Friday, December 14, 2007
Movie Review - Night of the Living Dead 3D (2006)
So I finally got the chance to catch this. Mrs. Zombie was out of town on a business trip, I’d put Zombie Boy and Wolfgirl down for the night, and I’d sat down to watch some TV. I fired up the barbecue, threw on some long pork, and settled in with the intention of fixing my recent jones for some flesh chomping zombie carnage. I’d actually planned on re-watching Army of Darkness, but imagine my surprise when I saw that the most recent NOTLD remake had hit my cable’s On Demand menu. (I should note I didn’t see it in 3D. It was a regular 2D version, but I wasn’t too disappointed. I expect that I didn’t really miss much when it comes to the hokey 3D gimmick. I don’t think 3D technology hasn’t really changed THAT much since the days of William Castle – or even the 80’s wonders of Jaws 3D. All it does is give you a headache and the stupid 3D glasses give me paper cuts on my ears and nose.)
So, anyway… a couple clicks of the remote and $3.99 later, I’ve queued up NOTLD3D.
“WOO-HOO!” says I. “I get to watch some zombie goodness!”
Truthfully, I went into this fully expecting to be disappointed. I can say though, that I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t really that bad.
The movie opened familiarly, with the now iconic black and white footage of a winding road with the Breakneck Creek in the background. “Wha?” I thought, “did they actually film this in Evans City Pennsylvania?!? Will this movie take place in the same iconic cemetery where the great George Romero filmed his masterpiece back in 1966?!?”
Unfortunately, the geekish thrill I felt was short lived as the scene pulled back to reveal a television showing the original movie in a road side - and obviously Californian - gas station. The camera pans to a window where a Mini Cooper drives by outside, swinging past the creepy image of an abandoned SUV. PArked askew next to a discarded gas pump, the SUV's door is open and its occupants are nowhere to be found.
We learn that the Mini is driven by Johnny (Ken Ward) as he and his sister Barbara (Brianna Brown) make their way to a funeral for an aunt they don’t know. They get to the cemetery to find it abandoned and, as the tension builds, they find themselves in the midst of the zombie apocalypse.
Story-wise, the remake quickly veers from the original after this point, but it does so in a way that actually works. Johnny is attacked, runs to the car, and drives off – leaving Barb to fend off the zombies (including her now undead mother). Barb runs to the funeral home where she meets Junior Tovar, as played by the incomparable Sid Haig. She is chased away by Junior and meets up with a young handsome guy named Ben (Joshua DesRoches) who rescues her and takes her to his friends’ farm. The farm, of course, is run by the Coopers.
General undead shenanigans happen, the house is surrounded by shambling zombies, there’s some arguing, and everything degenerates – much like Romero’s classic and the lesser 1990 remake.
The story has been updated and it asks for some suspension of disbelief. But, since I’m watching a movie where the main idea is that hell is full and the dead walk the earth, I’m pretty well committed to a trip down the path of “this can’t really happen”. Henry Copper is now – instead of a caustic, belligerent, know-it-all jerk – an aging, peace-loving, pot farmer. Ben is white (!!!), and Tommy and Judy fuck in a barn, run around naked, and die within the first 20 minutes or so. Barb is reminiscent of the character Patricia Tallman portrayed in the 1990 remake.
Although some of the character changes feel like a stretch, other plot points work well. One of my current peeves is the change that cell phones have had on the whole horror genre. Michael Meyers wouldn’t have been such a problem if Laurie Strode had a cell phone and 911, so I like to see how newer horror films deal with the evolving technology. In this remake, Barb loses her phone while fighting off zombies, and Henry Cooper – in line with his “Dude! Chill, we’re growing some bud here!” attitude, - refuses to have cells because that’s “how the government tracks you, man”.
The story, while not the best, worked. There were some plot twists and the overall revamping of the story wasn't oo onerous. I was disappointed that they felt the need to explain the reason for the zompocalypse though. I don’t need to know why, I just need to know that headshots work and that I have enough bullets to survive.
The acting, on the other hand, suffered from the low budget production value. All of the primary actors had the skill and talent of second year college drama majors. Brianna Brown was better than the others, but not by much. Sid Haig though, being the icon that he is, was the one shining star – and his skills dwarfed those of the amateurs he was working with. Now don’t get me wrong… Sid collected a paycheck and you can tell he only did this because he was probably late on a couple of Cadillac payments; but even his phoned in performance was on an entirely different level than his co-stars.
As I said, this was obviously a low budget film. But that actually didn’t hurt the movie too much. The director of photography and the lighting guys deserve the lion’s share of the salaries for the work they did. They managed to make a film that looked great, and the high point could be seen in the exterior shots of the farm house as the shambling, stumbling masses of undead banged and wandered aimlessly about the beautifully framed and lighted porch and yard. It also helped that there were no apparent sound stage shots. The use of all location shooting (again - no doubt an offshoot of the meager budget) added a sense of realism to the film.
All of the cheap production value, though, and all of the great shots did little to allay my disappointment with the makeup effects. There was little true makeup work. Most of the zombies were people in masks and coverall suits that looked like – quite honestly – masks and coverall suits. It’s obvious when someone is wearing an all body costume. They look like kids look when they have to wear a Halloween costume over a winter coat. And the few actual makeup shots were terrible. When Karen Cooper turns into a zombie and stalks the other actors, it’s great that they paint her face a grayish-green, but the thing is – she’s wearing A MINISKIRT. Here’s a hint…you need to paint HER LEGS TOO!
But – all in all, it wasn’t too bad. I enjoyed it and, in the beginning especially, the film conveyed an edge of the seat expectancy of horror. Romero’s legacy wasn’t damaged and, in most instances, his mythos is secure and unfucked with. My recommendation is to catch it, but go into it with the understanding that it is not the best zombie movie ever, but it is in no way imaginable the worst ever made (That’s right, Uwe Boll. I’m looking at YOU!). Enjoy it for zombies, enjoy it for Sid Haig, and enjoy it because it’s not that bad.
Doctor Zombie’s rating: 4 out of 5 Chomped Brains!!!