Sequels and Remakes: Night of the Living Dead Sequels

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After the eventual success of Night of the Living Dead, it would take George Romero 10 years to make his triumphant return to his world of the now growing zombie apocalypse, and this time he would be without most of his original team, most notably writer John Russo. But that is not to say that Romero had disappeared from the movie scene, in between that time he had directed four feature length movie, the last being one of his biggest none zombie films, Martin. So how could Romero make a rewarding sequel to one of the most influence horror movies ever made, and also do it without the man that had written the original script, four words that would once again rock the horror community; Dawn of the Dead.

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This movie is not a conventional sequel, following a central character from the last movie, but the next progression in the zombie outbreak. The movie opens with a chaotic newsroom, where people are still trying to both understand and cope with the zombie hoards outside. We are given some crucial info about the undead villains, and how to stop them, this is where we meet out first two main characters, Stephen, aka Flyboy, and our female heroine Francine. Stephen is the traffic copter pilot for the news team and tells Francine that he is getting them out of the city that is under siege by the dead.

The next scene is one that seems to clarify a central theme to all of Romero zombie movies, and that’s no matter what kind of threat humanity faces, we as people will always choose to kill each other instead. The scene starts with a SWAT team breaching an apartment building, the group that is holding the tenets hostage come rushing out, guns blazing. The team shoots their way into the building, and we get to see the first shots of the now colorized zombies, and just how gory this movie is going to be (now remember this was 1978, the gore in this movie isn’t as surprising now a days).

This is where we meet the other two characters, Roger and Peter. The four meet up and take off in the helicopter, along the way Romero does a get job introducing the characters traits, and how they all interact with each other. This helps you build an attachment to at least one of the four survivors, and helps pull you into the movie
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As I’m sure everybody knows, the helicopter lands on the roof of a mall and the characters have to decide whether or not they should stay and what their best course of action would be. Once again I don’t want to give away too much of the plot for anyone that hasn’t seen this movie, but once again this is one that if you haven’t seen, go watch it now. Also another great reason to watch this movie, as if you need another, is the great special effects works done by an almost unknown man by the name of Tom Savini, this movie then helped launch his career.

Rating: Good
You can tell that Romero put a lot of time into this movie, marking his glorious return to the zombie genre. He made sure that his characters developed and changed over the course of the movie, and made the plot as realistic as a zombie movie can get (not having people or zombies crawling on the walls and ceilings). All that is why this is not only my favorite zombie movie, but my favorite horror movie of all time, and a lot of “best of” list agree with me putting this movie in the top five greatest horror movies of all time. That isn’t to say that this movie is perfect, yes there are some continuity errors, and it can drag for a little in the middle, but the rest makes up enough that it should keep you glued to the screen as you watch humanity wage a losing war against the dead.

Now with the success that this movie had and the fact the Hollywood is trying to remake every movie that it can, it was only a matter of time until Dawn of the Dead was remade. And that day came 26 years after the original had shocked audiences across the globe, a new team would once again try to do the same. This time in the director’s chair would be an up and comer by the name of Zack Snyder, yes before he made the name Sparta relevant again, and before he gave a new image to one of the earliest superheroes, he made the dead walk… I mean run. And that of course is the biggest difference between the remake and the original, but there are plenty more.

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The story begins in a much different fashion, people are going about their everyday lives, and we get to witness Ana, a nurse at a hospital, finish her shift and go home to her loving family. They all go to sleep, but the next morning, everything has gone to hell. The dead have risen without warning and no one is prepared for what they are seeing. Ana drives away from her home, and zombie family, and eventually meets up with a group of survivors looking for a place to hide. They all end up at the mall, except in this movie they aren’t the first people to have this idea. They eventually all become one big group, as more people continue to show up, once again adding to their numbers. The group decides that the mall might not be the best place, so they take off in search of a better place, an uninfected place.

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There are really only two things that this movie and the original have in common, and they are the zombies and seeking refuge in the mall, almost everything else about the movie has changed, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This movie not only updates the original, but also gives it a fresh new look, that if you were a fan of the original or not, could enjoy. Another big thing that this movie had that the original might have been lacking in a little, is the amount of quality scares. From the first ten minutes to when the end credits roll, this movie is full of jump scares, and at least one of them you’re not going to see coming.

Rating: Good
I do have to admit that when I had first heard about a remake of Dawn of the Dead I was very excited, then when I first saw it in the theater, I hated it. This is not the movie that it was supposed to be, and after refusing to see it again for a couple of years after it had been released, I sat down and watched it again, leaving my feelings for the original out, and I finally saw what everyone else had seen, a really well done movie. This is not the same movie as the original, and it’s not supposed to be, that’s why it works. If they would have made a shot for shot remake of the original, it would have never been able to dominate like that movie had, so by using a little from the first and making the rest they wanted was the right way to go about this. This movie isn’t good in the same ways that the original, but it’s good in its own ways.

So is there any way that Romero could top his biggest hit with another sequel? In reality probably not, but he did make the third installment in his zombie universe a close contender. Day of the Dead was released only seven years after Dawn in 1985, and he brought a completely different feeling along with this one. The little bits of comedy that were included in Dawn are now gone and replaced with fear and dread.

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The movie opens with a small team, lead by scientist Sarah, landing in an abandon Florida City, calling out for any survivors that could possible hear them. The only response they get is from the dead, as they gather from every corner of the city to converge on the tiny helicopter. As they get back to the military compound that they call home, Sarah notices that a new grave has just been dug; Major Cooper has died, leaving the nefarious Captain Rhodes now in charge of the unit. As we go down into the underground bunker we get a glimpse at the world that both a group of scientist and the unit of military troops in place for protection live everyday. One of the next scenes we get to see in my opinion is one of the best in the movie. It starts with Sarah trying to help a stressed out and mentally exhausted solider named Miguel, in this one scene he runs the gambit of human emotions from anger, to sympathy, to fear as Sarah tries to sedate him. It’s a great scene that shows the reality of the film, how beaten down the human spirit would be, and how the trust between friends starts to run thin.

Next Captain Rhodes calls a meeting for all the people left alive in the bunker, this is where we found out just how ruthless Rhodes can be, as he threatens to kill the scientists if they don’t comply fully with his rules. The head scientist Logan, AKA Dr. Frankenstein, tries to calm everyone down, and as he tries to explain and we are eventually shown his prize experiment, a trained zombie named Bub, we see just how far off the rails he has become. Things quickly escalate between the soldiers and the scientists and it comes down to a finally brawl as each of the factions wants to escape on the helicopter and leave the others behind.

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This is a movie that can make you feel sad and depressed at the end of it, the dark and dreary set mixed with the fact that humanity has given up and failed to stop or cure the zombie apocalypse all lead to an ending that leaves you with a smile, until you realize what it truly means. With the end of Dawn, there was still hope that there might be some survivors in the world, but Day puts that notion to rest and tells you plain out that we lost and the world is doomed.

Rating: Good
What is the one thing that any good movie has in common with each other? The fact that at the end of it you feel one way or another, and just like Romero’s previous two zombie installments, this one does the same. It might not be the feeling that you were hoping for, but it does make you feel for the characters. This is the greatest example of the continuous conflict between human groups in Romero’s zombie movies and is easily the darkest in the series, which makes it a must watch. From the characters to the gore, it has it all and would have been a great ending point for Romero’s zombie anthology, except for…

So once again with a great movie would eventually come the unavoidable remake. This time it only took 23 years and they would have a more heralded director behind the camera, Steve Miner. Yes the same man that made such horror films as; Friday the 13th parts two and three, House, and even Halloween H20 (a movie that is either loved or hated), so what could he do with a movie that already has such colorful characters and dark tone already set for him? How about if you only use three and half of those characters (yes three and a half, the half being Bub, or Bud as they call him in this movie) and make the zombie outbreak almost laughable.

Like the Dawn of the Dead remake, this film has very little to do with the original movie, outside the fact that it’s about zombies and the military, it is completely original. The film opens in a small town where people are starting to get mysteriously sick. The military moves in quickly to quarantine the small town of Leadville Colorado, where we meet Ving Rhames, in his second remake of a Romero film, as this movie’s Captain Rhodes. He doesn’t command the respect or promote the fear that Joe Pilato’s Rhodes did in the original, and is a sad waste of this character. We also meet Sarah as she is now a corporal in the military back in her home town that she had left hoping never to have to return. She goes back to her parent’s house and finds her little brother and his girlfriend on the couch as their sick mother is upstairs in bed. They take the mother to the over whelmed and short staffed hospital, where everyone simultaneously goes from being sick, to a blank stare, to zombies.

The zombies tear apart the hospital killing everyone, except for a few people lucky enough to be down a secluded hallway at the time when they all turn. The zombies not only can run, but jump at least six feet in the air, and if they feel like it they can climb on the walls and ceilings. This is when the movie goes downhill fast; once the zombie horde comes the movie goes way over the top and gets ridiculous. Then it becomes a survival game as the characters over come insurmountable odds to get from point A to point B. Then when you thought it couldn’t get more out of hand, it switches mode to a Resident Evil clone and they find a hidden research lab under the town, where the zombie virus was made and the break out occurred.

Even with all this, the worst thing about this movie is the comic relief character Salazar, played by Nick Cannon. Not only does he play the race card as they are locked in a room surrounded by zombies, but he yells as loud as he can when they are trying to hide in the woods. The character does everything you should not do when you are trying to survive, and spits out pointless one-liners and bad puns that get very old.

Rating: Bad
All the pieces were there, the suspense, the plot (even if it is somewhat routine), and the practical effects and make up look great (The CGI is another thing), but the way they portrayed it all just came out wrong. The first 30 minutes are very promising but build you up for a BIG letdown. Once again if they would have changed the name of a couple of characters they could have changed the title and the film could have stood on its own. Steve Miner had the right idea, but seemed to present it wrong.

If you would take out the zombies and replaced them with regular sick people, this movie would have been a closer remake of Romero’s The Crazies then Day of the Dead. That’s not to say that this movie isn’t watchable, but it’s nowhere near as good as the original. Even as I write this there are some rumblings about the possibility of a Day of the Dead 2, I just hope that it’s better than my next entry.

Three years before the remake of Day of the Dead, a group of relatively unknowns made a sequel (if you want to call it that) to the original Day of the Dead, Day of the Dead 2: Contagium. Now before I dive into to this one, let me just name another movie that these two directors made right after this one; Creepshow 3, need I say more. One last thing I want to mention before I start this one, this is the exact quote from the back of the DVD “Part prequel, part sequel, and a total gut-ripping, gore-spewing homage to the original!” How can they go wrong?

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The movie opens on a military installation in Pennsylvania in 1968, so it takes place either right before or right after Night of the Living Dead, I would have to say that it probably is supposed to take place after NOTLD since the military already has knowledge about zombies. An outbreak occurs and a platoon of soldiers converge on the place, killing anything or anyone that moves. That is except for one man that steals a vile of the virus, hides it in a thermos, and makes it outside and down the road before he is finally brought down. The thermos lands and is somehow hidden underneath some brush as the military installation is destroyed.

Thirty-seven years later there is now a psychiatric hospital sitting on top of the same site as the military installation. We meet five men all sitting around talking, before one wonders off and happens upon the thermos. They all go back to the hospital where we get involved in a boring love story and the movie seemingly stretches on forever. The thermos is eventually opened and the vile falls out, releasing the virus and infecting the seven people around it. Now we are stuck watching as they slowly turn into the living dead, not really zombies since the virus only mutates your DNA causing different reactions in different people. Then everyone in the hospital gets infected and we get to see all the gut-ripping and gore-spewing that we were promised, but the lack of a story makes it very long and very boring. The cops come and break in to the hospital to try and stop everything, but the zombies break out, and the movie comes to an unsatisfying end.

Rating: Regrettable
I just don’t see how you can call this a sequel when it has absolutely nothing to do with the Romero version. They never clarify how they either reversed the zombie virus or destroyed all the zombies form the original. Nor do they make any connections to the original though the characters or locations. If they would have made the setting an island where the zombies couldn’t have gotten there, I might be able to make a slight connection, but they place it right on the east coast. And it’s not just the fact that it’s a sequel that has nothing to do with the original, (the Romero zombie films aren’t really linear sequels in the sense that they fallow a central character or characters but they do so the progression of the zombie outbreak, each one getting worse than the one before it) but that it is very slow paced and boring. If you really want to watch this movie, do yourself a favor; watch the first ten minutes then the last fifteen, everything else is just terrible filler. This one is going back on the shelf, hoping to never see the light of day again.

Twenty long years removed from the zombie genre, and a year after the theatrical success of the remake of Dawn of the Dead, (and to many people’s disbelief) Romero finally makes his return with Land of the Dead. This was by far his largest budgeted movie, and also the movie having the biggest stars; John Leguizamo, Simon Baker, and the great Dennis Hopper, with genre favorite Asia Argento. With the star power and the budget this should have been Romero’s masterpiece, but it just doesn’t have the same feel as the others did. It’s like he traded his story plot and character development for money and big names.

I also consider this the last sequel to the original anthology, I know he made both Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead after this one, but Diary starts the outbreak again, and Survival, being the first sequel to feature a character from the previous entry, does just that and continues on that time line. I like to think that Land is happening in the same time frame as Day, humanity is hanging on by a thread, and the zombies seem to be growing in size and learning.

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The movie starts with a raid on a small town, where we meet most the main characters; Riley, Cholo, and Charlie. They shoot off “sky flowers” or better known as fireworks form the mobile command center named Dead Reckoning, creating a distraction for the zombies. They grab what they can and head back to the only safety that they know in a city called Fiddler’s Green, a fortress that is surrounded by fences and water, and run by an egotistical man named Kauffman. When they get back to the town Cholo and Riley go off in there different directions, Cholo to go see Mr. Kauffman, and Riley hoping to get a car and leave Fiddler’s Green for good.

Even with Fiddler’s Green being the last real city in the world, it is still divided by the rich and the poor, the rich get to live in the luxury apartments, while the poor live on the streets. But like any city there are still places to go and blow off some steam, like seeing the zombie fights. This is where Riley goes, and happens to save a woman by the name of Slack, this gets himself, Charlie, and Slack all arrested and thrown in a jail cell were they would be left to rot, but it seems the meeting between Kauffman and Cholo didn’t go so well and Cholo decided to steal Dead Reckoning. So Riley takes his band of misfits out to find Cholo and get Dead Reckoning back, if not then Fiddler’s Green is going to be shelled with missiles by Cholo. What Riley witness next, is something beyond his worst fears and he has to either try and save Fiddler’s Green or cut his losses and head north.

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Now this is just the main plot, there is also a plot with the zombies and how they are learning to trust each other and work together. This is something that shouldn’t be lost on the viewer; the zombies are not fighting each other like the humans, but working toward a common goal. It almost makes you wonder if Romero was trying to say that the zombies aren’t the real monsters, but the humans are.

Rating: Good
This movie isn’t as good as the others, but it’s differently worth watching. I like to think of this movie as Romero’s swan song; he finally got the budget to do what he wanted, and seemed to go all out on the visuals. The story plot might have suffered a little because of that, but he finally had a chance to put a couple of his previous characters in for a few cameos. Even after 37 years, Romero still knew how to make a zombie movie that grabs your attention right away, and doesn’t let go until the credits roll.

I only have one more movie to take a look at, and it’s one that a lot of people either probably haven’t heard of, or didn’t think of it as a sequel to Night of the Living Dead. But it is the only sequel that follows an original character from the first movie, for more than just one or two scenes; Flesh Eater. This was Bill Hinzman’s attempt to bring back his character from Night of the Living Dead, the cemetery zombie, one of the first on screen appearances of the cannibalistic zombie. This movie was released ten years after Dawn, and three years after Day and Return of the Living Dead. So if both George Romero and John Russo made their sequels to Night, then why shouldn’t he be able to… well money was probably the biggest reason why it turned out the way it did. On an estimated budget of $60,000 (Day had a budget of $3.5 million and Return’s was $4 million) Hinzman tried his best, but came up a little short. This movie does boast the three b’s; boobs, booze, and blood, a lot of blood.

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The movie starts out with a bunch of teenagers on their way to spend Halloween night in the woods camping. They pass a farmer trying to rip a tree stump from the cold autumn ground, when he finally succeeds; he finds a strange marker with an odd inscription on it. He digs around a little more and finds a wooden coffin buried in the ground. When he opens it, a very familiar face to the audience is there to greet him. And the movie is off with the cemetery zombie’s (or flesh eater as he is known in the end credits) first kill, then he goes after the unexpecting teenagers. They all run and the zombies chase after them, striking fear into the heart of this little town.

The plot is very simplistic and that’s mostly what happens, zombies chase people, kill them, and turn them into other zombies which in return chase other people. The ending is what gets me though, it’s the same ending from Night of the Living Dead, the people and locations have changed, but it plays out the same way. Except that it doesn’t end after the mobs shoot everything, there is another five or so minutes after that which shows you what happens to the cemetery zombie.

Rating: Bad
This is one of those movies that it’s so bad that it’s kind of good, some of the acting makes you laugh, and the gore makes you smile a little, but in the end there just isn’t enough substance to say that it’s a good movie. Bill Hinzman’s heart seemed to be in the right place, trying to bring back his moment of glory for one last hurrah, but he makes the zombie seem almost too powerful, at least he doesn’t look as bad in this has he does in the 30th anniversary edition. This movie is worth a watch if you can find it. And if you can, as you’re watching it, you can really feel that Bill Hinzman put everything he had into this movie, but just didn’t have the budget to make it one of the greats.

I know that you might be asking why I didn’t go more into detail with the Romero movies and their deeper meanings; like Dawn and its connection with consumerism, Day with its connection to the Vietnam War, and Land with its look at social classes, but I just think that if you start diving more into that, then the movie looses a little bit of its entertainment value.

But this list just proves that with a thought provoking and ground breaking idea, that you can make some successful sequels, and a remake or two. But yes, I digress, this is not all the sequels to Night of the Living dead, and I know that one of the biggest ones is not on this list, so check back for my next entry when I dive into a series that hits both ends of the good and bad spectrum with Return of the Living Dead.

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