GORE IN THE STORE
NIGHT OF THE ANIMATED DEAD **
Directed by Jason Axinn.
Starring Dule Hill, Katharine Isabelle, Josh Duhamel, Nancy Travis, Katee Sackhoff, Will Sasso.
USA 2021 71 mins Certificate: 15
Out on DVD, Blu-ray and digital on October 4th, 2021, from Warner Bros.
It’s to its eternal credit that George A. Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD retains so much of its impact 53 years since its original Pittsburgh premiere on October 1st, 1968. While Tom Savini’s 1990 remake – written by Romero – managed to find some compelling and fresh riffs on the original narrative and characters, few of the subsequent attempts to update, reboot or sequelise the property have been up to snuff. The ambitious NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: RE-ANIMATED (2009) used the original film’s audio track but was mostly awful. Jeff Broadstreet’s 2006 “re-imagining” NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 3-D, with Sid Haig, seemed like a low point (and generated its own sequel) while cash-grabbing original screenwriter John A. Russo’s 30th anniversary version (released in 2009 and without Romero’s involvement) incorporated exceptionally lame new footage. In the wake of all this dross, even the notably useless 1986 colourised version of the original film from Hal Roach Studios – with green-faced zombies – doesn’t seem nearly as much of an insult as it did at the time.
Jason Axinn, whose 2019 TO YOUR LAST BREATH offered a lively, animated spin on the cycle of SAW-inspired sadistic-puppet master gore movies, clearly had good intentions for his condensed animated remake of the Romero classic. NIGHT OF THE ANIMATED DEAD amps up the pacing, running around 60 minutes without credits (about 35 minutes shorter than the 1968 film) while using the same script, duplicating many of the same shots and camera movements. The voice cast is impressive: PSYCH fans might get a kick out of seeing (or, rather, hearing) Dule Hill (as ostensible hero Ben) and James Roday Rodriguez (as the doomed Tom). Nancy Travis and Josh Duhamel are solid as the ill-fated Coopers, and Katharine Isabelle takes the role of the alternatively hysterical and catatonic Barbara. It’s always good to hear Katee Sackhoff, albeit here confined to the disposable role of short-lived, one-dimensional Judy.
From the start, Axinn uses the format to amp up the bloodshed: although its shock beats remain impactful on repeat viewings, Romero’s film looks relatively restrained on the graphic violence front from the perspective of post-Fulci zombie cinema. Barbara and Johnny’s cemetery confrontation with the first zombie now has much bloodier detail, while young Karen’s matricide moment and Ben’s grim fate are more explicit. The visceral standout involves a showstopping retooling of Tom and Judy’s gruesome fate.
Unfortunately, it’s almost entirely pointless. There are no surprises other than the increase in onscreen gore. Sporadic diversions from the original structure and content accommodate extra zombie action (Ben’s flashback to a confrontation at a gas station) that Romero couldn’t afford but fail to compensate for the lack of tension or atmosphere. Worst of all, the look is flat and uninteresting: Mexican company Demente Animation Studio have given us an animated NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD with no style whatsoever. (The Blu-ray cover art looks better than anything in the film).
The disc comes with a 10-minute featurette in which the likeable Axinn, amongst others, talk about the need to increase the gore to fulfil modern expectations while stretching credibility a tad by calling Katherine Isabelle a “legendary scream queen”. Almost everybody states the obvious, including a need to hammer home how much the redneck mob at the end of the story really don’t care about the lives of others. The stated mission – to reinforce how powerful the original film is by making it in colour and in animated format – still falls into the category of “why bother?”