In the history of bad ideas, George Romero’s decision to produce a color remake of his disturbingly frenzied 1968 zombiefest Night of the Living Dead has to rank right up there with New Coke. Romero’s folly is twofold. It’s not just that the original had an inimitably garish low-budget atmosphere. It’s that in the 22 years since Night of the Living Dead first played midnight show, there have been 50 million other movies featuring zombies, a cast of innocent dimwits holed up in a deserted house, and flesh-crawling special effects designed to delight the readers of Fangoria magazine. The original Night was taken by some to be a statement about the Vietnam War; this one isn’t about anything larger than Romero’s desire to make a buck.
It’s a shame Romero had to cannibalize the one film of his career that could legitimately be called a classic. The new Night was directed by Tom Savini, who started out as Romero’s special-effects wizard and went on to become the first behind-the-scenes superstar of the gore-schlock crowd. You’d expect Savini to fill the movie with his latest Karo-syrup-and-latex inventions. Instead, trying to stay true to the claustrophobic relentlessness of the first film, he mostly re-creates the yelling. By the time one of the characters turns to the camera and says of the ghouls, ”They’re us — we’re them and they’re us” (isn’t it about time Romero stopped milking that line?), you want to return to the land of the living. D+