George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" set the gold standard for zombie cinema back in 1968; a genre that has financially come back in a big way these past few years. Of course, every trend must hit rock bottom, and this 3-D remake of the drive-in horror masterpiece only intensifies the argument that this brain-munching stuff should be left for Romero to play with, and nobody else.
The new "Night" updates the locations and hardware for 2006 (oddly, the zombies can text message you now), but the story remains pretty much the same: zombies walk the planet, and humans have no shot at survival. That's a hard recipe to screw up, but director Jeff Broadstreet gives it his best shot, parading around a pathetically low-budget affair that makes the original film's production values look like "Troy."
I don't doubt that Broadstreet has enormous affection for Romero and the undead world he's created. The filmmaker has even incorporated scenes from the original "Dead" into this new film, in a silly postmodern touch that only serves to remind the audience they're watching something exceptionally inferior.
However, what Romero lacked in directorial grace, he made up for in sparse, hellish mood and nightmarish imagery. Broadstreet can barely keep up with his own filmmaking incompetence, directing a cast that resembles small town community theater understudies, and following a script that prompts every character to talk, and talk, and talk. It seems that the only thing that scares writer Robert Valding more than hideous, blood-thirsty zombies would be a scene that relies on body language alone for communication. There's expository diarrhea all over this film, and with this cast, that's pulling teeth. Just get to the gore already!
The centerpiece of "Night" (basically the gimmick to sucker audiences in) is the 3-D visual landscape. Shot with a budget made up of what looks like intense fortune and glory daydreams, the 3-D appearance of the film is actually remarkably accomplished, even projected through the cursed anaglyph process (red/blue paper glasses). Broadstreet gets his kicks by pushing joints and bare breasts towards the camera, along with punches and some thrusting shovel action. Yet, it doesn't seem nearly insane enough, as most of the 3-D is devoted to simply spacing out the backgrounds. It looks terrific in the daytime shots, but if you pay close attention to the title, those sequences are in short supply.
This is not the first time someone wanted to play in Romero's shoes, and it certainly won't be the last. Lose the 3-D gimmick, and this "Night of the Living Dead" remix is nothing but a shoddy, amateurish student film that somehow conned Sid "Captain Spaulding" Haig into a floundering supporting role. Now that's scary.
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