FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE...beware yon spoilers!

Oct 26, 2005

Day 26- They're Coming to Get You, Barbara...in Color!

As a George Romero fan...as a Tom Savini fan...how is it that before today I had never seen Savini's 1990 remake of Romero's '68 classic Night of the Living Dead? I should make myself go sit in the corner.

There's a huge amount of remakes coming out of Hollywood nowadays (they're even talking about remaking Friday the 13th, for Charles Nelson Reilly's sake!), as we all know. It's like Remakemania, or Remake-a-go-go, or Remakegate, or Remakeapalooza, or...ok, I'll stop. These new versions of old favorites are, almost across the board, reviled more than Potted Meat. Savini's NotLD seems to fare pretty well in public opinion, though, with good reason. George Romero wrote the screenplay (he co-wrote the original with John Russo), so he DID have a major hand in the way the new version would stack up.

While the basic plot of the film remains true to the original- a bunch of people end up stranded in a Pennsylvania farmhouse trying to survive the onslaught by the living dead- the characterizations in the two versions are different to varying degrees. Most notably, Barbara has gone from being a near-mute lump on the couch (as portrayed by Judith O'Dea in '68) to a take-charge ass-kicker (as portrayed by Patricia Tallman). While she starts the film in a long skirt, she ends up in pants, big boots and a tank top. She's about one pair of glacier glasses away from being Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2. She's a more interesting character to watch in this version, I suppose, but to me the shell-shocked Barbara seems more realistic.

There's alot of points to compare and contrast between the two movies, and I can't seem to form big, smart sentences easily tonight. Thus, I will do this thang as if the two versions of Night of the Living Dead are locked in a steel cage, prepared to kick each other in the nuts until one cries "uncle". Let's get ready to comparrrrrrrrre the two mooooovieeeeeeees!

Barbara vs. Barbara- I know Romero was ashamed of the original Barbara. He felt she was weak and he's sought to make his female characters strong ever since. He's going for that here, and I suppose he succeeds, but I empathized much more with the black and white Babs. Winner: I'm in the minority, here, but I'll go with 1968.

Ben vs. Ben- Tony Todd does such a great job in the new version...he's much more human than Duane Jones's's's Supermanesque Ben. The new Ben still takes charge, but he makes mistakes. He's much more affected by what's going on in the world around him, and, aw shucks- he cries. Winner: 1990.

The killing of Mrs. Cooper- When Land of the Dead, Romero's newest zombie flick, hit the screen, people were bitching about zombies using tools and weapons. Well, it was an idea he introduced in 1968, folks! Poor little Karen Cooper (Kyra Schon) comes back to life and kills her mother with a fucking garden trowel in a harrowing scene. Romero uses funky camera and sound techniques while Karen's stabbing away that are really, truly, unsettling. 30 years later, Karen is now "Sarah" (Heather Mazur), and she just chomps on mom like any other dumb old zombie would. Boo! Winner: 1968.

Johnny: Yes, he of the horn-rimmed glasses, polka-dotted tie, and driving gloves. He, the annoying brother who delivers the infamous line "They're coming to get you Barbara!". Let's just say that New Johnny (Bill Moseley) has a better death scene in the cemetery, but that's his only advantage. He's far more annoying than the Old Johnny (Russ Streiner), and has none of the humor. AND he just ends up in a zombie pig pile in the back of a truck- he doesn't come back after Barbara or nuthin'! Winner: 1968.

Gore/FX: I haven't listened to Tom Savini's commentary track or watched any of the DVD bonuses yet, but from what I've read, I understand that Savini was only able to bring about half of his vision for the film to the screen. That may account for a noticeable lack of full-color gore. I was shocked, flabbergasted, taken aback, and dumbstruck (in that order) by the fact that other Savini zombie efforts were so much more explicit. Maybe it's because he was too busy directing and Everett Burrell was Special Makeup Effects Supervisor, I don't know. I expected a real gross-out feast scene after the pickup truck explodes, and to my surprise the '68 version was wayyy more graphic. The zombies themselves, however, look far superior in '90. Winner: tie!

The ending: Romero's classic version ends with such a downward spiral to the final bonfire scene. Everyone we've come to care about is dead, whether through their own undoing or circumstance. The still images shown with the credits- the meathooks, the bodies, the fire- are haunting and accompanied by very little sound. In Savini's version, Barbara survives. She becomes the eyes of the audience as she watches the zombie-bustin' posse using the living dead for sport (another idea revisited in Land of the Dead), laughing and carrying on amidst the horror and carnage. We kinda get smacked over the head with the whole just who ARE the savages here ? idea when she utters, "They're us. We're them, and they're us.". Why not put a big flashing neon arrow onscreen, blinking "METAPHOR!"? And quite frankly, something about the music and dancing around during the final bonfire scene brought only one image to mind, and I hope you know what I'm talkin' bout, Willis: Yub Yub! Winner: 1968.

All in all, I did like the Savini version. I just like Romero's better. But how does this movie stand on it's own? What does it rate if I get all Quantum Leap and pretend the B&W version never was? It's a fun movie. Not really scary, but enjoyable- although I did spend alot of time trying to shoot lasers out of my eyes at the TV to make Judy Rose (Katie Finneran) stop the fucking screaming already. Overall, though? 7 out of 10 stinky corpses.

BUT WAIT! I cannot end this without mentioning that this movie contains he who is now my all-time favorite big screen zombie. Move over, Bub. Here comes this guy:

Him hate fire! I don't know who he is, but he is hamming it up SO MUCH that I absolutely love it. He's like Silent Film Zombie or something.

12 comments:

tismey said...

Have you seen the absolutely AWFUL Night Of The Living Dead 'Special Edition' 30th Anniversary version. It's the version that comes in the Trilogy Of The Dead box set and I cannot warn you against it strongly enough. Russo tries to 'reclaim' the film from Romero, in the process ruining it entirely. He inserts new footage, filmed in black and white, which tells a couple of badly-acted backstories, introduces a heavy-handed religious aspect and makes the film appear to be some kind of spoof. It reminded me of the Bikini Bandits K-Mart sequences... The worst thing was, I unwittingly showed this version to my mate the first time he saw NOTLD and now he thinks this classic 'funny, in that so bad it's funny way'. AARGH. Russo deserves to have his brains eaten...

B.A. Slattery said...

I think I saw Savini's remake, or at least parts of it, but from what you wrote, I like the original better, too.

How can Barbara survive? That's no fun. And I think 1968's Barbara kicked serious ass because she was scared shitless. Being the main character, the person you first identify with, you're more likely to feel scared shitless too.

Linda Hamilton can chomp on my sac.

Des said...

That's hilarious, Bub and "Circle-mouth Lugosi Zombie" are tied for my favourites.

Although, with very little screen time Lugosi Zombie makes an incredible impact.

I too am taking on both NotLDs soon.

David Lee said...

I'd rather rewatch the remake but that's because I'm unreasonably besotted by Patricia Tallman. And I think the whole "we can just walk right past them" ending is hilarious. It's more of a "fun" film.

The original is better for giving you a feeling of hopelessness and despair. And little Karen stabbing away with the spade is damned creepy.

Stacie Ponder said...

Tismey- I've heard only terrible things about the Russo add-ons, so I've spared myself. I've just got one of the infinite cheapie versions of the movie- though I'd like to see it get the deluxe treatment like Dawn and Day...

Careful, Brennon- Linda Hamilton might bit your boys clean off!

Des, I can't wait to read your take on these two. Lugosi Zombie rules!

Lots of folks seem besotted by Patricia Tallman, but even in the foxiness department, I still think Barbara '68 wins! And the "walking past them" bit IS funny- it's also the argument alot of non-zombie fans raise about these movies. "Why are zombies so scary? They're so slow, just run away!". The remake zombies ARE some of the most lethargic I've ever seen- and they all seem quite dumb, even for zombies. Well, except Lugosi Zombie!

Anonymous said...

pritty cool dood

Anonymous said...

well done stacie!

I am a HUGE fan of the original for so many reasons and many you've listed here...

Bravo!

~ slatts (Pop Slattery to Brennon Slattery)


p.s. I've never seen this remake. Maybe Brennon and I will check out sometime.

Stacie Ponder said...

I gotta say..."slatts" has to be the coolest nickname ever. Well, except "Action", like Action Jackson.

NotLD '90 is a pretty fun little movie...I watched it again with Savini's commentary and liked it even more!

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this version.

My ex knew the girl who played Judy Rose. The story goes - Tom's a sleaze and George "ghost directed" most of the picture.

BTW, did you know Patricia Tallman was a student of Charles Nelson Reilly?!? True story. I sat next to her at his one-man show (which was incredible!) and he mentioned her. When I realized who she was, I almost DIED. And Adrienne Barbeau sat directly in front of us. We stared at her boobies all night!

Wish you were me?

Amanda By Night

Smurfwreck said...

I dug the film alright, I was just disapointed by Ben actually being a Zombie a the end of the flick which took away all the social commentary of the original for me.

Not quite as bad as the horrible homage in Cabin Fever, but it's up there.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I'm late to the party, but I saw this on a first (and only) date and I was, of course, thinking "Will we or won't we..." and the movie wasn't sufficiently distracting to take my mind off that (we didn't). Other than Barbara's survival, that's all I really remember. ;-)

knobgobbler said...

Interesting, reading this comparison... particularly the part about Karen killing her mom with the trowel... I'm reminded how sinister the original NOTLD zombies were. They wanted to eat you, but on top of that they just pretty much hated you and wanted you dead/undead.

Maybe it's just the black and white, working its magic on me... again...