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)

The Prowler

The Prowler_1981_filmThe Prowler has all the conceits of an 80s slasher: a prologue, a grudge, a flash-forward, a ludicrous proposition*, a masked killer, unique weaponry, college students, a lack of ambient light.

And usually if a film’s title is said in a film, that counts as a strike against it. In The Prowler (listen to our podcast discussion thereof), all of these attributes are forgiven. After all, while there are lots of films that follow the field guide above, few are lucky enough to have the stunning special effects black magic of a Tom Savini.

The Prowler begins in grainy black and white newsreel footage of victorious GIs returning from Europe and the Pacific Theater. And there’s a voice-over – a sad Dear John letter sending a young soldier from the war zone right into the friend zone.

Cut to a post-war dance in fictional Avalon Bay, somewhere in the Northeastern USA. Glenn Miller’s version of Little Brown Jug is making everyone cut the rug (the big-bang leader himself went MIA in 1944 over the English Channel) save for an amorous duo gracing a romantically lit ocean-side pier and gazebo. Their romance is cut short when a killer armed with a pitchfork kebabs the duo.

The Prowler_MOVIEFlash forward decades and one Major General Chatham, hasn’t allowed the town to have a dance*. (Is there a particular military rank whose purview includes college prom oversight?)

But blond bombshell Pam MacDonald has some sway (after all, she’s dating the sheriff’s deputy, Mark London) and soon the kids are sashaying to a groove. The punch is spiked, weed’s been procured, couples have paired off, and all is right with the world until there’s word that a convenience store robbery in a nearby town has gone awry and has now been ruled a homicide.

The sheriff’s out of town and the rookie deputy’s in charge of everyone’s safety. What could possibly go wrong?

As it turns out, quite a bit. Soon, a killer bedecked in combat fatigues is bayoneting anyone with a student ID, and the dance floor is being cleared.

João Fernandes (Children of the Corn) brings a lot of visual style to The Prowler, and he’s aided by robust Tom Savini effects. This counters the somewhat stilted “I found an open grave out there. It’s been opened,” repartee.

While by no stretch a classic, Joseph Zito’s The Prowler is a solid, capable college slasher flick.

***1/2 (out of 5)