Night of the Living Dead (1990)

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*. George Romero likes to cast unknowns in his zombie movies, I think mainly to help the audience identify with them. Recognizable stars would take us out of the moment. That could be us locked up in that house out in the middle of nowhere, or that shopping mall. They certainly don’t look like a bunch of movie stars.

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*. Of course Tony Todd is a movie star, or at least a cult horror icon, and he seems out of place a bit here as Ben. That’s not really fair because he only became a star after this film with his role in Candyman and then later as the sinister Bludworth in the Final Destination series. Still: can you tell me what any of the actors from the original Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, or Day of the Dead, went on to do? I can’t. But Todd is in a different category.

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*. Patricial Hallman (playing Barbara, named spelled properly this time) is also very good, and I wonder why she never went on to do much that was noteworthy after this movie. She has real presence, a striking look, and turns in a great performance. But this film was her only leading role, at least that I’m aware of.
*. I read somewhere that Tom Savini did not enjoy the experience of directing this, his first film, and that it soured him a bit on the business. He certainly didn’t go on to do many more. That’s a shame. This movie didn’t get great reviews, but I remember walking out of the theatre and being pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t expecting it to be so well done.
*. You’d think with Savini at the helm there’d be more of an emphasis on the gore. Some graphic scenes were cut by censors (headshot exit wounds, mostly), but overall he’s actually quite restrained. Several times he deliberately avoids going full splatter, and wisely I think.
*. It’s also restrained in its language. Tarantino would have gone crazy with f-bombs in this situation (as he indeed would in From Dusk Til Dawn), but here they’re rare. The worst name Harry can think of to call someone is a “yo-yo.”

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*. I really like the photography. I think it has something to do with the colour scheme. The grass looks more fully green, the night a darker blue, even the mud on that dirt road in the opening shot a richer brown.
*. It’s hard to overestimate the impact Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley had on female roles in action/horror movies. That movie was a real watershed. On several occasions on the DVD commentary here Savini mentions how Patricia Hallman is turning into Sigourney Weaver, transforming from prim young lady to female Rambo.
*. But Barbara is an outlier. Where are the women at the redneck camp at the end? I think I see a couple in the background, but otherwise it’s all men. I suppose they’re off making coffee somewhere.

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*. Just what is Harry doing taking the television downstairs? I accept he can’t get reception in the basement, but that’s where it looks like he’s going. And why did he bring it down from upstairs in the first place? Why is he being so sneaky about it? I don’t understand this part.
*. Apparently Savini had an interesting idea for starting the movie in black and white and slowly bleeding colour into the film. It might have worked. I think it would have gone nicely with Barbara’s transformation. Then at the end he could have reversed things and gone back out to black and white before ending with the stills.
*. I think they do a bit too much with the hands breaking through windows and doorways. It’s always a great looking shot, but you can go to the well too often with the classics.
*. Do you think Savini got the idea for hiding out in the attic from The Return of the Living Dead? That’s where they go at the end of that movie.
*. The twist ending here works for me. In fact, I feel like they could have taken even more liberties with the original. This is a good movie, but it’s perhaps too faithful a remake. It might have been better if Savini had given himself more freedom to do his own thing. I’ve already mentioned how restrained a movie this is, and I meant that in a good way. But it also needed to take at least a couple of harder shots, censors be damned.

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