When George Romero was making his 1968 movie ‘Night of the Living Dead’, he originally asked Tom Savini to work on the movie as a makeup artist. However, before the film started shooting, Savini was called up to serve as a combat photographer in Vietnam, and so he missed the movie entirely. Therefore, it seems somewhat appropriate that Savini was the one to direct the remake of this cult classic 22 years later in 1990.
Many people dislike the 1990 remake, believing that it was unnecessary considering how popular Romero’s original was, as well as the impact it had on its audiences. It is true that the remake is lacking in some areas and doesn’t quite have the same shock value as the original. However, Savini and Romero (who worked on the remake as a writer) used the 1990 version to explore several things that they had been unable to do in 1969 due to time and budget constraints, social tensions of the time or simply because the actors they had took the film in different ways.
One of the biggest changes between the 1968 version and the 1990 version is the eventual fate of Ben, one of the film’s main characters and, in 1968, a rare case of a black man playing a lead role. Romero states that he was not making a social comment with the casting of Duane Jones as Ben, just that Jones turned out to be the best man for the role. But there can be no denying that the film’s ending, where Ben is the only survivor of the night’s events only to be shot without warning by the rednecks sweeping the area, struck a chord with many people at the time due to the racial tensions sweeping the country.
In the remake, however, it is the character of Barbara who is the eventual survivor – something which Romero had originally planned but changed when he saw how well Judith O’Dell played Barbara as a virtually catatonic, scared young woman. This gives the 1990 version a more feminist feel to it, as Barbara’s character changes from a rather straight-laced and repressed woman into an almost Ripley-like individual – which is something that some fans do not like, as it feels somewhat unreal.
Other, more obvious differences in the two films include the fact that the remake is in colour and the more gruesome makeup effects used in the 1990 version – which again, some fans feel makes the remake somewhat inferior to the original, which managed to convey the horror of the situation without having to resort to expensive special effects. Overall, however, the 1990 version is an interesting second look at the film, which explores several different thematic avenues and – while not necessarily better than Romero’s original – is worth a look.