By all rights, a remake to Night of the Living Dead should be a movie that I absolutely hate. But you know, when you get George Romero rewriting the original script and Tom Savini directing, it already had a great shot of having me be happy. Yet Savini told Film Monthly that there was an even better movie that he didn’t get to make: “It was the worst nightmare of my life. No, I still have nightmares of being on the set directing that movie. It all started before the movie. It was a plethora of why and how dare you?! I’m getting the same slack now because I’m in the remake of Dawn of the Dead. Listen the thing that kept me going on the Night of the Living Dead set was that George asked me to do the FX on the original film back in 1968. But I was in Vietnam when he shot that. You know I had enlisted in the army and they called me in. So what kept me going on the set was that I realized that I didn’t get to do the first movie and now here I am directing the remake. My problem with the remake and the reason I call it a nightmare is because you know I had lots of ideas. I had some eight hundred-story boards and the whole movie was actually shot on paper. See George Romero wasn’t there. George was off in Florida writing the Dark Half. I got stuck with these two idiot producers that didn’t know anything and their careers prove it and you know I didn’t want to make their bad movie for them. You know my hands were just slapped all over the place I couldn’t do a lot of stuff. The movie is about forty percent of what I intended. It would be a much better movie if I had got to put in all the stuff I really wanted to do. Then the MPAA hit us hard. You know with my name on it and George Romero they were waiting for us. And they made us cut some more stuff so it’s kind of a sterile film.”
Those producers would be Ami Artzi, who also produced several movies for 21st Century starting with The Forbidden Dance, and Declan Baldwin, who went on to produce American Splendor, Manchester by the Sea and Captain Fantastic, so he seemed to do pretty well.
Regardless, the whole reason for the remake was that thanks to the court battle over the rights to the film — as well as the mistake that caused the copyright notice not to be included — Romero never saw any money from his original film. Even when he won the case, the distributor went out of business before he got any money.
Romero contacted Menahem Golan when he heard that 21st Century Film Corporation wanted to make a remake. This remake would bring together Romero, John Russo and Russ Streiner for the first time in 20 years. Savini was supposed to only do the special effects but Romero talked him into directing the film.
Sure, we know the story — starting with Barbara (Patricia Tallman) and Johnny (Bill Moseley) getting attacked in a cemetery — and if the players are the same (Ben is the hero and played by Tony Todd, Harry is still a horrible person and played by Tom Towles), the fact that this movie gives Barbara more agency and doesn’t have her grow catatonic worked with me. How great is it that this one ends with Streiner — as a cop — saving Barbara instead of menacing her in Evans City Cemetery?
Despite the fact that filming was on time and on budget, Menahem Golan and his producers insisted on cutting out scenes to keep costs down. Savini could do little to stop them. He also blamed the multiple MPAA cuts as the reason why so few horror fans were excited about this movie.
I know that I was in a theater the first and only weekend this played in Western Pennsylvania and when Bill Cardille showed up and read the cities where the zombies were showing up, there was sheer joy and outright yelling in the theater. I hoped that this movie would be a bigger deal and yet even three decades later, no one seems to think about it.