Sunday, May 27, 2018

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1990) (Umbrella Entertainment Blu-ray Review)


Label: Umbrella Entertainment 
Region Code: Region-FREE
Duration: 88 Minutes
Rating: R
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen(1.77:1) 
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 with Optional English SDH Subtitles
Director: Tom Savini
Cast: Tony Todd, Bill Moseley, Katie Finneran, Tom Towles, Patricia Tallman

Synopsis: Fleeing from the legion of limping undead, a small group of survivors comprised of Barbara (Patricia Tallman, Army of Darkness), Ben (horror legend Tony Todd, Candyman) and Harry (Tom Towles, Halloween), hole-up in a remote farmhouse and prepare for a bloody onslaught. As the marauding zombies surround the house, tensions between the survivors flare up, desperate to do anything to survive the hideous battle that is before them.

Directed with flair and gusto by leading horror exponent Tom Savini (who provided make-up effects for Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead), Night of the Living Dead cuts to the chase and sets the splatter count high – leaving behind a grisly trail of blood and guts, like any good zombie movie should.

Much like the original Romero film the Tom Savini remake opens with siblings Johnny (Bill Moseley, The Devil's Rejects) and Barbara (Patricia Tallman, Army of Darkness) visiting their mother's grave at a rural cemetery - it's as picturesque a location as could hope for in an eternal resting spot with it's rolling green hills overlooking a lake. Johnny is an acerbic and witty sibling who takes pleasure in tormenting his more reserved sister about zombies, intoning the iconic line "they're coming to get you Barbara" with a ghoulish Boris Karloff affectation, while also referencing how horny the dead can be. On cue a disheveled man with a bloody wound on his head stumbles into the scene, you're thinking , there it is, that's the zombie, but in a nice bit of misdirection the man is only dazed and injured, he mumbles an vague apology before wandering off, and while we're watching him from screen left a zombie shows up, Johnny struggles against the fiend for a bit while Barbara screams her head off. Johnny then falls onto a gravestone at a weird angle, his neck snaps, it's a brutal fall that always makes me cringe. The panic-stricken Barbara flees the scene and eventually ends up at a rural farmhouse, where the rest of the film plays out. 

It's at the farmhouse that Barbara meets Ben (Tony Todd, Candyman) who  also finds the house while fleeing the chaos of whatever it is that's happening in the area, a radio informs them that people are turning violent and cannibalistic.  The two set about clearing the house of a few zombies, fortifying the entrances and windows in an effort to prevent the massing zombie hordes from entering the home. They remove doors from entry ways inside the home and barricade the windows, in the process of looking for lumber they discover the house is not as empty as it once appeared, in the basement they find hard-ass Harry Cooper (Tom Towles, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer), his wife put-upon Helen (McKee Anderson), plus their young daughter Sarah (Heather Mazur, TV's Pretty Little Liars), who it turns out was bitten by one of the flesh-hungry fiends. The young girl is deathly ill but no one realizes just yet how dire the situation really is for her and for them yet. Also taking refuge in the basement is a teenage couple Tom Bitner (William Butler, Ghoulies II) and his girlfriend Judy Rose Larson (Katie Finneran, TV's Wonderfalls).

Immediately Cooper rubs Ben the wrong way - both are strong headed men of action who have differing opinions on the best course of action in regard to holding off the zombies, which leads to a loads of hard-headed tension on both end with plenty of drama and physical altercations, with damning consequences. One of the most noticeable departures from the original is that Barbara as portrayed by short-coiffed ginger Patricia Tallman (Babylon 5) is quite the opposite of the nearly catatonic blond Barbara (Judith O'Dea) from the '68 original. Tallman is a red-haired fire-brand, she starts off a bit  on the prissy side but by the film's end she is a straight-up zombie-killing bad-ass, it's a great switch-up and makes for a better film. Tony Todd capably fills the shoes of Duane Jones as Ben - this just might be Todd's finest performance in my opinion, he's a likable guy with good intentions. Special mention goes out to Tom Towels (Stuart Gordon's The Pit and the Pendulum) as the abrasive Harry Cooper, a real bastard, super unpleasant and quite intense, there's a nice exchange of words between his character and Ben as they fight over control of the only TV in the house. I love it when Towles character heatedly calls people "lame brains" and "yo-yos", which he does a lot! 

The film has atmosphere to spare, the rural farmhouse proves to be an claustrophobic setting as hordes of zombies arrive at the farmhouse until they end up falling through the boarded up windows like a mass of swarming insects. The sound of incessant hammering  as windows are boarded up and patched throughout the siege is unnerving, the zombies are slow-moving shamblers, it's creepy stuff, it worked in the original and it work with this one. 

Sadly, this would be the only feature length film directed by splatter-master Tom Savini - though a remake of Nightmare City is in the works -  he's directed some shorts both before and after but this is far and away his finest moment behind the camera. The extras reveal that Savini had some really elaborate Argento-esque gore gags and ideas that were vetoed by Romero and the producers, who apparently meddled quite a bit on this one, keeping Savini from adding his own stylish flair and keeping more to the look and feel of the original film, I still love this one though, but I have to say I really wanted to see some of Savini's ideas executed on film! 

The films is shot in color but like the black and white original it is propelled by chilling atmosphere and dread, not just gore, though there are certainly some great gore provided by the capable special effects make-up team of John Vulich (Re-Animator, The Hidden) and Everett Burell (Dolls) whom created some great zombie make-ups for the film, the undead in this one look fantastic, this is all pre-digital and everything looks wonderfully gruesome, with loads of memorable zombies, including a cool-looking autopsy zombie with the y-incision on his chest. 

The film pretty much sticks to the blueprint of the original Night of the Living Dead (1968) save for a few fun twists, one being the wickedly great finale, there's a delicious irony in Ben taking final refuge in the basement after disputing it so vehemently with Cooper, because as we all know after watching the original, Cooper was actually right about holing up in the basement. I've always said in conversation with my son, if there was a zombie outbreak I'd climb on the roof and lay low for a bit, no one ever seems to do that in movies, but at least temporarily the rood seem like a damn good option, right? Anyway, there's  a fun final twists with Barbara and Cooper that always blows me away with this one, great stuff from the beginning to the end, this is one of the best remakes ever. 

Reversible Artwork
Audio/Video: Night of the Living Dead (1990) arrives on region-free Blu-ray from Aussie distributor Umbrella Entertainment in 1080p HD widescreen 1.77:1., the framing is slightly cropped compared to the TT Blu-ray, but only just slightly. Notably this is sourced from a different HD master than the now out-of-print 2012 Twilight Time Blu-ray, which was infamous for having the daylight scenes tinted a heavy blue to simulate dusk, which angered a lot of fans. This Blu-ray corrects that error with the original warmer tones without the blue-tinting, which is excellent news. This looks to be sourced from a theatrical print with the some dirt and minor print damage throughout, mostly by way of white speckling and not much else. Grain looks solid, it's not DNR-scrubbed to death and there's some pleasing fine detail, but the condition of the source is not as well-graded as the Twilight Time version, though I don't think anyone will much mind the slight step down in source quality versus having the original color grading. 
Audio comes by way of an English DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1 with optional English subtitles, there's some nice atmospheric touches in the surrounds but the majority of the action is front and center, dialogue is crisp and the atmospheric score from Paul McCullough and effects sound great in the mix, robust and immersive. 

Umbrella carry-over all the extras from the previous DVD version, this includes the theatrical trailer, making of featurette and the audio commentary with director Tom Savini, it's a relaxed and scene-specific commentary covering many facets of the film, it's quite an interesting listen as he discusses the numerous splatter scene excised from the film by the MPAA and an alternate death scene for the character of Helen. The TT Blu-ray was missing the making-of piece, but did have an isolated score highlighting the score by composer Paul McCollough (The Majorettes), which this release does not, the TT release also had a booklet with liner notes from Julie Kirgo.  

Umbrella also offer up some new extras produced by Severin films, with the help of Red Short Pictures' Michael Felsher, beginning with a 28 minute interview with director Tom Savini who goes into how he was chosen to direct, his preparation for the film by creating over six-hundred storyboards, and his general unhappiness  during the making of the film, partly because he was going through a divorce at the time.He also discusses how Romero and producers keept him from executing some if his ideas due to tone and budget, and you can tell it really bothered him. He goes into some great detail about deleted and unfilmed scenes, some with accompanying storyboards. He also discusses the cast, and who auditioned for the role of Ben that didn't land the role, including Laurence Fishburn (The Matrix) and Eriq La Salle (TV's ER).

There's also an interview with special make-up effects supervisors John Vulich and Everett Burrell who touch on a few excised scenes and visiting a morgue in Pittsburgh   to do research on corpses, going into detail how they strived for authenticity in the undead, not just a coll artists rendering of the undead, notably the yellow fleshtones. They also go into the ideas like a cool sound bullet POV shot that was dreamed-up by Savini that he was not allowed to film.

Next up is star Patricia Tallman who recounts auditioning for the role, being a Romero fan from way back, being drawn-in by the characters shift from meek in the original to a total bad-ass woman and her experiences on-set with Savini, Tom Towles and the rest of the cast. 

The single-disc release comes housed in an over-sized Blu-ray keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork, the a-side featuring the original movie poster illustration, the b-side a good-looking illustration from Umbrella's in house designer Simon Sherry. The disc itself featuring an excerpt of the a-side artwork. It's nice to finally have a NOTLD '90 release with some decent looking artwork, past releases have been not-so-great, including the TT release. 

Special Features:
- Audio commentary with Director Tom Savini
- The Dead Walk Featurette (25 min) 
- NEW! Tom Savini Interview (28 min) HD 
- NEW! Return to the Living Dead: Interview with Special Make-Up Effects Supervisors John Vulich and Everett Burrell (21 min) HD 
- NEW! Being Barbara: Interview with Lead Actress Patricia Tallman interview (17 min) HD 
- Behind the Scenes featurette (8 min) SD
- Trailer (1 min) HD 

Night of the Living Dead (1990) is a chilling and poignant take on George A. Romero's '68 original, with Romero himself penning the screenplay the film follows the sketch of the iconic black and white classic with precision with but a few nice surprises. I will offer up that when I take in Romero's trilogy of the Dead I actually throw this on instead of the '68 original oftentimes - which might be heresy - but I think it's that good. As remakes of classic horror films go this is right up there with The Blob (1988), The Thing (1982) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) in my opinion - definitely one of the better horror entries of the 90's. The Blu-ray from Umbrella looks and sounds great with the correct color grading and the extras are super-cool, highly recommended. 

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