When I rediscovered my favorite movie critic Joe Bob Briggs, on his website was a video from a show (date unknown) where he had several from the original cast of NOTLD, as well as Tom Savini. Briggs was showing a double feature, both the original and the remake NOTLD that Tom Savini directed in 1990. I faintly remembered the remake, but decided to look it up anyway to kind of contrast and compare, as I'd watched the original again a short time ago. This is where I wish my friend Tim Forston could help me out because I'm sure he'd have some keen insights about the value of remakes - he always does. Hopefully we'll see him again here soon. But for today I'll have to do this on my own.
I was pleased to see that Savini kept faithful to the original in all the basic concepts, and thought it interesting where Romero reached out there with some really then-taboo type things, Savini seemed to draw in, making it a bit more tame. Not to say there wasn't gore - but it was mostly towards the end and very subdued. I was also surprised that Tony Todd was in it - I hadn't remembered that. This was before his every-word-makes-you-shiver vocal delivery, he was actually a pretty normal guy in a very abnormal situation.
We keep the need-to-see aspects of the film and Savini makes sure they're in there while inserting his own style into the story. Johnnie (a brief visit by the talented and horror movie regular Bill Moseley) and Barbara (great performance by Patricia Tallman, who was also in Army Of Darkness and also is a stuntwoman) are visiting their mother's grave. We get to hear the 'They're coming to get you Barbara' which Johnnie repeats - almost too much. We got it - we heard you, okay?
The movie follows much of the original - Tony Todd as Ben is still the strong figure and the one to rally and instruct the others how to survive. Savini, being about the best makeup artist on the planet still didn't get tempted and go overboard with the zombies either - they were understated as Romero made them which was nice - this movie was about the horror of the possibility after all, not the gore.
Things that were different: Barbara, at first as mousy and shell shocked as the original comes to and begins to be strong and aggressive, a welcome change from the original where she basically stared blankly through the movie. The ancillary characters are basically the same - the naive couple, the jerk with his wife and sick (read bitten) daughter and, of course, lots and lots of people coming out of nowhere to this house in the middle of, well, nowhere which is unexplained and we don't care 'cause this is a classic, right?
And Savini, being the effects expert he is does seem to shy away from certain gory aspects - the chewing scenes where the dead feed and all the intestine pulling begins, and the scene that was so shocking in the original, when the sick child becomes a zombie and kills her mother with a trowel was changed although a nod to Romero was definitely given. In this version, the child instead grabs and bites her mother on the neck, the blood squirting onto a trowel hanging on the wall. Pretty sneaky Savini - but very effective. The young couple die as in the original and it's their cooked bodies (they die in a gas explosion) that the zombies munch on - not as shocking as the original and interesting that he went in that direction.
In this version Savini kind of fiddles with the ending. We all know that Ben is the final survivor of the original, living until morning only to be cut down by over-eager rednecks having a blast (pun intended) wasting all the zombies. But now it is Barbara who manages to survive the night and is discovered, but not killed by the rednecks. She sees that to them this is practically like the County Fair - booths are set up for food, they've got a barbeque going (of food, not zombies - eww you guys) and they're having a raucous good time.
She goes back to the house for Ben who had been wounded but unfortunately he did not survive and is cut down by one of the rednecks. She then sees the jerk, alive at the cost of the others coming out of the attic. She shoots him in the head without a second thought and tells the men when they come in 'another one for the fire'. She looks out over the devastation and the men shooting and hanging and generally having fun with the corpses and says the great Romero line, "They're us. We're them and they're us."
Brilliant. I know Romero was pleased with it, and with good reason. Tom Savini has a great brain in that gorgeous head of his. <blushes>