The making of “Night of the Living Dead” 1990 has become one of the most fascinating movie making tales of all time. George Romero teamed up with friend Tom Savini to direct an official remake of his 1968 horror masterpiece. What Savini found was no end of interference, intrusion and creative stifling from the studio that funded the film. Despite excellent creativity and clever ideas to bring to the table, horror icon Savini was turned off from filmmaking for so many years, and he wasn’t able to deliver the film he actually wanted. Ironically, “Night…” 1990 is widely considered a top shelf remake of the original, and is argued to be superior to Romero’s by some horror buffs.
In a year that nearly everyone across the board has admitted to being a weak one for films in general 2009’s “Survival of the Dead” continues to stand out among the mediocrity and abysmal for its sheer down to Earth storytelling in the saga of the Dead where Romero is completing a second chapter in his Dead franchise. We had “Night,” “Dawn,” “Day,” and “Land,” and now to fit in with modern society, Romero has restarted the whole premise and entire sensibility with “Diary,” and “Survival” showing the downfall of a world, now very dependent on technology and the world wide web. “Diary” is a movie that continues to be misunderstood.
“Creepshow” isn’t just a horror movie, but it’s also the gold standard for what most anthology horror movies strive to be. While there have been anthology horror films before it, “Creepshow” popularized the genre for a new decade and helped redefine the idea of the sub-genre. Not just that, but “Creepshow” is also a rebuttal to the golden age of horror comic from EC. Once upon a time the comics label that produced violent horror based comics were shut down due to their controversial nature. “Creepshow” is a movie that combines immense talents from folks like George Romero, Stephen King, and Tom Savini to provide something of a rebellious middle finger and show a new audience that these tales were as fun as they were violent.
Although George Romero wasn’t as particular or gung ho with his filmmaking as Stanley Kubrick was, you can’t really sit through “Night of the Living Dead” without feeling like everything is so deliberate. Like what is the significance of Barbara looking through the music box? Why did Johnny approach Barbara with his gloves on? And why did Romero blatantly film one of the dead with its eyes moving? Was it was considerably faint attempt to humanize the monsters that we’d see be hit with fire and shot to death throughout the film? Or was it his reminder that through and through these were once people with human impulses and their urges for human flesh are still a part of some human impulse? “Night of the Living Dead” is so nightmarish and intricate that I love picking it apart every single time I’ve seen it and it leaves me stunned every single time.
Zack Snyder re-invents the late George Romero’s masterpiece in a mess of a remake that starts off very strong, gives up trying to make sense mid-way, and them limps to the finish line as fast as it can. Snyder and James Gunn’s script never takes time to slow down and breathe, jumping from one action scene to the next, from one musical laced montage to the next, and from one weak moment of tension to the next. Characters are stale and barely developed, and the script never hides that these people are meant as cannon fodder and nothing else. Worse, the script is clumsily paced, the overall film is tonally uneven, and often times the horror element is an afterthought.
It’s fitting that Shout Factory would release “Land of the Dead” right around the same time as 2004’s version of “Dawn of the Dead.” After almost twenty years in development hell, and with the title “Dead Reckoning,” Romero was able to finally complete his planned fourth part of his dead series thanks to the success of “Dawn.” Even Romero admitted that he owed a lot of his ability to make “Land” thanks to the evident success of “Dawn.” While “Land of the Dead” feels incomplete and under developed, I give Romero a huge pass mainly because he was given so much hell while filming the long awaited sequel. Not only did he have to scale down his story yet again like he did with “Day of the Dead,” but he couldn’t film in Pittsburgh which he always did with his zombie epics.
With the unfortunate death of George A. Romero this year, now is the best time to re-visit “Night of the Living Dead.” It’s hard to believe what one small mistake could have done to alter history, as Romero’s accidental omission of the copyright sign for “Night of the Living Dead” allowed his horror masterpiece to become public domain, and for his idea of the zombie to become open game for anyone and everyone with an imagination. Just imagine if Romero had copyrighted the concept of the flesh eating zombie and we probably wouldn’t have about eighty percent of the zombie movies we have today.
People usually laugh when I tell them I have a mortal fear of zombies, but for many years I did. I had a mortal fear of the walking dead, for reasons I can’t really explain. Fears are meant to be irrational. I can however pinpoint to where it may have all started, and it was with George Romero. One of my earliest memories as a kid was when my dad took a four year old moi to visit a friend of his, who watching this horror documentary on VHS. Mid-way through the footage there was the epic finale of “Day of the Dead” where the humongous horde of zombies is slowly descending in to the military bunker with light cast upon them.