Night of the Living Dead (1968-1990 comparative)

A comparative review of Night of the Living Dead and Night of the Living Dead.

Zombies, the basic archetype monster, slow shambling and stupid the Zombie as popularised by Romero was never truly a scary beast, but it made for some excellent movies and no die hard Zombie fan would be caught dead without having seen Night of the Living Dead at least once.
Night of the Living Dead is often credited with the creation of the “popular Zombie”, turning a non-specific genre into the flesh eating abominations we’ve come to love, but what makes Night such a popular movie? I’m going to start with a brief synopsis of the movie (in an attempt to cover both movies, I shall not give too much detail) and then I shall discuss the opening and ending scenes and a couple of characters.

We open on Barbara and Johnny visiting their Fathers grave as the dead begin rising from their graves, as he tries to save her life Johnny is killed and Barbara escapes in their car, quickly crashing outside a nearby farmhouse.
Inside the house Barbara finds.. well nothing of value, but shortly after Ben arrives just in time to save Barbara from the advances of a fresh ghoul, managing to kill the ghoul (and a few more) with a tire iron, Ben effectively cleans house and proceeds to make escape plans.
Shortly after survivors appear having hidden in the basement, Ben and Harry (Husband to Helen and father to Karen, or Sarah as she is called in the remake) fight over.. well pretty much everything, Ben accuses Harry of leaving Barbara to die and Harry proceeds to attempt to horde supplies in an effort to protect his daughter, who is in the basement having been bitten.
Eventually Ben works out the only way to get the fuel needed to escape is to break into the fuel pump, recruiting other subterranean survivors Tom and Judy only for things to go wrong ending in Tom and Judy’s deaths.
Finally everything goes to hell, Karen turns and kills Helen, everyone else dies (more or less) and by dawn a Zombie extermination comes through.

The Opening Scene:- They’re Coming to Get You.
Our female lead and her brother arrive at the cemetery of their late father at the behest of their mother who is now too weak to make the journey herself.
While walking to the grave site, Barbara becomes spooked at the site of various shambling beings off in the distance, to this Johnny begins mocking her with the phrase “They’re coming to get you” while chasing her around the gravestones littered around.
Quickly however things turn dangerous when one of the people in the distance get too close and makes a grab for Barbara, creating a scuffle in which Johnny dies, but Barbara manages to get back to the car and rush off to safety, crashing the car in the process.

What can I say about this opening? Quite simply it sets the bar for all zombie openings, the derision towards Barbara from Johnny as they do something so simple as visiting a grave, the ensuing mayhem and chaos, leaving us with one death at a mystery assailant.

In the 1990’s remake, the movie opens up similarly, but while waiting at their mothers graveyard, Barbara is set upon by a stumbling, wounded and apologetic elderly man, while laughing it off a clearly rotten member of the undead lurches on screen and attacks, leading to Johnny’s death then after Barbara rushes back to the car, we see a freshly dispatched cadaver walking, carrying fresh scars from an autopsy.

Compared to the original opening, the remake is a lot more upfront with the source of the disturbance, showing more of a fight than a struggle and ultimately a little more graphic in showing the outbreak.

Ending Scene:- And We all Fall Down.
The ending of the movie is pretty straight forward, with Tom and Judy dead, Harry escapes into the cellar to be killed by his daughter, as Helen ventures downstairs Karen proceeds to attack her with a garden trowel.
Barbara proceeds to see her brothers animated corpse in the crowd of ghouls, the momentary lapse in awareness leading to the undead dragging Barbara off to no doubt eat.
Ben manages to fight his through the night, killing the undead Harry and Helen, making it through to dawn he is about to celebrate his survival when a hunting party assume his blood covered shambling is due to his being dead, so Ben dies.

In the remake, Ben makes his way back to the Farmhouse having found Harry now armed and dangerous, Sarah has killed her mother in the basement and heads upstairs causing a fire fight between Ben and Harry.
Both wounded, they head in separate directions, Harry upstairs and Ben to the basement, Barbara runs off and manages to find help, Ben spends his final moments looking at the key to the fuel pump before he dies and turns.
By dawn Barbara returns to the house with a hunting party, finds Ben dead and then kills Harry when he descends from the attic safe and uninfected.

Now, the two endings are quite divergent, with the original only hinting that by hunting the undead mercilessly we are no better than they are, where as the remake it is clearly stated “We’re them… they’re us..” to the derision of the redneck hunters.

As I see it, the original ending might leave the viewer with a sense of hopelessness but the remake hands the message to you on a plate and doesn’t let you think about it, if it had just panned out across the strung up zombies and the impromptu BBQ in silence, it would have been a lot neater to me whilst appearing less preachy.

Now for the three key characters.
1968 – Barbara comes across as if in shock, slow to respond but ultimately a likable character.
1990 – Barbara starts out similar to her classic counterpart, but quickly “snaps” and becomes the typical “Ripley” type female as popularised in the mid to late 80’s.

1968 – Often called “Calm and resourceful” Ben is the character you most associate with and ultimately the one you want to survive.
1990 – Appearing more confrontational than the original, this Ben seems more aggressive than protective but still ultimately likable.

1968 – Originally Harry comes across as an overly protective father, his daughter is ill and he is willing to do anything to keep her safe, unknown to him his course of action is not the one whe thinks it is.
1990 – Again, remake-Harry seems more prone to anger, his actions come across more as selfish than his predecessor and at times seems less relatable.

To surmise, the original was new, fresh and hardly seems dated despite being a black and white movie from the beginning era of colour movies, the air of suspense lasts effectively and the ending always beings a little sadness to me, the remake already seems old at only 20 years old, some scenes (Barbara repeatedly shooting an aggressive Zombie while it just stands in the window hissing, for example) seems to be tacked on for no reason but to add scare factor and many of the confrontational moments between Ben and Harry seem to be forced, there seems to be no real animosity between either men.

So ultimately, both movies might be the same but are different on whole levels, despite almost identical plots the characters and outcome are wholly separate and only worth watching both if you are as obsessed with Zombie movies as I am.

Night of the Living Dead (1968): Nine broken tombstones out of ten.
Night of the Living Dead (1990): Six point five broken tombstones out of ten.

As a side note, I’ve decided not to include the 2006 “3D” remake of Night of the Living Dead, featuring Sid Haig, as it merely seems to be a cheap usage of the “NotLD” name, basic plot line (the undead and a farm house) and character names, but that’s it, the rest of the movie is completely different.
A remake? Not at all, and a re-imagining does not count, sorry.

Originally written on a previous incarnation of Geekenbrau.
Content remains identical however article titles have been changed.


I am Silent, part time programmer and full time narcissist, gamer, geek and man on a mission.

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