Sunday, April 17, 2011

30 Day Horror Challenge Day 17 - Your favorite horror film remake

I’m probably gonna catch some flack for this one, but that's ok, everyone's entitled to my opinion. A lot of people hated the 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead. I absolutely love it though. Before you say anything, let me say that I cannot state loud enough how much I love the original. If this had been a butchering of that classic I would revile it with the same passion that I loathe the Nightmare on Elm Street remake with. What NOTLD90 (that’s gonna be my shorthand for the title from here on out) does is the same thing that some of the best remakes, like The Thing, The Fly, and The Body Snatchers, have done. Instead of completely trying to reinvent the wheel, they took the premise of the original, stayed true to the spirit of the original, but updated the attitude to fit the culture of the time it was released.

One thing that I think contributed to NOTLD90 staying so true to the immortal 1968 film is the fact that the filmmakers were so closely associated with the source material. George Romero wrote the remake’s screenplay and was one of the executive producers, along with his co-writer of the original, John Russo. Tom Savini may not have had anything to do with the original flick, but due to his effects work on its sequels he is arguably the second most important figure behind the Living Dead series after Romero. I can’t think of anyone better to take the directorial reigns of this flick. The fact that it wasn’t just some studio taking advantage of a license they own with no respect for the original (I’m looking at you Platinum Dunes) gives this film a lot more credibility than these wholesale “reboots” we’re getting from the current remake-mania.

While the basic plot and character list are the same as the original, there are definitely changes. While there is more gore and violence in the remake, I am kind of surprised that there wasn’t messier zombie mayhem with the notorious special effects master in the director’s chair. The most obvious change, though, is the strengthening of the female characters. Romero has said that he regrets writing the character of Barbara as absolutely useless, hysterical, and semi catatonic in the original. He remedies that here, turning her into a Sigourney Weaver/Linda Hamilton style ass kicker. After her initial scenes of well deserved freaking out, she becomes the most level headed one of the group. They never quite explain just how she became such a great marksman though. Hmmmm. Anyway, even Cooper’s wife is much more forceful in the remake.

What a cast they assembled for this one too! The always on point Tony Todd plays Ben. He had some mighty big shoes to fill, playing a role originated by Duane Jones, but he does admirably. He plays the character just as take charge and forceful as Jones did, but hives him vulnerability and a touch of sensitivity. The man, no matter what his role, has a commanding screen presence. The scene near the end of Ben, sitting in the cellar as the zombies invade the house and bursting out laughing when he finds those damn gas keys is one of my all time favorite movie moments. There’s also a great inside joke shot involving a crowbar that is a riff on another Todd role you may remember. Tom Towles plays Cooper. In the original, you hate Cooper. In the remake, you loathe him. In Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Towles was a magnificent scumbag. In NOTLD90, he’s a magnificent dickhead. His job is to make us despise Cooper, and he pulls that off in spades. Patricia Tallman (Army of Darkness, Monkey Shines, various Scifi TV series) is great as the tough as nails Barbara 2.0. Johnny, her brother, is played by genre legend Bill Mosely. It’s a very small part, but you can tell he’s having an absolute blast.

To be fair, this movie does have its faults. Remember when I talked about the female characters being stronger in this version? Judy is the exception. She basically shrieks for the entirety of her time on screen, which is REALLY annoying. Had I been in that farmhouse, I would have fed her to the zombies. Near the end, Barbara, watching the redneck zombie rodeo, throws out the line “They’re us. We’re them and they’re us.” The film is not so much Romero’s usual social commentary as it is just a commentary on mankind’s violent nature, but that was as subtle as a headshot. I think they should have left that unstated; the subtext was obvious enough without them beating us over the head with that line. It also contains the single dumbest thing I have ever seen a horror character do. When Tom and Judy go to refuel the truck, they find that it’s locked. Tom decides to use his trusty lock pick, AKA double barrel shotgun. In the original, Ben blows the lock off with a .22. That was stupid enough. Now, I realize that in horror movies, sometimes the only way to advance the plot is for people to act differently than most people would in real life. I cannot, however, imagine a person ever being stupid, panicked, or drunk enough to think that the best course of action in any situation is to SHOOT A FREAKIN’ 12 GUAGE AT A GAS PUMP!!! Come on now. What did you think was gonna happen?

The successes in the remake of Night of the Living Dead far outweigh the faults though. Savini and Romero manage to retain much of the claustrophobic atmosphere and sense of dread that made the original so great. They completely changed the ending, which in many remakes is a big mistake, but this new ending is brilliant. Overall, this is what a remake should be, everything you love about the original with a modern facelift. Two severed thumbs up. Nathan says check it out.


Cash Wampum said...

Oh boy!! How could I never have seen that it was Bill Mosely playing the brother?!?! I've seen it ten times, I've talked to Tom Savini for fucks sake and yet you, Mr. Celluloid, have opened my eyes to that fact. I'm ashamed to be Cash.

But now that I'm playing his scene over in my head. YES!! That voice as he grabs his own neck and pulls himself down behind the headstone, "NOOO!! MOTHERRRR!!!" that does resemble Choptop!! Hmmmm, That does it! I'm gonna have to watch it again!!

SonOfCelluloid said...

Just as I can't fathom how I didn't know TCM2 had been released unrated. That's what we're here for, right?

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