Whenever you run across (inevitably short) lists of GOOD horror remakes, Tom Savini’s NOTLD rarely gets mentioned. Admittedly, it’s not perfect. The introduction of color undercuts the documentary feel of the B&W original and the cartoonish characterization of Harry Cooper is almost unwatchable. In the original he’s simply a frightened bigot, in the remake he’s a complete A-Hole even his own mother couldn’t love. Still, by the time the credits roll, the movie turns out to be a serviceable effort.
Unlike other remakes, this one wisely sticks close enough to the original so that it’s actually able to play off the audience’s likely over-familiarity with Romero’s classic. For example, in the iconic “They’re coming to get you Barbara!” scene which opens the original, the hapless female lead is immediately assaulted by a zombie. The remake instead tosses out a couple of red herrings before the zombie unexpectedly makes his appearance. It’s a good jump scare for those new to NOTLD, but it also works for longtime fans because you’re never quite know when such tweaks in the story will occur.
The best change is in the character of Barabara herself, who spends most of Romero’s film frozen with fear until her freshly dead brother shows up to snack on her. In the remake, Barbara recovers her wits and ends up becoming both the film’s clearest thinking character and something of a mean pistol packing mama. The latter point is probably a nod to post-Aliens Hollywood in which every heroine is required to kick butt Sigourney Weaver style, but the former is an important deviation which dramatically alters the finale. Having conquered her fear and assessed the truth of the situation, Barbara simply walks out into the night to her freedom, the shambling dead being just too darn slow to catch her. Those who stay behind don’t fare as well. It’s a terrific twist, one that’s only spoiled at the very end when Barbara gains the world but loses her soul by committing a gratuitous act of vengeance. Alas, happy endings just aren’t part of NOTLD’s nihilistic zombie world.
Except for that slip up at the end though, Barbara serves as a nice typological symbol of Jesus from this week’s Gospel. Faced with an angry mob and armed only with the truth, Jesus calmly walks through them to safety, his time not yet come. Of course, as often happens in Scripture, we are challenged to do the same. “But do you gird your loins; stand up and tell them all that I command you.” the first reading demands, “Be not crushed on their account, as though I would leave you crushed before them.” Having been given the gift of the truth, we are compelled to go out and put it into practice. Doing so may or may not put us in the center of unfriendly forces, but the dire consequences of living in fear and never leaving the house are guaranteed.