Saturday, February 27, 2010

Fi' Dolla' Show! Night of the Living Dead (1990)

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Greetings, ghouls. Today I'm introducing a new feature here at the Toolshed. Fi' Dolla' Shows! Cheapy-cheap DVDs I found at Wal-Mart, Target, Amazon, etc. First up: Night of the Living Dead (1990) directed by Tom Savini.

Regular readers of the Toolshed (both of you) know I'm not averse to remakes in general. Advances in filmaking tech or the chance to introduce a classic staple of the horror genre to a new generation are worthy reasons to film remakes. If done with respect to the original, I say bring 'em on. My chief peeve with the rash of remakes Hollywood is generating ad nauseum these days is that they're simply trying to generate cash while exploiting a license languishing in their vaults. Happily, Night of the Living Dead '90 (hereafter known as NOTLD 90)falls into the first category.

NOTLD 90 took a crictical thrashing when released but has garnered more respect over the years. As well it should. I think most critics were espcially harsh simply because Mr. Savini had the audacity to be remaking a classic. What seems to be overlooked is that Savini was no iconoclast; his remake honors the original without being a shot-for-shot refilming.

Director Savini is famous for his brilliant makeup effects and practical effects as well as occasional turns in front of the camera. Mr. Savini knows the genre and genuine affection shows in his directorial debut. NOTLD 90 features a familiar cast of horror favorites, including Bill Moseley (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and most everything Rob Zombie puts on film) and Tony Todd (of Candyman fame) as the iconic Ben. I was also very impressed with Patricia Tallman's Barbara. Possibly the best feature of NOTLD 90 was the re-imagining of Barbara as an alpha-female personality.
Ms. Tallman ably goes from shocked and bewildered to can-do over the course of the film. I may be cursed by the horror fanbase at large for saying this but Judith O'Dea's Barbara in the original bored me to tears. She was a one-note character.

Of course, anything associated with Tom Savini is going to have top-notch makeup effects and though NOTLD 90 has been eclipsed by twenty years of innovations, the zombies are still grody enough to pass muster. I was a little surprised by the restraint on the gore quotient, however. I would've thought a Savini-helmed Night would feature blood by the buckets.

The supporting cast, for the most part, turned in a competent though not stellar performance. Tom Towles, for example, as the sleazy Harry Cooper seemed to fall short of being sleazy enough. William Butler (Tommy) and Katie Finneran (Judy Rose) were earnest and well meaning but just not ENOUGH. To be blunt, I didn't care all that much when they were killed when I was supposed to be shocked.

And that is NOTLD 90's failing. Mr. Savini's remake is competent but didn't really reach for the notoriety of the original. Of course, it's harder to shock us these days, and who doesn't know the well-worn plot Mr. Savini tried to tell the story with? Simply put, if you're going to remake a classic, you gotta give us something new to be amazed over. NOTLD 90 doesn't give us anything that George Romero or Lucio Fulci hasn't shown us already. Hell, even Dan O'Briens Return of the Living Dead gave us fast zombies.

Still, Tom Savini's directorial debut shouldn't have been as lambasted as it was. NOTLD 90 has it's heart in the right place, if nothing else and it was fun viewing. Although I couldn't say that I was emotionally invested in any of the characters it was still worth the $5 I gave Wal-Mart.

Final verdict? NOTLD 90 has some great zombies and is a fun, if overly familiar, flick. Nothing special but deserves a viewing or two.

Toolshed gives it 6.5/10 shrieking bonesaws.

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