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Night Of The Living Dead...and it's Sequels

George Romero and a shoestring crew of supporters filmed a little opus in 1968 called Night Of The Living Dead. Playing mainly to midnight movie houses, this was a lurid tale, shot purposely in black-and-white. Definitely not the order of the day. But in this quasi-revelatory tale, the bodies of the recently dead were suddenly coming to life and attacking the living. Those who were bitten by these flesh-eating zombies would without exception die and become zombies themselves.

At the beginning of the film, a pair of siblings are putting flowers on their late mother's grave. The girl (Judith O'Dea) is named Barbara, and her cynical brother Johnny (Russell Streiner) realizes a few moments too late that this boneyard is not a safe place. And once Johnny is overcome and Barabara is on the run, she eventually finds refuge in an abandoned farmhouse. There she joins forces with Ben (the late Duane Jones) plus some newcomers as the night closes in. With zombies all around them, this rag-tag group makes a desperate bid for survival, and the final outcome leaves an unsettling feeling with the viewer.

The sequel, Dawn Of The Dead, came in 1978. There was no continuity of characters, just of situation. Now, a group of refugees from a newsstation take a helicopter trip and land on top of a shopping mall in Anytown, USA. Once they dislodge the zombies lurking about and lock them out, this four-piece make the mall their own private Idaho, feasting upon the in-house restaurant's couisine and enjoying the recreational provisions in other closed-up stores. After a while, though, they become disenchanted by this mechanical dehumanization, and they opt to fly their helicopter to other more satisfying destinations. That's not before a biker gang suddenly breaks into their haven and wreak some havoc of their own with humans and zombies alike. When the final frame shows, with the remaining two (I won't say which) heroes escaping in the helicopter, the viewer is left with a cunundrum for assessment.

It eventually became necessary--specifially, in 1985--for George Romero to film a third installment. And Day Of The Dead is the least of his zombie trilogy. Granted, it's got the best special make-up effects of the entire run, and they're provided by Tom Savini, who also provided the awesome make-up effects for Dawn Of The Dead. In this tale, the military has found a way to train zombies to do their bidding. Or they think they have, until matters start to go haywire. A particularly ornery stalwart (Joe Pilato) makes enough waves until the floodgates open and the "friendly" zombies become the enemies once again. Such is life.

Five years. No appearance of the Twilight Of The Dead that kept getting hinted at in Fangoria magazine. Then along comes Tom Savini's kick-assed Night Of The Living Dead remake in 1990. No kidding, folks, this movie rocks your ass off two or three times. It's pretty faithful to Romero's original, though there are some amusing turns, such as Bill Moseley ("Chop-Top" in TCM 2) as Johnny. And Barbara, now played by Patricia Tallman, is no longer the blithering idiot she was in the first film. Now she's a Sigourney-esque heroine who kicks zombie arse alongside worthy new Ben stand-in (Tony Todd, who would later come to fame in horror films as Candyman). Other genre favorites also fill the bill, such as William Butler (Friday the 13th, Part VII) and Tom Towles (Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer) as the instantly-hissable Harry Cooper. When this remake's revised ending occurs, viewers will be cheering.

A full decade has passed since this last outing. Perhaps a new Living Dead film is warranted; perhaps not. But these stand as a testament to a singular vision in modern horror filmmaking.

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