James Reviews Tom Savini’s Night Of The Living Dead [Twilight Time Blu-ray Review]

Of course when I say Tom Savini’s Night of the Living Dead, I mean the remake of George Romero’s seminal 1968 zombie horror classic of the same name. Flash forward 22 years later to 1990, Tom Savini got behind the camera and used Romero and John Russo’s original script (which Romero had revised with some additional tweaks and changes to the story) and set forth to make a NOTLD film that could finally make Romero some money. If you don’t know about the background of Romero’s troubles with funding, definitely look that up because it truly deserves its own article one of these days.

As with the original film, we begin hearing a conversation between Johnnie (Bill Moseley) and Barbara (Patricia Tallman), who are driving to the cemetery to visit their mother’s grave. He’s complaining about the drive and how long it takes, while Barbara just wants to visit her dead mother. Suddenly, a man lumbers along, with blood trickling down his face. It’s a bit of a change to the original script, because we get the zombie attack right after, with Johnnie fighting back a much more undead looking zombie (a change you’ll see throughout this remake, with better special effects and more horrific looking zombies, which I call ‘After Day of the Dead/Return of the Living Dead’). Barbara is on the run, crashing their car and stumbles upon a house that seems to be empty and meets Ben (Tony Todd) who helps her inside and fight off a few zombies inside the house. Another change to the original film is that this Barbara isn’t a whimpering character, actually fighting back and killing a zombie by herself.

We then see there are a few more people in the basement of the house, a young couple Tom and Judy (William Butler and Katie Finneran) as well as Harry and Helen Cooper (A monstrous turn by Tom Towles, McKee Anderson). Harry believes they should barricade themselves in the basement, Ben thinks that’s foolish. Throughout most of the running time, they are fighting tooth and nail for whatever power is left in this zombie plague, tensions rising while Barbara seemingly is becoming much more reactionary, having a gun in tow and fighting back. While they board up the house’s windows and doors to keep the zombies out, there’s too many of them to fight against as well as tragedy that strikes when some try to get gasoline for the only transportation they have.

Without saying much more (especially those who haven’t seen this version), there’s just enough differences that if you love the original like I do, you’ll have something here to go back and watch again and again. There’s much more emphasis on gore effects, considering Tom Savini was one of the greatest special effects gurus from such films as Maniac, Friday the 13th and The Prowler and this being his directorial debut, he does a great job with the material, having George Romero in tow to re-write some of the screenplay to give it a more updated feel (especially with the more feminist feel and adding a very haunting shot of bodies hung from a tree, which was in the original script but was taken out due to the race relations issue in the late 60’s).

Twilight Time, the fantastic limited edition Blu-ray, DVD and soundtrack company (which you can buy all of their releases over at Screen Archives Entertainment, has given us a stellar looking but controversial release according to many websites and fanboys. I had heard about the complaints of the film looking ‘too dark’ and that ‘this wasn’t the way the original DVD looks’. I have to chime in and say, owning that original horrid looking DVD, the blue tint that many are complaining about (and supposedly Tom Savini has said looks excellent, as well as this press release from Twilight Time’s own Nick Redman and Brian Jamieson:

As promised, we have discussed NOTLD at the studio and are able to verify via SPE’s Mastering Department, that our Blu-ray is indeed the approved transfer from 2010, generated for the film’s 20th anniversary, and done in consultation with the film’s director of photography. As you will have also seen on this page and elsewhere on the internet, director Tom Savini has now had a chance to view the end product and declared it “fantastic.” As we are aware that some fans of the film will remain disappointed, our offer of a full refund still stands if you wish to return your copy. However, we would caution you with this thought: this is a limited edition run of 3,000 copies, and the title is sold out. Right or wrong, it is a collector’s item, and there are no guarantees this title will ever be repressed. Going forward, if TT encounters another situation where the new transfer differs greatly from the old, we will bring that to collectors’ attention prior to the disc being offered so that you may know of the changes beforehand. Thanks for all your support.

Having spoken to a few people who have seen that restored print, they’ve said that the Blu-ray is the best possible presentation of it right now and I’d have to agree. I’m one in the camp of the positive viewer, who now has put up his old DVD for sale because he finally has a great looking print to show off to my horror aficionados. Sadly as of now, its 3000 run has sold out, being akin to Fright Night, a much sought after Blu-ray of mine which I sadly missed out on. This time around I was lucky enough to snag this one and seeing some of the future releases such as Bonjour Tristesse and The Rains of Ranchipur, this company might be a bit pricey for some, but they’re putting out some exciting releases with stellar looking prints. Also, pick up Enemy Mine before it disappears as well. It’s the first one on the page over at Twilight Time. Tell them CriterionCast sent you.