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.
While “Creepshow 2” has always been taken as one of pair of horror movies that pay tribute to the golden age of EC Comics, over the years the horror community has learned to appreciate “Creepshow 2” as its own entity. Surely, its cut from the same cloth as the original classic, but it also carves out its own identity and doesn’t repeat the same beats as the original film. The Michael Gornick directed sequel is a darker, grittier, and more vicious follow up to what was kind of a raucous and darkly comic celebration, and it works. As a nostalgic memento, and as a sequel carved by Stephen King and George Romero, “Creepshow 2” is a classic in its own right.
I should preface this rant by saying that I avoided making this article for a few days if only because I am a big Romero fan. I think Night, Dawn and Day of the Dead are brilliant masterpieces that should be analyzed by film students everywhere, while films like “Knight Riders” and “Creepshow” are pretty fantastic in their own right. Hell I’ve even ardently defended Romero at every turn, cheering on his efforts to make a “Resident Evil” movie, “Dead Reckoning,” and I’ve even defended “Land,” “Diary,” and “Survival of the Dead” despite being his lesser movies. But lately I’ve managed to come across an interview with George Romero who has decided to bring the whole house down with him despite someone who has offered films with diminishing returns. And what’s worse is some media outlets are pretty much enabling him.
At the moment there are almost five remakes of “Night of the Living Dead” in the works, as well as another attempt to remake “Day of the Dead.” One of the “Night” remakes is being tackled by Romero’s
opportunist son, who wants to give us an origin of some kind. And there is just no stopping indie filmmakers from digging in to Romero’s masterwork and fiddling around with it to mold their own film out of it. There are many more indie filmmakers right now who think they can do better than Romero ever could, and we’ll just keep seeing more “Night” remakes. Especially now that making movies is so easy and accessible. What was once a tough task that required immense resources is now something that can be accomplished on a fucking cell phone. A cell phone!
Here is the list of “Night” remakes ranked from “Inspired” to “What Were They Thinking?” We’re not counting sequels, remakes of sequels, unofficial sequels, or loose sequels. We’re talking about movies that attempted to completely redo the 1968 “Night of the Living Dead.”
What is your least favorite “Night” remake?
I honestly don’t want to dislike anything with an association with George Romero, but when sub-par independent filmmakers unleash a sub-par remake of Romero’s 1968 “Night of the Living Dead,” you just have to call a spade a spade. It’s irritating that there are still filmmakers that think they can perfect the formula better than Romero did. The rush of “Night” remakes doesn’t seem to be stopping any time soon, either. Which is unfortunate, because time can be better spent on films that aren’t glorified fan fiction. “Darkest Dawn” is essentially “Night of the Living Dead” all over again. Except this time, “Night” is set in modern times, and in a city.