In this all new 3-D remake of the popular 1968 horror classic, Barb and her brother Johnny arrive late for the burial of their aunt and walk straight into a nightmare!
Snicker, snicker… based on comments on imdb, I must be the only person in the whole wide world who actually enjoyed this movie, both as a remake and as “cinema”. It’s no ‘Masterpiece Theater’, I’ll grant anyone that, but as an alternate take on a well-worn tale, I thought that it did no worse than, oh… let’s say, the 2004 remake of ‘Dawn of the Dead’. And yet… the latter was accepted by fans and the general populace at large without much of a complaint.
Perhaps the key difference is how iconic 1968’s ‘Night Of The Living Dead’ is. Maybe people aren’t ready for anything that strays from the original (the 1989 remake was almost a word-for-word, shot-for-shot copy – but in colour). Of course, I’m also one of the few to stand behind the remake of ‘Psycho’, as unnecessary as it was. So, what the heck do I know? Perhaps the argument that Shakespeare is constantly reinterpreted doesn’t hold water with cinema. Beats me.
Honestly, I enjoyed a large part of this rendition, even though it doesn’t hold up to the original (one must remember, mind you, that I was revolted by my viewing of ‘NOTLD: R’ the day before – so that may be skewing the data somewhat ;)). The key thing to remember when you sit down to watch this one is that it’s a reinterpretation of the material: they set it in modern-day North America, which changes the characters’ attitudes, their environment, …etc. Thus, the story has to change with it.
The filmmakers’ modernization of the story was relatively coherent; I must admit that I’m completely okay with what they did and the way that they did it; the film only gets ugly once they completely go off-script. In my estimation, so long as they kept the frame-work of the original story, they were doing okay; the tweaks were appropriate and some changes made up for the flaws in the original film (I’m HUGE fan of Romero’s version, but, let’s face it, it’s not a perfect film whatsoever!). It was refreshing to me.
Having said that, the filmmakers found ways to invest the film with their own flaws in lieu, such as the chronology of events being slightly haphazard (the sun sets and rises pretty fast, it seems! ). Of particular note is the last third of the film, which strays completely from the 1968 version and, consequently, loses its bearings a little bit. Also, the ending was totally unrealistic and ill-conceived; scenes were a briskly thrown together for a quick despatch.
That whole last sequence reminded me of how inept ’80s horror films could be. I suppose that I should have see it coming, because this version of ‘NOTLD’ inserted a nude scene in much the same way that ’80s horror films did: for no apparent reason at all except cheap thrills.
At least, one unfamiliar with the original might think this.
However, one could argue that it was the filmmakers’ way to include characters from the original that were redundant here. In creating this sequence, they were ultimately tying these characters’ fates to the originals’. It wasn’t an essential sequence, but I thought it was a relatively clever twist on this cliché; the filmmakers didn’t get completely lost in libidinous fervour. And I was pleased to see that (unlike their peers) the filmmakers didn’t take actors with implants and washboard stomachs – these were “real” people, with tummies and imperfections.
They also didn’t actually add to the gore in any substantial way – the original was already fairly gory for its time. But, since this film does things differently anyway, it doesn’t try to match, reproduce or best the original – it simply does what was appropriate for the scenes; I didn’t find it gratuitous in any way. Quite like the afore-mentioned sex scene, I found the controlled gore actually pleasing – when one considers cinema’s splatter and über-violent proclivities of recent years. To me, the fact that the filmmakers didn’t jump on the bandwagon is a plus; again, they marched to the beat of their own drum.
The reinterpretations of the original characters was also intriguing: the originals were flawed gems and so are these versions – except that their imperfections are vastly different. They do not have the same personalities (or appearance, for that matter!) as they did back in 1968 and, thus, their interactions are not the same. One key change, and one I found was sorely missing, was the racial tension and power battles between Ben and Henry – to me that was the highlight of the original. On the flip side, the cast is a bit better this time around (there were, after all, a few stinkers in the original!). But the film would have been superior with some real dramatic actors at its core.
Speaking of which, I found that Sid Haig’s character seemed totally unnecessary – even though, ultimately, the story hinges on him. For some reason, I got this impression that the film was adapted to accommodate the actor – that, if he hadn’t been on board, it’s a part that would have been written out and the script would have taken a different course. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s highlighted on the DVD cover even though he’s a minor character? I don’t know… it just felt like we could have done without him somehow. I’m not sure I can explain it…
Oh, and just in case the title doesn’t give it away, it should also be noted that this film is in 3D (every DVD comes with four sets of 3D glasses!). Sadly, the 3D effects were just a gimmick; there wasn’t much of it and what there was of it was superfluous. It still provided a depth that 2D didn’t, but the glasses didn’t always work the way you’d expect. Not only did it not work every time it should have, but the red lens was so dark it hampered the viewing. So I ended up watching the film without the glasses after about 30 minutes into it – between the slightly weird 3D image or barely being able to see, it was an easy choice.
So, in the end, was a remake of ‘Night of the Living Dead (1968)’ necessary? No. Is it a completely valid take on the original? It’s debatable. Is it entertaining? Yes. And I think that’s all that matters in the end.
Post scriptum: there’s nothing to be done about comparisons between it and its predecessor, and some people will never be able to accept that this isn’t and never will be the original. I understand, because there are things I’m a purist about. With ‘NOTLD’, I’m just happy to have another way of appreciating the material – much like a cover of a favourite song that you’ve played and played and played, sometimes it’s just nice to get a different perspective. In this case, it’s welcome and appreciated.