I just picked up the graphic novel version of director George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) and was surprised first by the fact that someone even thought that there needed to be an adaptation of the film and second, that the graphic novel is comprised of scene shots of the film slightly animated to give the image an impression of being hand drawn. It makes the whole thing look like an old Ralph Bakshi rotoscoped animated film (he directed the animated Lord of the Rings film and Cool World).
It got me thinking of all the people that have had the balls to take Romero’s classic film (which due to an era with the copyright is in public domain) and deface it with yet another atrocity of which Romero and his fellow filmmakers are probably not reaping the benefits. This goes for all the plethora of films and graphic novels and even an animated film that have continued the story of NOTLD but not the legacy of which Romero’s subsequent films have done (i.e. Dawn/Day/Land/Diary/Survival of the Dead).
For the purposes of this article I will only be discussing films rather than graphic novels, comics, books, and other mediums. Let’s first take a look at the films that are official remakes of Romero’s films starting with his own NOTLD (1990). Romero wrote the screenplay for this film but gave directing chores to his frequent collaborator Tom Savini. In many respects, Romero improves upon the screenplay from the original but the film suffers from lacking the punch of the original. The late ‘90s were horrible for the horror genre as violence was toned down due to studio interference and public outrage. Much of the violence is off-screen and the zombie genre was more or less dead and buried at this time. This film was ignored by audiences upon its original release (although I am happy to say I saw the film on opening night). Next comes the remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004). This remake came out at just the right time to re-invigorate zombies to the modern audience. This film was the forerunner for the fast moving zombie and took onscreen violence to a new and shocking level. This was a fast paced and suspenseful film from beginning to end. It is hailed as one of the best horror remakes ever right up there with John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) and David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986). The final remake is Steve Miner’s Day of the Dead (2008), which is considered a travesty. With a vegetarian zombie and zombies that climb and crawl on walls as if possessed by a demon this film was laughed at despite the capable name cast. This is a film that fans despise despite the fact it was handled by Miner who is an icon of the genre having directed Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981), Friday the 13th Part 3-D (1982), Halloween: H20 (1998), and House (1986), among many others.
Next up on our list is the NOTLD; 30th Anniversary Edition (1999) shepherded into existence by John Russo and Bill Hinzman (co-writer and producer/First Zombie, respectfully). Russo added scenes with Hinzman and made several other changes none of which enhanced the film. This is the version that was most inspired by George Lucas’ augmentations to the original Star Wars trilogy and Steven Spielberg’s changes to E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982). A film whose existence has been forgotten by most. On the opposite side of the spectrum is the animated version NOTLD: Reanimated (2009), which is an artistic homage to the original as artists from all over the world augment and/or animate segments of the film in different styles creating a unique amalgamation of a film. Despite having no connection to the original filmmakers of the ’68 classic this is the ultimate fan-film of love not just to the film but to fans of the horror genre in general.
Before digital 3-D technology revolutionized the industry NOTLD 3-D (2006) was released upon the world in a limited theatrical run using anaglyph technology. This Sig Haig (of Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects) starring monstrosity utilized every cliché of the 3-D movie while retelling NOTLD in a modern day setting. This film is better left forgotten as is its sequel NOTLD: Re-Animation (2012). This being said both films do have some decent gore gags but the overall plot of the films are lacking despite the horror icons that populate the films (Re-Animation stars Andrew Divoff and Jeffrey Combs).
In this same vein of the 3-D remakes is NOTLD: Resurrection (2012) from the UK which is completely uninspired despite the modern day setting. What makes the film an atrocity is the horrible script, bad acting, amateur cinematography, and complete lack of any originality. The same cannot be said of Mimesis: NOTLD (2011) which is a self-aware, home invasion style film in which a group of people find themselves reliving the events from the film. This is actually a pretty entertaining new take on the material.
Up next are all the unofficial sequels which are all the films Romero had nothing to do with. Return of the Living Dead (1985) and its four sequels are the most famous. The first film redefined zombies again by claiming that the events of the film NOTLD really happened. Zombies in the film were also intelligent and could speak but the true difference is that these zombies craved brains instead of any old body part. This film ushered in a whole new and different type of zombie. Of note is the fact that this film was originally conceived by NOTLD co-writer/producer John Russo who would also produce NOTLD: 30th Anniversary Edition and Children of the Living Dead (2001). With the exception of Return all of Russo’s subsequent films have been atrocities to the legacy of the original. Bill Hinzman (the First Zombie see in the original NOTLD) decided to expand his character’s role by developing the film Flesheater (1988), which he also directed, but this film is marked with a bad script, horrible acting, subpar makeup effects, and uninspired action and gore sequences. This is an amateur film in every way despite the pedigree behind the camera. This film has about as many redeeming qualities as Day of the Dead 2: Contagium (2005). Ana Clavell and James G. Dudelson purchased the sequel rights to the original film to craft this in name only sequel that has nothing to do with any of the Romero films. It does have zombies but that in and of itself does not make a good film.
The last in name only sequels would be Zombie 2 (1979) also known as Flesh Eating Zombies (and even more simply Zombi or Zombie). In Italy the original Romero Dawn of the Dead was released as Zombi and this is the Lucio Fulci directed sequel/prequel to that film which was an easy way for Fulci to cash in on the success of a popular film. Fulci directed a more traditional zombie film with the use of a voodoo like religion and the dead rising from their graves. Since the Italian film industry was very fond of ripping each other off and changing the titles of a film whenever it suited them. There are actually three more films in the series (plus maybe a few more with titles changed). Italian zombie films are a completely different monster all their own.
Now that you have a better understanding on just how many films are associated with Romero’s films (not to mention the list of documentaries on hand) the question to ask yourself is – How much is too much?
Romero himself may have taken a break from producing another post-Survival of the Dead (2009) and he may have a complete disregard for all the films cashing in on his legacy but that won’t stop them from being made. On average, there is a new film produced every couple years and along with the comic and graphic novels there is no sign of NOTLD’s popularity from subsiding. So even though there are too many different films and stories currently out there, as zombie fans we can always do with a few more.
Either that or you can wait until Romero produces another zombie film (since I’ve seen them all on the big screen since ‘90s remake).