Directed By: Tom Savini
Starring: Tony Todd, Patricia Tallman, Tom Towles
Tag line: "There IS a fate worse than death"
Trivia: Tom Savini's originally wanted to start the film in black-and-white, then slowly add color
Directed by renowned make-up artist Tom Savini from a script written by George A. Romero, 1990’s Night of the Living Dead is essentially the same movie as the black & white indie film that inspired it. Yet, despite its similarities to Romero’s 1968 classic, this Night of the Living Dead differs from the original in one key area.
While visiting their mother’s grave, Barbara (Patricia Tallman) and her older brother, Johnnie (Bill Mosley) are attacked by a seemingly insane man. Johnnie is killed, but Barbara manages to escape, making her way to a remote farmhouse. At first scared and confused, Barbara finally gets a grip on herself when Ben (Tony Todd) shows up on the scene and takes control. Once inside the farmhouse, the two discover there are more people hiding in the basement, including Harry Cooper (Tom Towles) and his wife, Helen (McKee Anderson), whose daughter, Sarah (Heather Mazur) is badly injured. Also holed up in the house are Tom (William Butler) and his girlfriend, Judy (Katie Finneran). After comparing notes, they come to the realization that the dead are returning to life, and are attacking the living. Despite Cooper’s insistence that they're safer in the basement, Ben, Barbara, and Tom remain upstairs, boarding up the doors and windows as they try to figure out how to escape. But with more walking dead arriving every minute, finding a way out isn’t going to be easy.
Along with other similarities, this Night of the Living Dead features the same characters as the ’68 picture. Like the original, much of the movie consists of a battle of wills between Ben and Cooper, who, throughout the film, are at each other’s throats. While far from his best performance, Tony Todd is fine as Ben, while Tom Towles is so over-the-top as the conniving Cooper that you rarely take him seriously. Outshining both is Patricia Tallman as Barbara, who, before long, becomes the focal point of the entire picture. Aside from its characters, 1990s Night of the Living Dead also recreates some of the earlier film’s more memorable moments, including the opening cemetery scene and Johnnie’s famous line, “They’re coming to get you, Barbara”.
The key difference between the two movies is the character of Barbara. In the ’68 version, Barbara (played by Judith O’Dea) was in a state of shock through most of the film, a frightened mouse who recoiled in fear whenever things got hairy. This time around, Barbara starts off timid and scared, but after a pep talk from Ben, she gets her bearings, and when the final showdown rolls around, she’s kicking all sorts of zombie ass!
For overall creepiness, nothing can top Romero’s earlier classic, but with a slightly different spin on the story, as well as an ending that’s even more nihilistic than the original’s, Savini’s Night of the Living Dead is well worth a watch.