Director/Producer – Jeff Broadstreet, Screenplay – Robert Valding, Based on the 1968 Film Written by George A. Romero and John A. Russo, Photography (3D) – Christopher Parke, Music – Jason Brandt, Makeup Effects – American Makeup and Special Effects (Supervisors – Dean Jones & Starr Jones), Production Design – Christopher Davis. Production Company – The HorrorWorks
Brianna Brown (Barb), Joshua DesRoches (Ben), Sid Haig (Gerald Tovar, Jr.), Greg Travis (Henry Cooper), Johanna Black (Hellie Cooper), Adam Chambers (Owen), Ken Ward (Johnny), Alynia Phillips (Karen Cooper), Cristen Michele (Judy), Max Williams (Tom)
Barb and her brother Johnny have driven out of the city to attend an aunt’s funeral. They arrive to find the graveside abandoned, only for Johnny to then be attacked by stumbling figures. Barb flees to a nearby mortuary run by Gerald Tovar where she realises that these are the revived dead. She is saved from further attack by Ben and they take refuge at the farmhouse of the marijuana farmer Henry Cooper. The others have difficulty believing Barb’s story until the dead surround the farmhouse, determined to break in and devour the flesh of the living.
George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) is a bona fide classic that defined the horror genre – and more crucially created the modern zombie film and the conception of the zombie the flesh-eating figure we are familiar with today. Romero spun off five sequels to Night of the Living Dead. The original remains in public domain due to someone failing to secure the copyright. This has led to a great many official spinoffs and unofficial hangers-on. Romero oversaw one prior remake with Night of the Living Dead (1990) directed by his regular makeup effects man Tom Savini. There have been various other claimants to be sequels and prequels ranging from Return of the Living Dead (1985), which created its own series of sequels, to Night of the Living Dead: Resurrection (2012), Night of the Living Dead: Darkest Dawn (2015), Night of the Living Dead: Genesis (2016) and Night of the Living Dead: Rebirth (2017), while there was also Night of the Living Dead Reanimated (2009), which is a shot-for-shot remake composed of dozens of small clips animated and drawn by various artists in numerous styles.
Night of the Living Dead 3D feels entirely pointless. The sole addition is the novelty of 3D. (It should be noted that the film was made before the major 3D revival fad that came with James Cameron’s Avatar (2009) and its near-ubiquitous employment as a gimmick by multiplex films, which would have made NOTLD somewhat rarer a novelty in 2006 than it would have been a few years later). The main question is what does a 3D remake serve? Surprisingly little – a few zombies lurching at you but mostly lame gimmick shots like a joint being offered out of the screen or someone puffing smoke rings at the audience.
Director Jeff Broadstreet had previously made the Scream Queen film Sexbomb (1989), the supposed documentary Area 51: The Alien Interview (1997) and the horror film Dr Rage (2005), as well as subsequently producing the documentary American Grindhouse (2010). Certainly, this film holds one’s attention from the first shot, which starts with the opening of the 1968 film with the car driving around a bend in black-and-white and pulls back to reveal this is a shot on a tv screen, before the credits waver out of the tv screen in 3D and the camera pans on to an identical shot of a road but in colour where we see a modern car pass by. It is a rather clever segue.
A number of changes over the original become immediately apparent such as the characters using cellphones – although it does become a little too precious where Johnny delivers his classic line “They’re coming for you, Barbara” to Brianna Brown by text message. There is also the rewriting of Harry Cooper as a marijuana farmer and Ben as a dealer who was heading to the farm to restock his supplies, which takes you back a little. The worst change is the recasting of Ben as a white guy. The casting of Duane Jones in the original was the first major role in which the part of the hero was played by a Black man. Of all the racial underrepresentation that is decried in Hollywood, how can giving us a white Ben be seen as anything other than an insulting retrograde step? Moreover, Joshua DesRoches is nothing more than a standard pretty boy who lacks in anything of the hard-headedness and commanding authority that Duane Jones brought to the role.
Like the texted “they’re coming for you,” there are times that the remake is just too cutely meta-referential. It seems a little too twee to have a scene where Brianna Brown enters the living room and everyone is sitting around watching the original Night of the Living Dead on tv. This comes amid comments like “Anyone freaked out by zombie movies?” which shows just what a disparity there is between 1968 when the zombie film didn’t exist and 2006 when it is part of the cultural woodwork and the original by implication can be laughed at for its cheesiness. The most amusing line comes when Johanna Black compares the situation: “Have you ever read any of those Left Behind books?”
Jeff Broadstreet directs with a basic competence once the zombies are loose. Although you keep asking, if this were the film that had been made in 1968, is there anything of a nightmare to it that would have turned the film into a cult classic? One strongly doubts it. For wholly gratuitous reasons, Broadstreet has the very well stacked Kristen Michele running around topless and pursued by zombies for a good portion of the middle of the film, which seems to be taking Night of the Living Dead in far more exploitative directions than George Romero ever did.
While Night of the Living Dead 3D travels along okay for the most part, it takes a big slide downwards with the introduction of Sid Haig. Haig has been identified as a horror icon since the resurrection of his career with Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses (2003) and gives an appropriately bug-eyed performance. On the other hand, his presence takes Night of the Living Dead off in an entirely different direction to Romero. Somehow explanations about experimental chemicals and mortician Haig illegally stashing bodies rather than cremating them seems trivial – it makes Night of the Living Dead look small scale when you compare it to Romero’s films that always take things to an apocalyptic level. It also gives us a villain of the show whereas Romero’s films are always about ordinary humans trying to survive. It adds nothing – well actually, the introduction of spilt chemicals in a morgue seems to take the film close to Return of the Living Dead. The one thing it does do is give an amusing rationale for the difference between fast and slow-moving zombies – the slow ones are corpses that were infected, the fast ones are the living who became bitten by the dead. The end this film reaches is utterly unmemorable and disappointingly lacking in any of the bleak bite that the original film had.
Jeff Broadstreet also made a prequel to this film with Night of the Living Dead 3D: Re-Animation (2012) featuring Andrew Divoff in Sid Haig’s role, which details how the events at the mortuary led to the rise of the zombies.