Release Date(s)1990 (October 23, 2018)
Studio(s)21st Century Film Corporation/Columbia Pictures (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: D+
Back in the late 1980s, the thought of remaking Night of the Living Dead was, in the eyes of horror fans, right next to rewriting the bible. As times have changed and the frequency of remakes, horror or otherwise, has increased and pretty much become the norm, the 1990 version Night of the Living Dead seems tame by comparison. Made by many of the folks who were involved with the original, including George A. Romero, John Russo, and Russell Streiner, and with make-up effects guru Tom Savini on board as a first-time director, it was not the financial powerhouse it was hoped to be and received fairly negative reviews upon its premiere. It did, however, gain a cult audience who appreciated the efforts of its makers to update its story and do something with it that was more of a straight-ahead, dramatic horror film.
The initial impetus behind remaking Night of the Living Dead in the first place was due to the fact that George Romero and his partners didn’t make all that much money off of the original film because of a copyright issue. The basic premise of a group of people stuck in a farmhouse surrounded by zombies is punctuated with slicker production values, more realistic make-up effects, and alternate scenarios and outcomes for the characters, particularly Barbara. The film also went through a lot of trouble, with Savini claiming to have been hampered by producers’ demands, not to mention that most of the film’s bloodletting was excised in order to achieve an R-rating.
Personally, I’ve always vouched for Night of the Living Dead 1990 as being a strong piece of work. It’s a go-for-the-throat piece of material that benefits from some excellent performances from Tony Todd and Patricia Tallman, the latter of whom brings a bit more substance to the role of Barbara. While enough was both changed and left alone to make it a worthwhile effort, the zombies themselves are also some of the more frightening and realistic-looking of any from that time period. Both the remake and the original film have their points of strength and weakness, but for me, the 1990 film is a bit more relatable and slightly more believable.
Fans of Night of the Living Dead 1990 are no doubt aware of the frustrations found with the film’s previous state-side Blu-ray. Released by Twilight Time in 2012, that release of the film came with a fresh transfer, but was plagued with color and brightness issues, as well as improper framing. The preferred choice was found on Umbrella Entertainment’s Blu-ray from 2016, which featured an older, less-polished transfer, but with a more ideal color palette. For Sony’s new Blu-ray release, they seemed to have learned from their mistakes as this is a marvelous (and seemingly new) transfer, and the best to date. It’s much grainier and more film-like with richer textures and higher levels of detail, particularly during nighttime scenes around the farmhouse, as well as on the interiors within. Hues are much more natural, as well as more accurate to how the film has been seen in the past. The opening titles are no longer in black and white and the blue, dark tint added to many of the film’s scenes is now gone. The opening cemetery scenes’ skies are no longer blue, like in the Umbrella release, but lean more towards grey. Black levels are quite deep, bordering right on the edge of crush, and everything appears bright without sacrificing contrast or aesthetic. It’s also quite stable, aside from some minor wobble during the opening credits, and extremely clean without appearing waxy or artificial. The audio is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD and French mono 2.0 Dolby Digital, with optional subtitles in English SDH. It would have been nice to have had the film’s original soundtrack as an option, but the 5.1 track is a nice representation. It doesn’t blow away the sound field, but there’s some nice energy with frequent sound effects placement and good dialogue reproduction.
The extras are lacking, but you do get an audio commentary with director Tom Savini, the vintage The Dead Walk 25-minute featurette, and the film’s theatrical trailer. Missing from the Umbrella Entertainment Blu-ray release is Savini’s Night, a 28-minute interview with Tom Savini; Return to the Living Dead, a 21-minute interview with make-up effects creators John Vulich & Everett Burrell; Being Barbara, a 17-minute interview with actress Patricia Tallman; and 8 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage. Also not present from Twilight Time’s Blu-ray release is an isolated score track.
Night of the Living Dead 1990 is an often overlooked gem that’s only occasionally brought up, usually during a new home video release. As such, Sony’s re-release sports an excellent transfer to enjoy it with, but if you own any of the other Blu-ray releases of the film and you want those missing extras, you might want to hang onto them a little while longer. Someday we’re bound to get a more supplementary-packed release of the film, including some of those infamous bits of deleted footage, but for now, this is a nice budget release with superior picture quality.
- Tim Salmons