Night of the Living Dead (1990 film)

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Night of the Living Dead
Theatrical release poster
Directed byTom Savini
Screenplay byGeorge A. Romero
Based on
Night of the Living Dead
Produced by
CinematographyFrank Prinzi
Edited byTom Dubensky
Music byPaul McCollough
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • October 19, 1990 (1990-10-19)
Running time
88 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$4.2 million[2]
Box office$5.8 million[3]

Night of the Living Dead (also known as George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead) is a 1990 American horror film directed by Tom Savini (in his feature directorial debut) and starring Tony Todd and Patricia Tallman. It is a remake of George A. Romero's 1968 film of the same title; Romero rewrote the original 1968 screenplay he had originally co-authored with John A. Russo.[4][5] Like the original, the film follows seven strangers as they meet and survive in a rural farmhouse, following the awakening of cannabilistic zombies. It is the only "official" remake of the 1968 film, with other "unofficial" remakes coming out after, as a result of the source material's lack of copyright ownership (resulting in being in the public domain).

Night of the Living Dead was released by Columbia Pictures in the United States on October 10, 1990. The film received negative reviews upon initial release, but gained warmer reception in years since. It grossed only $5.8 million against a $4.2 million budget.


In August 1989, Siblings Barbara and Johnny visit their mother's grave in a remote Pennsylvania cemetery. During their visit, an elderly funeral hearse driver, who is in shock and has blood on his forehead, bumps into them and flees in terror. They offer to help him, but they are attacked by a zombie. Johnny is killed and Barbara attempts to flee the cemetery in their car but can't start the engine because Johnny had the keys. She sees a man in a suit walking to her car and calls out to him for help, but it is revealed to be a funeral corpse reanimated, the same one the hearse driver was fleeing, and in an act of desperation she pulls the parking brake of the car, rolls down the hill only to crash into a tree and she flees on foot and discovers what appears to be an abandoned farmhouse. She seeks shelter there, only to find another pack of zombies. Shortly after, a man named Ben arrives after fleeing from a diner near Evans City, that was attacked by zombies. Ben suggests they can't take a chance driving in the middle of nowhere and that they should clear the house of the dead and begin the process of barricading the doors and windows and hope that help comes.

They discover other survivors hiding in the cellar of the house: Harry Cooper, a selfish and argumentative husband; his wife Helen; their daughter Sarah, who was bitten by a zombie and has fallen seriously ill; and teenage lovers Tom Bitner and Judy Rose Larson. The group is divided over what their next course of action should be. Harry believes everyone should retreat to the cellar and barricade the door to wait for the authorities. Ben thinks the cellar is a "death trap" and that they would be better served fortifying the house, which at least has alternate escape routes, and Barbara suggests that the group should simply leave the house on foot after she notices the zombies' limited mobility. An argument between Ben and Harry leaves the Coopers in the basement to tend to their ailing daughter, while the other survivors go upstairs to continue reinforcing the doors and windows. The loud construction attracts a large mob of zombies to the farmhouse.

The group devises a plan to escape using Ben's truck, which is out of fuel, by refueling at a locked gas pump a few hundred yards away. They find a set of keys within the corpse who lived in the farmhouse and was Tom's Uncle. Judy Rose, Tom, and Ben proceed up the hill toward the gas pump, but their plan begins to unravel when Ben falls from the bed of the truck and is left to defend himself. To their horror, the key to the gas pump is not among the set they brought with them. When Tom shoots the lock off, the gasoline gushing forth is ignited by a burning piece of wood in the truck. The resulting explosion kills both Tom and Judy.

Ben returns to the house to find things beginning to dissolve into chaos. Harry has wrestled Barbara's gun away from her and is now armed. Unknown to the survivors upstairs, the Coopers' daughter Sarah has succumbed to the bite on her arm and has transformed into a zombie; she attacks and bites her distraught mother. When Sarah makes her way upstairs, she triggers a shootout between her father, who is trying to protect her, and Ben and Barbara, who are trying to protect themselves. Both Ben and Harry are badly wounded, and Barbara shoots Sarah. Harry retreats upstairs to the attic, while Ben makes his way to the cellar, where he shoots a reanimated Helen. Ben gradually goes into shock, and after realizing the gas key has been in the cellar the entire time, he laughs mindlessly at the irony and listens to a radio and laughs when the announcer states to the public to barricade their homes and wait for help to arrive and says "Yes, we've done that." before succumbing to his injuries and dies.

Meanwhile, Barbara leaves the house alone and attempts to find help. She eventually joins a group of countryside locals who are clearing the area of the undead, and awakens the next day surrounded by the safety of the media, the military and the townspeople, led by Sheriff McClelland. Noticing hillbillies playing around with a few zombies, she comments on the similarities between the living and the undead. She returns to the farmhouse to find Ben, who has now been reanimated; he gazes at Barbara before being shot by countryside locals. When Harry emerges from the attic alive, Barbara kills him in a fit of rage and retribution for causing Ben's death, and turns to leave the house, telling the vigilantes they have "another one for the fire." Barbara watches as the bodies are burned on a pyre.



Romero said that the remake came about in part because of issues over profits of the original film. A lengthy court battle over the rights to the film, plus an oversight that caused the copyright notice not to be included, caused Romero to see little in the way of profit. Romero's production company, Image Ten, eventually won the lawsuit, but the distributor went out of business before they could collect any money.

Another issue was the fact that the filmmakers were worried that someone else might make an unauthorized remake. Romero contacted Menahem Golan when he heard that 21st Century Film Corporation was interested in a remake, and Romero, Russo, and Streiner collaborated for the first time in 20 years.[2] Savini was initially hired to perform the special effects, but was persuaded to direct by Romero.[6] Savini was drawn to the remake because he was unavailable to do special effects on the original.[7]

The special effects team intentionally kept the effects restrained, as they felt that excessive gore would be disrespectful to the original film.[2] To keep the effects realistic, they used as inspiration a real autopsy, forensic pathology textbooks, and Nazi death camp footage. Savini said that he wanted to keep the film artistic despite his reputation as "the king of splatter".[2] The zombie extras were recruited easily, as the film's reputation drew them from as far away as Kentucky.[8]

The production was not easy for Savini, who described it as "the worst nightmare of my life". Savini said that only 40% of his ideas made it into the final film. Without Romero on set, he clashed with the producers, who did not allow him to explore his vision for the film.[7]


To avoid an NC-17 rating, Savini had to cut several scenes from the film. Savini attributed the film's lack of popularity among horror fans to these cuts.[7] A Blu-ray version was released in a limited edition of 3,000 on October 9, 2012 by Twilight Time.[9] Australian film distributor Umbrella Entertainment released a special edition of the film featuring a restored print, alongside the 1968 original on Blu-ray on April 6, 2016.[10]


Initial response to the remake was negative.[8] Writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert awarded the film one star out of a possible four, writing, "The remake is so close to the original that there is no reason to see both".[11] Caryn James of The New York Times wrote, "There was no real need to remake a film that lives on the campy cult appeal it has acquired over time. But as B-movies and remakes go, this one knows how to bring tired zombies back to life."[12] Variety called it "a crass bit of cinematic grave-robbing".[13] Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly rated it D− and wrote, "In the history of bad ideas, George Romero's decision to produce a color remake of his disturbingly frenzied 1968 zombiefest Night of the Living Dead has to rank right up there with New Coke."[14] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "While this Night hasn't the chilling, almost cinema-verite credibility of the original, it is certainly a well-sustained entertainment".[15] In The Washington Post, Richard Harrington criticized the film as a purely financial effort that lacks the shock of the original film now that zombie film tropes have become clichéd.[16] Dave Kehr of the Chicago Tribune rated it three out of four stars and wrote that although Savini's direction is a bit too literal, the film "contains some intriguing further development of the ideas of the first film, as well as some mistakes corrected and dramatic relationships tightened."[17]

Modern criticism has been more appreciative.[18] On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 67% based on reviews from 33 critics, with an average rating of 6.3/10, and a critical consensus that reads "Night of the Living Dead doesn't quite reinvent the original's narrative, but its sleek action and amplified gore turn it into a worthy horror showcase. ".[19] On Metacritic it has a score of 54 out of 100 based on reviews from 18 critics.[20] Bloody Disgusting rated it four-and-a-half out of five stars and wrote, "This film works on so many levels. Normally, remakes are horrible, and diverge so much from the original film. This one is so close to the original it's scary."[21] Reviewing the Twilight Time Blu-ray, Adam Tyner of DVD Talk rated it 3.5/5 stars and wrote, "We'll never get a chance to see the remake that Tom Savini set out to direct. Still, despite the many missteps of this severely compromised version, Night of the Living Dead manages to distinguish itself as one of the more effective horror remakes out there."[22] Reviewing the same disc at DVD Verdict, Patrick Naugle rated it 83 out of 100 and called it "one of the superior zombies movies available".[23] In a retrospective at PopMatters, academic Cynthia Freeland compared the racial politics of the original film and the gender politics of the remake. Freeland concludes that the original film's depiction of Barbara makes for better cinema, and the more feminist-friendly update of Barbara is too derivative of standard "final girl" tropes.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Night of the Living Dead". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved August 18, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d Steigerwald, Bill (August 5, 1990). "The Zombie Movie That Won't Die : George Romero and company are remaking their classic 'Night of the Living Dead' because they've got a score to settle". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  3. ^ "Night of the Living Dead". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  4. ^ Maçek, J.C. III (June 15, 2012). "The Zombification Family Tree: Legacy of the Living Dead". PopMatters.
  5. ^ James, Caryn (October 19, 1990). "The Zombies Return, in Living (or Is It Dead?) Color". The New York Times.
  6. ^ Kane 2010, p. 160.
  7. ^ a b c Schultz, Gary (January 14, 2003). "An Interview with Tom Savini". Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  8. ^ a b Kane 2010, p. 163.
  9. ^ Barton, Steve (September 14, 2012). "Tom Savini's Night of the Living Dead Coming to Blu-ray". Dread Central. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  10. ^ "Night of the Living Dead 1968 & 1990 Blu-ray". Retrieved March 11, 2016.
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger (October 19, 1990). "Night Of The Living Dead". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved February 8, 2020.
  12. ^ James, Caryn (October 19, 1990). "Night of the Living Dead (1990)". The New York Times. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  13. ^ "Review: 'Night of the Living Dead'". Variety. December 31, 1989. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  14. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (October 26, 1990). "Night of the Living Dead (Movie - 1990)". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  15. ^ Thomas, Kevin (October 19, 1990). "MOVIE REVIEW : Darkly Humorous Remake of 'Living Dead'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  16. ^ Harrington, Richard (October 22, 1990). "'Night of the Living Dead' (R)". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  17. ^ Kehr, Dave (October 19, 1990). "Reliving 'Dead'". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  18. ^ Kane 2010, p. 164.
  19. ^ "Night of the Living Dead (1990)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 30, 2022.
  20. ^ "Night of the Living Dead". Metacritic. Retrieved May 4, 2020.
  21. ^ "Night of the Living Dead". Bloody Disgusting. October 22, 2004. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  22. ^ Tyner, Adam (October 6, 2012). "Night of the Living Dead (1990) (Blu-ray)". DVD Talk. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  23. ^ Naugle, Patrick (October 5, 2012). "Night of the Living Dead (1990) (Blu-ray)". DVD Verdict. Archived from the original on October 8, 2012. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  24. ^ Freeland, Cynthia (October 29, 2008). "Victim or Vigilante? The Case of the Two Barbras". PopMatters. Retrieved May 11, 2015.


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