Horror remakes have a bad name–and rightly so. From the needless shot-for-shot remake of Psycho, to re-imagining Freddy Krueger as a guy who looks like a melting cat, there are so many awful reduxes out there that it’s easy to lose the few good ones in the surrounding mountain of garbage. So, do yourself a favor and pull the 1990 Night of the Living Dead out of that pile immediately.
There’s little point in rehashing the plot here. It’s Night of the Living Dead. There’s the introduction in the cemetery, the dash to the old farmhouse, Ben’s arrival, and the family hiding out in the basement. So, why does this one work while it sounds as if it’s every bit the same kind of cut and dry rehash as the 1998 Psycho?
Short answer: while the plots are almost identical, the characters and their interactions are tweaked for the better.
While this may not sound like much of a change, it gives the 1990 Night a very different flavor. Barbara, played here by stuntwoman Patricia Tallman, is a vast improvement over her original incarnation. In the older film, her only development is her decline into near catatonia, which happens very early on in the movie. After that, she does little more than mumble gibberish. Tallman’s version gets a full character arc instead, going from frumpy spinster, to shock, to finding her reason again and eventually owning the situation as best one could. It may actually be some of the best treatment a female character has gotten in a horror movie and delivers one hell of a payoff. Ben is also twisted around. Instead of cool optimism, Tony Todd’s version of the character is far wearier and quicker to anger, making his reactions feel more realistic given his stress. The effects, while subdued by Savini standards, are also a nice step up from the original, lending the zombies some additional menace. All of the above culminates in an ending that makes the most of the previous changes to deliver a final few moments that truly satisfy.
Romero ripoffs are a dime a dozen these days, so treat yourself to an homage/update done right with the blessing of the man himself. While the new(er) Night may feel too familiar at first, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what it has to offer.