Halloween Top 13: The Remake- #9- Night of the Living Dead (1990)

Before I say anything else. Before I utter a single other word about the 1990 Tom Savini version of Night of the Living Dead, I must say this. Tony Todd is a badass, plain and simple. Ok, now that we’ve got that out of the way. Let me welcome you to number nine on countdown. By the time I saw Savini’s version, sometime in the early nineties after it had hit VHS, Romero’s classic was firmly engrained in my memory. Yet here was this film that’s seemed so familiar, after all the script was by Romero based on the original script by Romero and Russo from 1968, but everything was amplified, the ending was different, and the characters were not quite the same. I watched it off and on throughout the years, but it wasn’t until a couple of years ago when I really started to appreciate what Romero and Savini had done with this remake.

I can’t see as there is much of a reason to include a synopsis of the film with this review. The plot points in the film that diverge from the original happen primarily in the last third, and I am hesitant to talk about specifics since it is a pretty major change. What I will say is this. Romero has stated that the ending was more in line with what he wanted for the original film. I think that might be Romero trying to do a little ret-conning on his franchise. If you take the 1990 remake and then watch Romero's Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, they seem remarkably seamless. The 1968 film leaves off in a much different feeling place than Savini’s version, and the remake sets up many of the themes that Romero explored in those films (and the ‘Dead’ movies that followed) in the final, radically different moments.

While the remake will never surpass the original in terms of importance or prominence, I don’t see why so many people dismiss Night of the Living Dead (1990) and then readily accept Sam Rami’s Evil Dead 1 & 2. They, like the two Night of the Living Dead films, are essentially the same movie. In some places shots are different, dialog is different, and ideas are taken to new places unreachable in the original version, but the bare bones of the film is the same. While the ‘68 version feels the characters feel archetypal and the movie plays out almost like a stage production, Savini’s characters are more complex, more colored in shades of grey than the original film. In fact there are a few major character changes, and these changes not only spoke to the era in which the remake was produced, but also to Romero’s new vision of the ‘Dead’ world.

The biggest difference comes from the character of Barbara. They may still be coming to get her, but there’s a good chance that she’ll just plant a bullet right in their forehead if they try. Gone is the blubbering mess that Judith O’Day portrayed, and in her place Patricia Tallman (Army of Darkness, Babylon 5) created a Barbara that was a forceful, strong, and thoroughly modern woman. She also had great chemistry with the badass Tony Todd who was absolutely brilliant in the role of Ben. While I love Todd in movies like Candyman where he gets to play the heavy, he really brought the thunder here especially as the film wound down. There were also a couple of shaky performances bringing the average down. While William Butler (Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3, Ghoulies 2) is average at best as Tom, first time actress Katie Finnegan (Wonderfalls, You’ve Got Mail) was truly grating as his girlfriend Judy Rose. I also didn’t get anything out of Tom Towles (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) turn as Harry Cooper. While all the other actors seemed to bring something new to the role, Towles played the same sweaty schmuck that I had already seen in the 1968 film. I would also like to mention the brief cameo by horror legend (and Horrorhound Weekend Cinni guest) Bill Mosley who did a wonderful job in the tiny part of Barbara's brother Johnny.

One of the major changes between the two films that I have to mention is the effects. Savini originally signed on to do the effects work and ended up in the director’s chair. That’s not to say that he didn’t go all out on the effects. The zombies, excuse me, living dead that wander through the film look awesome, the headshots (a Savini specialty) are spot on, and there seems to be a stunning amount of detail and thought put into every shot. As a first time director, directing the remake of Night of the Living Dead could have been disastrous even for a seasoned professional like Tom Savini. Instead, he handled the film perfectly and it earned him and the film one of the coveted spots on the Halloween Top 13: The Remake.

Bugg Rating 

Today’s guest list comes from one of my favorite bloggers, and he should be one of your favorites too. I love some movies with musicians in it, and that’s all Billy Goode talks about over at his site Gonna Put Me in the Movies. I sometimes can’t believe the stuff that he digs up, and he always brings great reviews packed with information, and hips me to lots of films that I’ve never heard of. Now that I’ve done the pleasantries let’s see what Mr. Goode picked for his remake list…..

My top five horror remakes in no particular order:

1. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) - I don't think it's better than the original, but I do think it's just as good.

2. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) - see explanation above

3. The Fly (1986) - I think this one is better than the original

4. Little Shop of Horrors (1986) - The musical remake is a little more entertaining than the original, but I have to deduct points for including Steve Martin in the cast

5. Psycho (1998) - I think I'm one of the few people who actually like this movie. Of course it's no match for the original, but Vince Vaughn is just as creepy to me in this remake as Anthony Perkins was in the original

Thanks for taking part in the countdown, Billy Good, and you folks go visit him over at Gonna Put Me in the Movies where right now he's got a post up about a favorite of mine, Motorama. At least one of the films Mr. Good has on his list is still too come on the countdown but with eight more re-imagined, remade, and  rebooted films to go, there’s no telling which one it might be.


  1. jervaise brooke hamsterOctober 23, 2010 at 5:26 PM

    Patricia Tall-girl was a hot chick back in 1990 i just wish she`d been 18 instead of 32 at the time of filming. By the way, theres no question in my mind that this is a far superior film to the 1968 version (although that film is still reasonably good considering the budget limitations) in fact i think its one of the best horror films of all time.

  2. I much prefer Patricia Tallman as Barbara. I didn't like the Judy Rose character per se but I've had a crush on her for years.

    I think the remake is almost on the level of the original. Very well shot.

    As for the list, I like & agree with all but the new Psycho. I don't dislike the new one..but it just feels unneccesary (for lack of a better word).


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