Why We Heart: Night of the Living Dead (1990)

By Andreas Charalambous

Another theme evident in this film, is the apparent breakdown of trust in society. There is very little cooperation within the farm house amongst the survivors. As with NOTLD68, there seem to have been two groups in which to align ones self with - upstairs with Ben, or in the basement with Harry Cooper. Strong racial tensions remain among the two characters - "What about you...you don't exactly look like neighbours yourself", spits Cooper in one of the opening exchanges between the two. Some other choice words of battle between the two... Cooper - "Who the fuck gave you the right to decide for the rest of us"; Ben - "I'm just looking out for my own ass... If you wanna go down there then get. You be boss down there, I'm boss up here"; Cooper - "You're going to die up here"; Ben - "If help arrives, we'll try to

remember to call you". Paranoia and betrayal are played out effectively in this film also. Ben asks Barbara to keep things in order in the house while he attempts to get to the gas pump outside. Cooper over powers her and takes the firearm from her. The audience eventually sees Ben and Cooper exchanging gun fire, while Barbara
comments on the madness she is witnessing.


Barbara eventually leaves the house to go get help and comes across a group of rednecks who do not seem to be as aware of the Feminist movement as Barbara had become during this film. "What in the name of Jupiter's balls are you doing out here all alone, little lady?!" exclaims one before they start laughing and ridiculing her, all the way back to the house the next morning. We join the rednecks at camp which also includes a big group of bikers having zombie-related fun (a la Dawn of the Dead (1978)) and it's clear that these people have no respect for the 'dead' - some are put in a pen to fight, others are strung from trees and used as target practice. Barbara comments, "We're them and they're us" suggesting that socially humans have no respect for each other either.


The return to the farm house is very interesting indeed. Firstly, we are not exactly sure of the fates of Ben and Cooper. We just know that one holed up in the attic and the other in the basement. The last we saw of Ben, was a bleak scene where he sits wounded in the basement and discovers the key to the gas pump (which would have led to everyone's salvation had it been discovered sooner) and he begins laughing hysterically in the darkness as the oil lamp runs out of fuel. We cut to the next morning and the rednecks that Barbara
bought back to the house are using a chainsaw to open the barricaded basement door. The door opens and a zombie Ben appears in the doorway, but does not attack. He is a passive zombie who instead looks over at Barbara blankly, and his jaw lowers as he seems to try and remember who she once was to him. However, one of the rednecks does not share this touching moment and quickly dispatches with our former protagonist.


Immediately following this, a hand grabs Barbara on the shoulder from behind, which turns out to be a still-live Cooper. He is pleased to see she has bought rescue but you can see the rage in her eyes as she lifts a handgun to him and effectively murders him. "That's another one for the fire", she says as she walks away, and the photograph slideshow paying homage to the original film's ending begins.


My final thought on this film is that although we have now come to expect poor quality remakes of popular horror films, I must say that this is one example that instils some faith in the world of remakes. For me, this is just as enjoyable as the classic original and in fact there are some elements I have enjoyed more the second time round. Let's hope the powers that be out there follow suit before creating another mind-numbing pointless regurgitation of films we have all seen before.

Here we have Night of the Living Dead (1990). A modern remake of the already established classic, this time directed by Makeup effects maestro Tom Savini. The first thing that must be established is that yes, it is a remake but this is definitely a remake with merit. In fact, it's not your standard regurgitation but an update for the modern audience (at the time).

So what can we expect from this second incarnation of the seminal zombie film? The first thing that hits the NOTLD purist is that it's in living (or living dead!) colour. Other advances in technology also impact on the film's overall feel. Advances in special makeup effects allows the zombies to be more sickening to view (think more Michael Jackson's Thriller) in all their gory glory. You can see more explicitly the causes of death for some of the undead (one of the most cringing examples being one fresh from the autopsy table, complete with half open autopsy chest wounds). You wouldn't expect anything less from Savini.

Those who have become accustomed to like-for-like remakes will be pleasantly surprised with NOTLD90, as although never straying too far from the classic original, uses the audience's prior knowledge and just when you think a scene is going to play out like Romero's version, you are immediately and intelligently misdirected and are given a surprise with something you did not expect - the opening introduction to the zombies in the cemetery being a prime example.

We are also introduced to an initially familiar Barbara character - excellently portrayed by Patricia Tallman - as the timid, fragile 'librarian' that we have come to expect from the original film. However, she undergoes a remarkable transformation halfway through this film, and there is no doubt that this is due to an update in generic conventions and the success of the Feminist movement. Barbara
is played out as expected, as the damsel in distress, and we expect - as was the case in NOTLD68 - Ben to be the knight in shining armour... oh how wrong we are! Amazingly, halfway through the film, Barbra undergoes a remarkable transformation. After taking the time to take in what is happening around her, Barbara finds a pair of combat trousers and some old boots, and puts these on. Coupling this new look with a Die Hard vest, a rifle and complimentary belt of bullets hanging diagonally across her upper body, Barbara the fragile rose has become 'Aliens' Ellen Ripley! This is not just an update of the appearance of the character, but also of her attitude. NOTLD90's Barbara makes a comment that would soon impact many a modern
zombie horror film.

We've all seen films starring slow, shuffling zombies and often wonder how they get anywhere near catching their intended lunch. Barbara acknowledges this while observing the approaching dead through the boarded-up window - "They're so slow. We could walk right past them. We wouldn't even have to run". That one comment reverberates to this day in the modern horror film, where zombies seem to no longer shuffle towards you groaning softly, but rather sprint at you! Did the first person to be stalked by the modern zombie, lay the foundations of the post-modern 'runner' zombie? After all, you can only create so much entertainment by having a zombie creep up on a film character and just have the character stroll away casually without even unloading one head shot! Here, Barbara

says exactly what millions of zombie fans the world over have often thought but never dared say in public!

Barbara does not stop there in displaying her Feminist characteristics. "What I lost, I lost a long time ago and I do not intend on losing anything else!", is her response to Ben as she unloads blast after blast into a zombie who has managed to get past the group's barricades - another example of the 'new' representation of the female horror role. Of course, there is some evidence of the traditional representation of the female in this film - namely in Judy-Rose who spends the majority of the film screaming and running around, but even she ultimately displays her strong female characteristics by volunteering to drive the pickup truck which would get them to the gas pump, and subsequently to salvation (at least, that was the plan!).

Those of you who have read my thoughts on Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968), will know that I bring into account certain social and political events happening at the time of the film's making, and offer an explanation on how they may have made an impact on the text itself. This would also be true of this film.


Some of the most significant social and political events around the time of NOTLD90 would be the rise of Feminism, the worrying surge in cults being reported in mainstream US media, and the low rumbles of the storm clouds over the horizon which was the first Gulf War, and Saddam Hussein's contribution to making the world familiar with the terms 'Chemical/Biological weapons', 'Weapons of mass destruction' and the liberal use of the aforementioned.

 

Events such as these have had a deep influence on the film itself. Evidence of this would be the explanation offered as to why the dead are reanimating. This is done - as with the original - in a vague method, which is very interesting and at the same time adds to the mystique, keeping the audience in the dark. It wants the audience to have that feeling of misinformation and not really knowing what is happening to the world, just as the characters in the narrative are feeling. Some "Explanations of the phenomenon" subtly offered by a news presenter on a television broadcast, are biological or chemical weapons being released (accidentally or in some kind of attack), which has an obvious origin in the fears of  the use of modern chemical and biological weapons. The broadcaster then goes on to say, "Religious leaders are calling it judgement day..." which also highlighted another popular fear amongst humankind as we approached the new Millennium. That God was punishing us, and that the world as we know it is about to end - a popular theme amongst the David Koresh's of nineties America! Whatever the real reason why the dead are roaming, Savini displayed a masterstroke in following Romero's footsteps in not putting everything on a plate for the audience and actually just letting them try to make sense of the situation themselves.