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There are as many good remakes as there are many good films. Very few. A remake is the opportunity to take a story, a character or an idea that was expressed in one film and express it differently in another. Remakes such as De Palma's Scarface, The Cohen Brothers' True Grit, and John Carpenter's The Thing are good examples.
I recently re-watched the 1990 remake of George A. Romero’s horror classic Night Of The Living Dead and while it’s certainly not in the same league as Scarface or The Thing, certain improvements the film makes on its 1968 original make it worthy of praise. So in this article, I’m going to look at those improvements and explain why they make Tom Savini’s Night Of The Living Dead worth a watch.
The performances in the original film are strong and compelling, however, by today's standards they come across as melodramatic and over-the-top. The cast of the remake present performances more authentic and raw than those in the 68 film. Tony Todd's portrayal of Ben for example, while just as commanding as Duane Jones' performance, displays more anxiety and vulnerability. He's just as flawed and weak as the other survivors, making him a lot more human than he is in the original.
The same can especially be said of Patricia Tallman's performance as Barbara. Unlike the scream queen that Judith O'Dea presented in the original, Tallman presents a person who is emotionally overwhelmed by what they're witnessing. When she cries you can tell that she’s been mentally scarred. In this sense, the remake does exactly what a good remake should do. Take the original material and improve on it and when it comes to the performances, 1990s Night of the Living Dead is better than its original.
Considering its budget and the time it was made in, 68s zombies are well done. Their pale skin and scratched, gooey faces certainly make them convincing as infected people. As resurrected corpses, however, their illusion takes more imagination.
The remake, however, offers a rotting, bleeding crowd of flesh eaters. Even though Tom Savini didn’t do the makeup for the remake, the effects are just as gorgeous as his previous zombie efforts. Anyone who loves the zombies in Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead will adore the ones in this film.
The zombies all have similar shades of pale skin, making them appear more believable as corpses affected by some form of germ or virus. Compared to the creepy ghouls from the original, the zombie designs of the remake is another clear improvement.
The big improvement the 1990 film makes is its visual scope. As groundbreaking as the original was, it had a small budget and could only suggest a nationwide zombie apocalypse. Only a dozen or so zombies appear on screen, making the illusion of a nationwide zombie epidemic require some imagination once again.
However, the remake boasts a larger budget and showcases a swarming army of zombies. There are many wide shots showing hundreds of zombies lumbering towards us from the distance, creating an incredibly tense and eerie atmosphere. By the end there are as many zombies as there in Day of the Dead and even the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. These scenes give the film a sense of scale and intensity that the original couldn’t produce.
It may not be as game-changing as the original or as well done as a remake like The Thing, but the few areas it excels in makes the 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead worthy of a positive recommendation.