by audiences and critics alike, the film has since garnered a cult following. Was this indifference warranted? Twilight Time's Night of the Living Dead makes its case on Blu-ray!
On a routine visit to their father's grave site, Barbara (Patricia Tallman, Army of Darkness) and Johnny (Bill Moesley, The Devil's Rejects) happen to find themselves in the unluckiest of situations when they are attacked by a recently reanimated corpse. Johnny is killed defending Barbara, as she runs through the woods and arrives on the doorstep of a deserted farmhouse. Barricading herself inside, Barbara meets up with Ben (Tony Todd, Candyman), also fleeing from the living dead. As Ben and Barbara begin nailing boards over the windows, they come face to face with five survivors huddling in the basement: Tom (William Butler, Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood) and his girlfriend Judy Rose (Kate Finneran, You've Got Mail), Harry Cooper (Tom Towles, House of 1000 Corpses), his wife Helen (Mckee Anderson, Operation Delta Force 3: Clear Target), and their sick daughter who has been bitten by one of the ghouls. Conflicts arise when Ben suggests it's safer to hide upstairs, while Harry believes locking themselves in the basement is the best course of action. As the zombies being their siege on the house, tensions rise inside, culminating in split decision choices that guarantee nobody will survive this Night of the Living Dead!
George Romero's Night of the Living Dead was release in 1968 and ushered in a new direction for cinematic horror. Not content to play it safe, Romero's classic toyed with the expectations of its audience and conventions of the genre. For starters, the film's protagonist was black, something unheard of in a horror movie up until this point. The stark black and white photography -- so stark it felt as if you were watching a documentary as old as death itself -- offered a grimness that would show up later in such seminal classics as Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. By the end of Night of the Living Dead, there was no happy resolution; all of the characters had been killed off except one, and his death came not at the hands of the flesh eating ghouls, but from local townsfolk hunting down the living dead. The finale is chilling. As the credits roll, we bear witness to a bonfire made of the bodies of the dead, including our hero. Although the years have robbed the film some of its power, it's still a disturbing and unsettling experience that deserves the status it's earned.
Those who've heard the history of the original film know that a clerical error made while changing the title from Night of the Flesh Eaters to Night of the Living Dead resulted in the copyright being inadvertently left off. Thus the film was snatched from Romero's hands and wound up in the public domain. This meant any studio or distributor was allowed to release the film in any sub par form, without paying royalties to Romero or his cast and crew. In an attempt to recoup some of the lost revenue (tens of millions of dollars), Romero decided to remake the film with special effects guru Tom Savini (Friday the 13th) in the director's chair. Romero penned the screenplay, updating his original nightmare for modern audiences. Featuring some very well known faces of horror, this 1990 Night of the Living Dead is a tense and expertly crafted remake that offers up leading edge effects and quality acting. In the end, it is as good, if not better than the original.
Night of the Living Dead is a fun, gory, and scary update that strikes just the right note between nostalgia and originality. First time director Tom Savini knows how to inject plenty of atmosphere into his tale, without sacrificing character development. This is essentially the same story we experienced in 1968, except this time Barbara (Tallman) is not a simpering basket case, instead coming off as a heroine in the vein of Sigourney Weaver in Aliens. It's one of Romero's best changes and fits the film well; Barbara often speaks for the audience, even going so far as to note that the zombies are "...so slow, we could walk right past them!" The idea to shoot the film in color makes for its own character; because we know this story so well in B&W, it's startling to see the same characters dealing with the same situation in color.
For as much as I wholeheartedly recommend Night of the Living Dead (1990), there are some finer points which haven't aged as well. Romero's script is commendable, but spends a lot of time having Harry spew archaic and stinted insults ("You lame brains! Bunch of yo-yos!"). In fact, the character of Harry Cooper spends an inordinate amount of time coming off as a one-dimensional villain. The film's ending also loses some of its original power, in the way it dispatches with a few final characters (Ben 1990's fate isn't nearly as unsettling as Ben 1968's fate). Finally, the film score by composer Paul McCollough (Santa Claws) feels cheap and dated with '80s synthesizers telegraphing every tense moment.
Complaints aside, horror fans should definitely check out this update of Romero's classic. The effects work is top notch (some of the zombie make up is truly disturbing and yet to be equaled); the acting -- with only a few small exceptions -- is very good; and the atmosphere is filled with dread and decay Easily recommended to any living dead enthusiasts and a fine addition to your George Romero collection.
Night of the Living Dead (1990) is presented in 1.85:1/1080p high definition widescreen. Much has been written over the past week about disc's transfer. The internet discussion forums around the world having been lighting up with talk of a previously unannounced color correction has been applied to the film. After viewing the disc, I can see why this is an issue; much of film now has a bluish tint that's clearly less bright and vivid than the original print. Is it worth getting up in arms about? If you're a huge fan, the color tinting may stick in your craw. Otherwise, the transfer is serviceable, featuring fine detail and solid black levels. While it's a shame that neither Twilight Time not Sony took time to correct issue, it's still nice to have the film on Blu-ray.
The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix fares much better than the video, sporting a front heavy mix with some side speaker engagement (mostly during the zombie attacks), and English SDH subtitles. This soundtrack isn't going to blow anyone way, but for a low budget film from two decades prior, it's more than acceptable.
Bonus features include a worthwhile commentary track by director Tom Savini, an isolated music track of the film score -- itself a melange of stock film music from nine different composers, and a theatrical trailer.
Night of the Living Dead (1990) is one of the superior zombies movies available, due in large part to the fact that George A. Romero was the writer and executive producer (he had to bow out of directing, due to his obligations on the Stephen King film The Dark Half). Twilight Time's work on this disc is commendable, but considering it has already "sold out" its limited issue run of 3,000 copies, you may be paying through the nose to see this one in high definition.
Not Guilty, if you picked up your copy early.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Twilight Time
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Isolated Music Score