George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” is one of my all time favorite films. Like a lot of movie fans, I saw it on a late night horror show and it was like an epiphany. At the age of 9, I was blown away and scared shitless.
I have bought this film numerous times on video and laser disc. I even had a part as a zombie in the 1990 Tom Savini remake, which is not a half bad film. I can be seen pulling the body of the character “Tom” from the burning truck and I am the first to begin to munch on his charred remains. The flesh was actually chicken mixed with Karo syrup and food coloring and this sweet poultry goop made a sick combination that made me gag. But I’d do anything for Savini. Savini was a stand up director on the set and even took the time to talk to crazed zombie fans like myself. I recall that everyone on the set had an almost religious sense of reverence toward the original NOTLD. It’s unfortunate that this same attitude was not taken by the original’s screenwriter John Russo.
Russo is the mind behind forgettable cinematic crap such as “Santa Claws” and is the “brainchild” behind this “30th Anniversary Edition” of the classic 1968 film. This is one of the worst ideas ever in the history of cinema. Russo and his team of “filmmakers” have ruined this classic film. What they have done is added 15 minutes of new scenes, they have recut parts of the film and created a new soundtrack. The final result is a mess that seems as if it were made by talentless, first year film students.
The added scenes consist of a subplot involving the origin of the first zombie seen in the original film played by Bill Hinzman. The new story begins with two rednecks delivering a coffin to the infamous graveyard. We soon learn that the coffin contains a child murderer who was recently executed. The ensuing dialog is unnecessary and dull. The coffin is delivered to a grieving couple whose child was killed by the murderer and the loathsome Reverend Hicks. The bucktoothed Scott Vladimir Licina, who looks like a light-in-the-loafers version of deceased church of Satan head, Anton Levay, plays Reverend Hicks. No surprises follow as the zombie rises and “scares” everyone. The scene is devoid of suspense or scares and comes off as comical and amateurish. The film then cuts to the original film’s beginning with Barbara and her taunting brother. Portions of the film are recut with extra zombie shots for no apparent reason other than to put the filmmaker’s friends and family into the story. A car wreck soon produces human lunch and extra zombies. (One of the zombies is played by Russo’s daughter, as we’re told in the making-of featurette.) Then again for no reason, other cuts are made to speed up the action, many of them involve the quiet isolation in the house – presumably these missing scenes help make room for the extra 15 minutes. Then finally, the film ends with yet another offensive performance by Licina as Reverend Hicks. The Rev rants in a longwinded religious speech which attempts to explain all this zombie nuttiness. Isn’t that what’s great about the original — that we never really know why everything is happening?
There’s absolutely nothing good that I can say about the added scenes. Bill Hinzman who played the cemetery zombie that shows up at the beginning of the film, plays the same character. However, this time it’s 30 years later, and it’s no surprise that he looks NOTHING like his slim self of three decades ago.
Scott Vladimir Licina commits two sins. His atrocious “acting” as Reverend Hicks and he also provides the synthesizer soundtrack which alone, takes the film’s original intensity down about ten notches.
NOTLD changed the face of the horror genre when it was released in 1968 and there is no good reason to go back and change it. Why ruin a perfect film? The only reason I can fathom is greed on the part of filmmaking failure John Russo and the no-talent Scott Vladimir Licina. The two are seen prominently in the booklet provided in the DVD in which they are both interviewed in a load of self-serving PR propaganda. They even admit that recutting the film and adding scenes is an attempt to set up their semi-sequel “Children of the Dead”. I guess they will continue to cash in. There seems to be no end to their milking a dead zombie. These a******s are shameless.
While I am an adamant supporter of film restoration, I am vehemently opposed to “Special Editions” that alter the original movie. These are obvious attempts to siphon cash from the wallets of true movie fans. When the classic “Star Wars” trilogy was given the “Special Edition” treatment, weak-willed “Star Wars” fans simply lined up and accepted it. With their tongues firmly up George’s a*s, they willfully accepted unnecessary changes such as Greedo shooting first (Episode IV-Star Wars), Luke’s girlish scream as he fell down the chasm in Cloud City (Episode V-Empire) and a completely unnecessary extra musical number in Jabba’s palace (Episode VI- Jedi). I hope that horror fans of the “Dead” series are not as willing to watch another classic film ruined by the greed of the filmmakers under the guise of a “Special Edition.” All fans of NOTLD should be vocal in their distaste at this film which can only be referred to as an abomination. If you ever see “filmmakers” John Russo and the annoying Scott Vladimir Licina in public, do what I plan to do, scream my displeasure right in their faces. These guys should be heckled, booed off stage at public events and tarred and feathered. And, under any circumstance they should never be allowed to make a film again.