Remakes of the Living Dead

In the past 50 some odd years there have been tons of reviews and billions of words written about the Romero Zombie Trilogy Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead.  But how much attention have been given to the remakes?  Well, that’s exactly what this is!  I am going to go through each of the main remakes for Night, Dawn and Day in depth, giving some insight on the movie in general and comparing it to the original.  I am also going to provide a bit of detail into the “other” remakes as there are quite a few of them including a complete list towards the end of this article.  Some are harder to find than others, so I haven’t watched them all, but there are some surprising entries which you may not be aware of.  Let’s get into it!

Night of the Living Dead (1990)

Can I just say I love this movie?  Don’t get me wrong, the original is one of the greatest horror movies of all time, but this remake is just out of this world fantastic!  Directed by Tom Savini - special effects master who did effects on all the other Romero dead films and was also a biker in Dawn of the Dead. Although helmed by Tom Savini the gore is minimal keeping in line with the 1960’s original.  The story was straight forward with not much deviation from its source.  Too many times a remake becomes a re-imagining but that rarely ever works.  This movie is unique because it re-imagines while playing within the rules outlined by the original which means we have the same movie with the gore amplified and the psychology of the characters modified slightly.

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A lot of it is scene for scene and line for line but there are also a lot of updates for the modern age as well as reaction to criticisms of the original.  The movie starts off the same with Barbara and Johnny, played by Bill Moseley, driving to a cemetery.  We get the iconic line, “they’re coming to get you Barbara” but much to my dismay there is no discussion of day light saving being moved to the first day of summer.  I don’t know why but I love that line from the original.  The similarities are a homage to the original, but the differences are what makes this movie fantastic.  The character of Ben played by Tony Todd is much calmer than was portrayed by Duane Jones in the original role.  He still commands respect and is the leader within the house but does it with a much cooler attitude.  Where Duane Jones was the hammer, Tony Todd is like a precise scalpel enforcing his will with a cool laid-back approach.  The same can be said for the recast of Barbara played by Patricia Tallman.  She is way more tough than the dainty mute in the original but it’s certainly a façade.  She is just as afraid and scared as her predecessor, but it manifests in a different way.  Instead of cowering in fear she lashes out, grabbing the shotgun and blasting any poor undead bastard that climbs through the window. There is a great scene where she is crying, shooting a zombie in the torso over and over yelling at the other house mates, “IS IT DEAD? IS IT DEAD?” this isn’t an act of bravery for bravery sake, this is adrenaline and fear creating action and it’s great.  The recast of Cooper by Tom Towles is similar where it takes the stubborn character and turns him into a slime ball.

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The best changes that were made though were towards the end of the film.  The daughter in the basement is much more terrifying than the original and the ending sequence is superior.  Where the original was left open to interpretation the remake is very direct.  Ben is a zombie and the hillbillies get him.  Cooper comes from the attic, still alive and a vengeful Barbara ends him.  The other great part about the ending of the remake is it leaves it open to its sequel Dawn of the Dead.  It shows a huge group of hillbilly bikers toying with the undead, torturing them, hanging them and using them for target practice.  This is exactly the basis for the main villains of the sequel.  Its almost as if Tom Savini tried to tie in the sequel in hopes of a later release which didn’t happen.   At least not until 2004 when Zack Snyder got ahold of Dawn of the Dead.

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

While the 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead was exactly that, a remake, the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead was a reimagining of the original.  Featuring the directorial debut of Zack Snyder, this movie does not feature the slow moving, moaning zombies of other Romero dead films.  Hell, it doesn’t even have the brain eating zombies from the Return of the Living Dead series, this film instead opts for the British version of the zombie first brought to fame in 28 Days Later, the maniac runner zombie.  Call me old school, but the runners just don’t scare me.  Sure, there is way more mayhem in a flick when these guys are around but what you gain in action you lose in atmosphere.  This mayhem is evident in the opening sequence to this film.  A great opening sequence is few and far between in modern horror, but this film really nails it with the frantic zombie apocalypse, car exploding off the freeway, random people jumping on your car, fire everywhere insanity.  Added to it is the credits sequence set to Johnny Cash’s, “When the Man Comes Around”.  There isn’t a Romero original with this much insanity.

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The initial exchange between police officer Kenneth, played by Ving Rhames and nurse Ana, played by Sarah Polley is some of the best dialogue in the film.  As he’s pointing his shot gun at her head, “Say something” her confused and desperate response, “please” - just absolutely beautiful screen writing.  We soon meet the rest of the cast of characters and we head to the mall.  The location being the only thing really that ties this movie to the original, other than that there isn’t much.  No bikers, although Tom Savini has a cameo as a cop.  There is no helicopter pilot and no drawn out scene with the survivors enjoying the materialism of the mall.  Materialism was in fact the underlying subtext of the Romero original and if I had to pin point what the underlying message was in this film I’d have to say it’s religion.  We have the Johnny Cash intro which is about the apocalypse and the second coming of Jesus as detailed in Revelations, almost word for word too.  We have a televangelist in the movie who states the zombie epidemic is caused by the sin of the world which society has welcomed with open arms.  There is also an interesting scene in the bathroom where Ving Rhames and Mekhi Phifer have an exchange about religion and salvation.  The movie is very strong on family bonds and their importance as well as redemption.  It would be interesting to hear a director commentary to know if this heavy religious undertone was done on purpose or if it was just coincidental.

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Speaking of family bonds, there is a truly heart wrenching scene where a father and daughter enter the mall, the father having been bitten, needs to be “put down” and it’s so real and dramatic which you wouldn’t expect from a zombie movie.  There is also the amazingly gross scene which you would expect where Mekhi Phifer’s zombie wife gives birth to a zombie baby, one of the survivors pulls a gun and Mekhi asks, “You wanna kill my family?” Just so amazing, beautiful and disturbing at the same time.

Dawn of the Dead is probably the strongest of the remakes and one of the best of all the Living Dead movies overall.  The only thing keeping it from being the best of all time in this series is that it really is lacking the second half of the movie.  The opening of the film and the first half in the mall are fantastic, emotional and memorable.  The second half is a rampaging shoot em’ up where characters are wiped out in the most bizarre and interesting ways.  Even the ending, with the character of Michael who has been bitten by a zombie decides to stay behind, watch the sunrise and shoot himself was just okay, it would have been fantastic if it were a character that you cared about.  Overall a great flick, with only minor flaws, its no wonder they tried to capitalize so soon after.

Day of the Dead (2008)

So, with the previous two films I mentioned, one was a remake and the other a re-imagining, this movie happens to be neither. This is a separate film than the original with the same title.  Sure, there are soldiers, a bunker and a zombie named Bud who retains memories from his human life but that’s where the similarities end.  In fact, Bud only remembers that he was a vegetarian and doesn’t eat humans.  Weird.  This movie was directed by Steve Miner who did Friday the 13th 2 & 3, House and Halloween H20, along with casting of Mena Suvari, Nick Cannon in the cringiest role ever and a returning Ving Rhames.  There was certainly budget and promise but overall this film missed its mark as a Day of the Dead remake.

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This film has the return of the runner zombie, but these things are crazier and way more agile.  They are more like the Zombie Vampires from Blade than anything resembling any other zombies.  These things climb walls, jump high and cling to the ceiling.  Because of this and the shoot ‘em up nature of the film, this movie could have easily been a House of the Dead sequel or a Resident Evil film.  The films three acts take place in three unique and confusing location.  First being in a hospital overrun with sick people and our heroes Sarah played by Mena Suvari, Salazar played by Nick Cannon, although he just plays himself in tactical gear most of the movie and Bud as they try to escape the endless hordes of face ripping zombies.  The returning Ving Rhames is the best face ripping zombie as he gets his face ripped off and then, in zombie form, rips out his own eyeball and eats it.  The action then moves to a radio station?  For reasons unknown and quickly into a Humvee where most of the second act takes place.  Finally, we get to the bunker.

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The bunker, where the original took place, is where this movie begins to deviate from the original the most.  First, we have the exposition by a doctor who explains the zombies are caused by a chemical weapon developed by the military which has gone wrong.  Very Resident Evil.  Then, our heroes encounter a final boss zombie.  Yup!  One of the scientists who has been a zombie the longest is super smart, can dodge bullets and is near undefeatable.  Very House of the Dead.

The end is very abrupt and makes little sense.  I have no idea what happened with this movie, but I guess it is par for the course.  Of the original trilogy, Day is always the lesser of the three and it’s the case with the remakes as well.  Overall, if you go into this movie ignoring the fact that it claims to be a Day of the Dead remake, it is an outstanding early 2000’s horror film.  The gore in this one is extreme, and the action fast paced.  Story line?  It is truly absent.  But sometimes you just need a fun horror movie.

Other Remakes

Due to strange legal issues Night of the Living Dead entered the public domain early which opened the door for numerous remakes.  Also, Zombies are very popular, so every film maker and production company are trying to cash in on the craze.  These next few films vary in popularity, quality and obscurity but they are all remakes or a re-imagining of the original Romero trilogy.  These are in order of my opinion of their quality.

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Day of the Dead: Bloodline (2018)

Wow.  This film is great!  This is a much better remake than Day of the Dead (2008) by a mile.  It’s a perfect example of a reimagining staying in the confines and rules of the original.  We open with a nurse that works in epidemiology who has to take blood from a serious creep that stalks her and carves her name in his arm.  One night he tries to rape her but is only stopped by the zombie apocalypse.  Flash forward 4 years and we are deep in the bunker just like the original including the power-hungry soldier who has no issues with shooting innocent civilians.  The original premise with the mad scientist experimenting on the undead and uncovering sentience is flipped to the female doctor experimenting with a half zombified version of her former would-be rapist who may be the cure.  In the original, Bub remembers being a soldier and loves music, in this one Max remembers his creepy stalker love for his former nurse Zoe.  This is the superior of the Day of the Dead remakes and a severely underrated movie.

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Night of the Living Dead 3D (2006)

This movie answers multiple burning questions. What if you remade Night of the Living Dead in the modern age?  What if the farmhouse was on a pot farm?  What if you added Sid Haig as a mortician who is afraid of fire and after the passing of his father was too afraid to cremate the dead bodies but instead stored them in his funeral home along with toxic waste until a point in time where the corpses rise from the dead and attack innocent people?  What if the whole thing was filmed in 3D?  All these questions and more are answered in Night of the Living Dead 3D.  This is certainly not the best of the remakes, but it certainly is the most fun.

Night of the Living Dead 3D: Re-Animation (2012)

This is like a mash up of Re-Animator, Day of the Dead and Return of the Living Dead.  It’s so insane looking but what would you expect from a sequel to Night of the Living Dead 3D?  Jeffery Combs is in this one who is always great.  Timeline, this is a prequel to Night of the Living Dead 3D and is about as absurd as its predecessor.  For some reason they felt the need to include a Sarah Palin character named sister Sarah?  Seemed unnecessary but what the hell, it’s the sequel prequel to Night of the Living Dead 3D.

Mimesis: Night of the Living Dead (2013)

So, I was unaware of this one until doing research for this article, but it is immediately at the top of my watchlist.  Basically, there is a group of horror fans who are drugged and wake up dressed like Johnny and Barbara from the original movie. Turns out they are unwilling participants in a real-life remake of the film.  What would you do if you woke up in Night of the Living Dead? This film answers that question.

Night of the Living Dead Darkest Dawn (2015)

This is an interesting one, it’s computer animated but low budget so it kind of looks like an extended cut scene from Resident Evil.  The director is Simon West, who also directed Con-Air, and has voices from horror legends like Tony Todd, Danielle Harris and Bill Moseley.  A retelling of the original story but set in modern times in New York City.  Seems interesting enough.

Night of Living Dead Resurrection (2013)

This is a super low budget direct to DVD release which is a loose remake of the original set in the English countryside.  I didn’t watch this one but based on the trailer it looks alright even if it has an extremely low budget.

Day of the Dead 2: Contagium (2005)

Now I am no English major, but I think the word they were seeking is “Contagion” but whatever.  An unofficial prequel to Day of the Dead, the reviews for this look bleak.  One critic wrote, “There is no warning too strong that would urge you to avoid this DVD at all costs.” Well guess what critic? I am going to find it and watch it!  And you should too here is a link to buy it on Amazon.  Fuck that critic, he got paid to write a review on that movie and is advocating for the makers of the movie to not get paid.  Scum.


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Written by Bud

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