Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 32 min.
Release Date: October 19th, 1990 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Tom Savini Actors: Tony Todd, Patricia Tallman, Tom Towles, McKee Anderson, William Butler, Katie Finneran, Bill Mosley, Heather Mazur
hey’re coming to get you, Barbara.” Opening with this classic line – no less cheesy after all these years – this remake of George Romero’s classic zombie archetype hits plenty of familiar notes. Siblings Barbara (Patricia Tallman) and Johnnie (Bill Mosley) drive to a cemetery to visit their mother’s tombstone. As Johnnie torments his sister, playing on her fear of the dead, a shriveled, bleeding, pasty fellow saunters toward them, as if a re-animated corpse. It’s a false alarm, however, as the elderly man apologizes for the intrusion. But out of nowhere (just out of frame, but certainly not out of view of the couple), another person throws himself at them, anxious to take a bite. Before the opening credits have even finished flashing onscreen, a swarm of zombies descends upon the unsuspecting victims.
Like its namesake predecessor, this ’90s update moves very quickly; there are no immediate explanations – nor should there be. It wastes no time getting to the thrills, and it’s impressive because of that decision. Plus, the foremost benefit from all the passing years since the original is the advancements in technology; and with renowned special effects wizard Tom Savini in the director’s chair, this color reimagining proves to be a marvel of cutting-edge gore, prosthetics, and makeup.
“What’s happening?” Just as Barbara goes into shock from the zombie onslaught, another survivor, Ben (Tony Todd), shows up, sharing in the terrorization by pallid man-eaters and inspiring the hope of solidarity. And then the sun prepares to set. Just within the settings of the graveyard and the momentary safety of an abandoned house, several striking shots transpire (such as when the probing fingers of a severed hand tumble over upstairs railing); the blood effects and violence are astounding, especially as they steadily become more complex and gruesome.
“This is hell on earth.” Ben and Barbara hole up for the night, pondering how the dead have come back to life, who might be responsible for such an atrocity, and how they can persevere in the face of such overwhelming odds. Soon, they’re joined by Harry Cooper (Tom Towles) and his wife Helen (McKee Anderson) and daughter Sarah (Heather Mazur), along with Tom Larson (William Butler) and his girl Judy Rose (Katie Finneran). The characters and the situations follow closely with the original, exhibiting recognizable patterns of antagonism, infighting, panic, doubt, disbelief, and fear; the premise is once again so simple that time is allotted to study how people cope with life-or-death situations. The villains may be zombies, but the human emotions are universally understandable; the loss of control and of norms are terrifying.
Unfortunately, despite the upgrade in visuals, some of the dialogue is still unconvincing; although the actors are acceptable, the conversations tend to range from annoying to aggravating. The hysterics and discord may be realistic, but with this kind of redo, in which major plot points are predictable, it would have been nice to see a modernization in behaviors. At least a few new twists do arise, largely thanks to the psychological confusion. But greater tension is elusive, since many of the events copy those of arguably the most famous of all zombie epics. Plus, the denouement is overlong and needlessly complicated, especially since, like in “The Birds,” there’s no resoluteness to the conclusion.
– Mike Massie