Night of the Living Dead (1990)

Most remakes are duds, so it makes sense that this one should be “Dead” in the water too. However, 1990’s Night of the Living Dead has taken on a life of its own independent of the inestimable original, and easily exists in the upper third of undead flicks.

The genre is admittedly running on empty right now, and has been for a few years. To lay our biases out on the table, neither of us warmed to the frenetic, though ultimately unsatisfying Train to Busan. But give it a few years and the zombie genre’s corpse will be exhumed and someone will have another go, perhaps a return to Haitian roots a la The Serpent and the Rainbow, and one would hope, not another jokey My Fair Zombie-type feature.

In this remake, effects man Tom Savini (with whom the authors of this site had a chance to chat — see our transcribed interview with Savini) is in the director’s chair. And what we end up with, is greater moral agency for Barbara and more badassery from Ben.

The twosome connect in a Pennsylvania farmhouse when her family is under attack. They meet fellow survivors, and thus begins a lengthy test-of-wills over what to do next and how it should be done, with the Coopers (a snooty hubby and wife dressed for the opera) content to just hunker down in the cellar, with Ben seeking to stand his ground above, board up the windows, and take their chances with the remaining firepower.

Things move along at a terrific pace, even if the deviations from the source material aren’t that pronounced.

When Night of the Living Dead  was released on Blu-ray, Umbrella apparently restored much of the color richness that had been lost.

What’s odd though, given Savini’s Sultan of Splatter’s gore pedigree, is that this aspect of the film is given short shrift.

In Savini’s hands, even a paint-by-numbers slash-and-stalk like The Prowler is given extra heft with its incredibly gory kills. In Night of the Living Dead the blood and guts are as subdued as the color.

***1/2 (out of 5)

Army of Darkness

You can’t spell “Swashbuckling” without A-S-H. Army of Darkness is a Herculean departure from the Evil Dead series, as different from the other entries as it’s possible to be. And to purists, this will matter a great deal.

The Evil Deal was so influential, and left so many imitators choking on its afterburners that it’s hard to really place this film, a matinee action outlier, into its rightful place.

So, there’s gonna be the temptation to treat it as a stand-alone, for better or for worse.

Ash and his iconic jalopy Oldsmobile, are transported back in time to the 14th century, when the Black Plague was ravaging Europe (here, blatantly and somewhat distractingly, California. At their sunniest, the British Isles would never be this sunny).

Ash is caught between opposing factions, a medieval turf war pitting Arthur against Henry, a kind of Scottish independence nod (probably) from the Clan of Campbell.

But all Ash wants to do, is get back to modernity (1980) and naturally, he needs “THE BOOK” to teleport his ass back to the land of cocaine, pastels and Reagan-era trickle down. That book Necronomicon Ex-Mortis (Also known as ‘Book of the Dead’ and ‘Naturom Demonto’ in the original script) is appropriately, the MacGuffin. Say that with a Scots brogue.

Ash finds the book, but bungles the incantation he’s supposed to repeat, unleashing a hell-storm of demons.

In Campbell’s book, Hail to the Chin: Further Confessions of a B Movie Actor, he claims that he “lost creative control of the editing and generally had a miserable time making the thing.” The finished product kinda looks like it.

Episodic, Army of Darkness has a few dynamite set-pieces, like when Lilliputian lil’ Ashes break forth from mirror, and tie down our hero before dropping one of their ranks down his gullet. Ultimately though, things tend to drag on toward the end, with knights battling skeletons and not the kind of blood and guts, full-on frights and zingers that made the first two films so inimitable.

*** (out of 5)

[Listen to our chat about Army of Darkness on the podcast!]