The Homage Remake
George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, though it’s not as widely respected in the mass-public as the films of Leone and Kurosawa, is a historic film in its own right. Not only is it the film that launched the modern zombie genre of the walking dead who crave human flesh and can be dispatched with a shot to the head, but it blazed social trails by including a non-stereotypical African-American man as not only the lead, but a self-less hero. It is in many ways as successful a story as Yojimbo and in its own way is as well made. It too was made in black and white well into the color-film era, and it too launched a series of copy cats, parodies, and sequels. The 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead, made by special effects guru and Romero alum Tom Savini was a different kind of remake than Fistful; it was the exact same film with a new cast on updated film. Savini had no desire to one-up the great Romero. It was a gorier, little-more-rowdy version of the original and introduced the genre to an entire generation of kids who refused to watch black and white films strictly because they were black and white. In many ways this 1990 remake renewed a waning interest in zombie horror.
The Premise Remake
When interest in new zombie horror films peaked again after 28 Days Later, a film that broke from Romero’s rules and created its own mythology became another remake of a Romero film that brought the genre back to its roots. Dawn of the Dead (2004) is a new generation of remakes. This film, unlike the previous two examples, took merely the premise of the original (people fleeing zombies barricade themselves into a mall) and wrapped an entirely new narrative around it. In the original Dawn of the Dead (1974), Romero used the zombie genre to comment on social issues once again, this time mass-consumerism, as the people stuck in the mall are initially more concerned with stealing money, goods and enjoying living the good life in their castle-of-inexhaustible-delights. The 2004 remake by Zack Snyder takes the premise of people fleeing the zombie apocalypse to a mall but says very little about consumerism (there is one line, “I don’t want you sneaking around and stealing shit.”). Instead, it is more about how personalities respond when sequestered together, moral decisions, and survival. While Snyder’s remake is not as culturally poignant, it is still a fun movie that maintains Romero’s mood of straight horror with some comedic undertones. It too, is a successful remake as it takes the premise, builds a new story, and does it well. It’s flashier, brighter, faster, and slicker than Romero’s film, but its rock video veneer matches its style and lends itself to the story. It never insults the original or claims to be superior; it more or less ignores it and simply uses its premise to make a new, entertaining movie.