Note: This review is part of my reviews which I publish directly onto my Facebook Page, and are intended to be quick-fire projects.
Remaking a venerable classic is a thankless task, like being a nerd who has to organise the school prom. But the 1990 film does a respectable job all in all. I think that is mostly because rather than simply being a cheap cash grab, it was made by those who were involved in the original (Russo, Romero, Russell Streiner). An attempt to bring the rights and profits back to the original creators after they made bugger all from the original film for trademarking the film's old title.
It's a fairly faithful recreation, even using the same dialogue. The film still follows a ragtag group of survivors stuck in a rural farmhouse as the reanimated dead besiege them.
There are two major changes, however. The first is Barbara herself. Here she's played by Patricia Tallman and she's hard as nails. You know that she's been turned into this action survivor type as she now has Jamie Lee Curtis style short hair. I like the inversion, the original Barbara didn't get to do much other than scream, fall over, and just sit there. In the Sixties, women's roles in horror were comparable to that of babies. My only problem is it takes some of the steam out of the Ben character (here played by Tony 'Candyman' Todd) and unlike Ben (who was competent but still out of his depth) she's this super awesome survivor.
The other major change is the ending. The original had this iconic bleak ending in which the sole survivor, Ben, is mistaken for a zombie and killed and burnt in a bonfire by racist rednecks. Ben also just happened to be black. Here, Barbara is the sole survivor. She clears the house with the redneck militia, who eliminate Ben (clearly a zombie this time around), but then also finds Harry Cooper (Tom Towles) alive.
In both versions, Harry is a selfish arsehole who causes most of the friction before being shot by Ben. But in the 1990 version he survives the shooting and mortally wounds Ben in the gun fight. This version doubles down on the 'humans are assholes' line. Barbara is having none of it, however, and shoots Harry dead, telling the rednecks that she's found another one for the fire.
I like both endings, but still prefer the 1968 ending. Not only was it simple but it was also raw, tapping into a savage period of history. This one is more satisfying, but it's clearly going for a "who are the real monsters, zombies or humans?" vibe. Barbara even more or less comes out with this exact line.
Nevertheless, this is a strong remake which brings Night into line with what audiences expect from a zombie film. The 'ghouls' are now zombies, rotten flesh and all. In doing so, however, it loses some of its charm. In my review I stated that the original had this unique atmosphere, combining an almost documentary style with vespertine imagery. This remake is yet another zombie movie, released after the genre had already peaked in the Eighties.
With any remake you need to ask yourself, 'why?'. Why did they remake this film? What point does it serve? It's a nice film but if you're put off by the black and white cinematography of the original or its orchestral music, there are multiple coloured and re-scored re-releases which would have served the purpose. There's not a lot here for me to place this above the original. A few changes to make it closer to Romero's original vision, some nice practical effects (this is Savini after all), and a couple of minor twists - the best one involving a neat switcheroo with the graveyard zombie.
But whilst it's a better made, shot, and acted movie, it lacks the raw intensity of the original. It's too knowing that it's a remake drawing out iconic scenes like Johnny's "They're coming to get you, Barbara", simply because they're iconic. Johnny is played by Bill Moseley here and it's like he was told to out camp Dale Winton. Or take the graveyard zombie. In the remake he's rotten, disgusting, and a proper zombie. But he fails to scare me the same way Hinzman's version in the 1968 film did.
All in all, let's just say it's a good film, an excellent remake, but ultimately pointless. And we'll end on a shout out to the Bill Moseley sex doll. You'll get that if you've seen the film. Probably.
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