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night of the living tirade

11.21.98

Say what you want about the PSYCHO remake: At least Gus Van Sant isn't re-releasing the original movie, adding new footage, and taking out footage. Which is exactly what's happening with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD as we speak.

In FANGORIA #179 (coincidentally, the one with the PSYCHO-remake cover story), there's a short article about the NOTLD "special edition" in the works for a January 1999 video release, with a possible theatrical release before that, probably to cash in on the fact that 1998 is NOTLD's 30th anniversary. This is the brainchild (or brain-dead-child) of John Russo, the co-writer of the original film, who will delete about 15 minutes from George Romero's drum-tight, 96-minute masterpiece in order to make room for 15 or 20 minutes of new scenes he himself has written and directed.

My gut reaction is: WHY??? Romero's film ain't too shabby the way it is, thanks very much. Russo says, "Some places that were slow are gonna go," but I'm hard put to remember any scenes that were slow and had to go. What's next? Re-release HALLOWEEN with new, gorier footage and delete all those boring scenes that had characterization? (Sorry, I forgot they did that already in HALLOWEEN H20.) Russo also promises we'll see the backstory of the graveyard zombie who appears in the famous first scene. Like our lives are empty without that? Who does Russo think this character is, Anakin Skywalker?? He doesn't have a "backstory"! He's a fuckin' zombie.

This isn't the first time NOTLD has been tampered with. It's actually the fourth time. In the mid-'80s, during Crayola Ted's colorization craze, the b&w NOTLD got hued and screwed. Romero commented on the colorized NOTLD in an interview with the Phantom of the Movies: "I think it looks awful, and it flat kills the gag in the beginning. The whole gag is, there's this guy walking across the cemetery for like two minutes and we think it's just a human. But now that he's green, we don't think he's human."

The 1990 remake of NOTLD, written by Romero himself and directed by FX master and Romero friend/collaborator Tom Savini (who created the zombies and gore effects for DAWN/DAY OF THE DEAD), was slightly better justified. Romero said he did the remake so that all the investors who didn't make a dime from the original could get some money back (and also because whoever made a remake first would regain rights to the original film, and someone else was planning one at the time). Sadly, the plan backfired; the movie barely made a dent at the box office. The remake was a fun, competently directed horror flick, nothing more; its only real improvement on the original was its stronger female lead (stuntwoman Patricia Tallman). The project was really more of a karmic-wheel thing between Romero and Savini: Savini would have done the make-up effects for the original NOTLD, but he went to Vietnam instead.

Then of course there was (you ready?) NIGHT OF THE DAY OF THE DAWN OF THE SON OF THE BRIDE OF THE RETURN OF THE REVENGE OF THE TERROR OF THE ATTACK OF THE EVIL MUTANT HELLHOUND FLESH-EATING SUBHUMANOID LIVING DEAD, PART II (whew). This was a tape made in 1992 by Lowell Mason, who took the original and dubbed new WHAT'S UP, TIGER LILY-type dialogue over it (like when the mother says "In 15 minutes I'm gonna be stabbed with a large garden spade"). Mason was able to do the tape because NOTLD was sorta-but-not-really in the public domain (it's a long story). Sometimes the satire isn't funny, but sometimes it hits dead-on; at its best, it's like MST3K -- it would make a good double bill with the hilarious NIGHT OF THE LIVING BREAD short. Mason included apologies to Romero "for screwing up his masterpiece," but I suspect that Romero (A) probably laughed his ass off at it and (B) would prefer that you watch this instead of the colorized version.

Which brings us to the "special edition." Which is helmed not by Romero (who's busy with his RESIDENT EVIL movie) but by John Russo -- a man, as Ken Souza pointed out in our discussion of this abomination, whose entire post-NOTLD life seems to have been devoted to reliving his past glory. Russo has written books on how to make movies -- fine, I guess, if you want to make low-rent slasher flicks that go directly to video: do not pass go, do not collect credibility. Such Russo films as THE MAJORETTES and MIDNIGHT prove beyond a doubt where the real talent was back in '68 -- same as RETURN OF THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (directed by Kim Henkel, co-writer of the first CHAINSAW) shows what Tobe Hooper's classic might have been like without Tobe Hooper.

On the totem pole of unnecessary films, special editions rank far below sequels and remakes. Sequels, at best, can be defended on the grounds that there's more story to tell. (At worst, they're just greedy attempts to catch lightning in a bottle twice.) Remakes can either be radical reworkings (like THE THING or THE FLY) or slavish Xeroxes (like PSYCHO), but at least the original film remains untouched. But special editions ... well, if a movie is good enough to warrant a special edition, why mess with it? Why put a stupid-looking Jabba in STAR WARS when it played just fine without him before? And why presume to discard George Romero's footage in favor of your own?

Note to John Russo: Why don't you just make your own original movie that can be as acclaimed and well-loved as Romero's film? Maybe because you can't. Maybe because you have no talent for anything except hustling and cashing in on a film you co-wrote 30 fuckin' years ago. Maybe because you figure if you can take out some of Romero's scenes and add your own scenes, you can finally put your own stamp on it. All you're gonna end up doing is leaving your muddy footprints on it. Knock this shit off, Russo, and realize that if it wasn't for George Romero (who has written and directed many other screenplays without your two cents' worth), we wouldn't even know your name. We have the original on VHS or laser or DVD. We're gonna watch that. We ain't gonna watch your "special edition." So sit down and shut the fuck up.


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