Night Of the Living Dead, 1990. The Tom Savini One. Loaded Special Edition

Perhaps the most exciting of all of Umbrella's fuller-than-their-competitors' special editions is their new release of Night Of the Living Dead, 1990. That's the remake of George Romero's original that was produced by Tom Savini. This time, the Australian blu seems to come out ahead in both picture quality and absolutely in the special features department. I mean, this is an early entry in the popular wave of unnecessary remakes, but this disc has made me re-evaluate and decide, you know, maybe there really is a place for NotLD90 in my collection after all.
Night '90 plays it very close to Night '68. It's not quite shot-for-shot Psycho, but it really plays it beat-by-beat, with cast members even cast for their resemblance to the original characters. So, what does Night '90 bring to the table? Like, why even watch it if you have the original? Well, updated effects for sure. Expect some new, awesome looking zombies like they never could've created in 1968. And the other thing are Savini's twists. Savini knows most fans are familiar with the original, so he's constantly subverting your expectations and giving you little surprises.

A great example of this is right in the beginning. Again, Night '90 follows Night '68 very closely, right down to the details. Barbara and Johnny are visiting their mother at the graveyard even though Johnny doesn't want to. He teases her, including the famous line, "they're coming to get you, Barbara," while pointing to a stumbling old man walking towards them in the distance. Of course, in '68, this turns out to be the first zombie, Bill Hinzman, who kills Johnny and chases Barbara to the farmhouse. But in the remake, it's just an old man who says "sorry," and walks away before the real zombie pops out of frame left and attacks zombie. Of course, he then kills Johnny by cracking his head against a tomb stone and then chases Barbara just like the original. The film stays on the original's tracks. But it's just got all these little alterations and tweaks to keep fans guessing. And the ending, which I won't spoil, is very significantly different.
Seeing this for the first time in widescreen (I used to own the VHS, but this is the first time I've watched it since then), has improved by opinion of this film a little bit. Not that I hated it before, but it struck me as having a made for TV movie look. And it is pretty heavy on close-ups, but the cinematography's a little more impressive now. Even said close-ups are now less boxy, and it's a fairly well-made production over-all. Patricia Tallman and especially Tony Todd are pretty good in this film, and even the rest of the cast are a little hokey but express their characters well. And let's face it, the original had a lot of the same problems in that area, so we haven't lost any ground there. The original's stark, grainy black and white look is iconic, and this film can't recapture that; but '90 wisely doesn't try, and instead makes it's own, gentle color look. In a way, it makes the film feel a little delicate and old fashioned, but at least it's distinct rather than a poor man's knock-off.
So, like I said, this is my first time with Night Of the Living Dead 1990 on disc. But it's hardly this film's first time at the rodeo. There was a fullscreen laserdisc, then Columbia Tristar put out a DVD release in anamorphic widescreen with a Savini commentary and 'making of' featurette, which was essentially duplicated in the UK and other regions. Then Twilight Time put it out on blu for the first time in 2012, with the commentary and ditching the featurette; but most notably it's very dark, with a strong blue hue over the entire picture. And now, in 2016, we have Umbrella's blu from Australia.
The good news is the blue overcast is thankfully gone from this release! It's still a detailed, HD transfer. It does have occasional speckling and noise (look closely at the zombies' forehead in that second shot), but it's relatively minimal. It might be a slightly older master, but it's fine even for blu-ray standards, possibly a bit better than Twilight Time's even if you take the dark blue shading out of the equation. Like, if I were giving letter grades, it would be a strong B. Oh, and a lot of sites are listing this as 1.85, but it's actually framed at 1.77:1, which to be fair, is what it says on the back of the case.

Audio-wise, it's the same as Twilight Time gave us, DTS-HD 5.1. But that's great in both cases. Only Twilight Time has the isolated musical score track, though, which is pretty much their thing. Both blus also offer optional English subtitles.
 But now let's get into extras, because this is an especially exciting release in terms of those. So first of all, again yes, Umbrella retains Savini's audio commentary, which except for a couple stretches of silence, is quite good, and addresses a lot of the topics viewers would have about the remake. And they also bring back the 'making of' featurette that Twilight Time dropped, which is also quite good, showing you a lot of the creation of the film. It's like a serious, 25-minute piece,not just one of those typical promo featurettes that's like a padded version of the trailer.
But then Umbrella kicks in with a bunch of all new extras (which are, interestingly, credited to Severin Pictures). First off is a new on-camera interview with Savini. At first it seems like he's just going to rehash all the things he said in the commentary and featurette, and he does for the first couple minutes. But then he starts getting serious about all the plans he had for this film that the producers made him cut, why that happened and why he thinks they were wrong. He talks about the divorce he was going through during the shoot and his disappointments with the film, whether Romero really ghost-directed the film, and also how he's finally come around to really appreciating it only recently. It goes for almost half an hour and is much more open and honest - thanks I'm sure to the extra passage of time - than the other pieces. Really, if you only check out one extra about this film, this is the one.

Then you've got a fun interview with John Vulich & Everett Burrell, who're on camera together and clearly having a good time. They're very forthcoming, too; and you can imagine the scrutiny you must be under as the effects team when Tom Savini is your director. Patricia Tallman, who was interviewed in the 'making of' featurette, has her own on-camera piece here, too. She's very cheerful and proud of the film, but also addresses things like when Romero took over shooting at the end because Savini had to "go take care of" his divorce. And there's also an eight-minute "behind the scenes" featurette, which is really a collection of video tape footage that the special effects guys took of the shoot. It's tightly edited, so we really just get the interesting moments without like twenty minutes of set-up for an insert shot or actors asleep in their make-up chairs. There's also the original theatrical trailer and reversible cover art, clearly by the same artist as the Night Of the Creeps cover.
For my money, this is hands down the definitive release of Night Of the Living Dead 1990, at least for now. So it's a shame for non-region free Americans that this is B locked [whoops! My bad; see the comments] great that this is region free, despite being labeled region B on the packaging, so everyone can enjoy it.  I also have to point out that this is the standard, single disc release. But Umbrella also put out a limited edition 2-disc version which pairs this with the original 1968 Night Of the Living Dead, also on blu. That disc includes a full-length documentary on the original called Reflections On the Living Dead, which was originally released on VHS as The Night of the Living Dead 25th Anniversary Documentary. So you might want to seek out that version, instead.

2 comments:

  1. The Umbrella Blu is actually region free -- contrary to its packaging!

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    1. Oh, you're right - nice! I corrected the post. =)

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