Andrew Divoff - Gerald Tovar, Jr.
Jeffrey Combs - Harold Tovar
Sarah Lieving - Cristie Forrest
Robin Sydney - DyeAnne
Adam Chambers - Russell
Denice Duff - Sister Sara
Melissa Jo Bailey - Aunt Lou
Genre - Horror/Zombies
Running Time - 88 Minutes
In the town of Hinzmanville, Pennsylvania, Gerald Tovar Jr. (Andrew Divoff) has inherited his late father's mortuary practice, Tovar & Son. Not pleased with his goth assistant, DyeAnne (Robin Sydney), and her work on the recent corpses, Gerald and his secretary Aunt Lou (Melissa Jo Bailey) hire a more qualified assistant in straight-laced Cristie (Sarah Lieving) to replace DyeAnne. While dealing with personnel changes, Gerarld's brother Harold (Jeffrey Combs) makes a visit in need of a lot of money. As the two bicker about this and other subjects, Gerald reveals to Harold that the mortuary is really a cover for the U.S. Government to hide corpses injected with some chemical that brings them back to life. Harold is skeptical at first until zombies begin to crash the mortuary.
I have three words for NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: RE-ANIMATION:
WHAT THE FUCK!?
1968's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is a horror classic that not only changed how audiences looked at zombies, but it changed how horror films were conceived at the time. It allowed director/writer George A. Romero to become an icon in the genre, as it allowed him to direct other high-profile projects as well as five other DEAD films to varying success. Unfortunately, Romero didn't put a copyright on NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD [some legal snafu or something], allowing the film to be put in the public domain to be remade by anyone with a camera who wants to use the title whether it reflects the subject matter or not. There are so many other NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD films out there [the best being the 1990 Tom Savini remake that Romero collaborated on], that you lose track which one is which these days.
In 2006, director Jeff Broadstreet remade his own version of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, starring Sid Haig and using 3-D technology. Unfortunately, not only was it a bad remake, but one of the worst horror films I've seen in the last 10 years. The idea that NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: RE-ANIMATION was intended to be a prequel to that remake is boggling to me. Did anyone really care how the events of that film came to pass? Was the 3D technology, which isn't the version I watched, necessary again? And why are genre actors Andrew Divoff and Jeffrey Combs starring in this? Oh... I get it now. RE-ANIMATION as in RE-ANIMATOR! Oh, how clever.
Surprisingly though, I actually liked this "prequel" more than I did the remake it's connected to. Not by much, mind you. But hey, it was an improvement and you gotta give credit where credit's is due. Still a piece of crap, but it's still an upgrade!
Good Things: The only real reason anyone should watch NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: RE-ANIMATION is for the two leads - Andrew Divoff and Jeffrey Combs. Divoff, of WISHMASTER and Lost fame, plays the main role of Gerald Tovar, Jr. - the same role that Sid Haig played in the 2006 remake. And thankfully we follow his story the most in this film because Divoff is the best part of this so-called prequel. There's a subtle edge in his performance - playing a character you want to sympathize with somewhat, yet his actions and behavior towards the last half convince you otherwise. Divoff makes Gerald a much deeper character than probably what the script had intended, coming across as Norman Bates-ish in some ways - normal on the outside, but really messed up internally. I really enjoyed him here. As for Jeffrey Combs of RE-ANIMATOR fame, as well as multiple Star Trek roles and other horror/sci-fi ventures, he's good but doesn't have enough material to really pull off a great performance. He plays your typical greedy, conceited younger brother who has no problem selling out his brother's secrets to get easy money. Combs plays the role as well as he can, although I'm sure the paycheck was the real incentive. But at least he has very good chemistry with Divoff, and their banter and dialogue whenever they're onscreen together is entertaining - only because they're the two actors performing them.
The rest of the acting isn't great, but it's not the worst either. The characters they play are just archetypes. Robin Sydney played the Goth Girl who liked to smoke pot and bang corpses, since that's what Goth Girls do I guess? She was alright. Sarah Lieving was okay as Cristie, although her character really didn't add anything to the story at all. Plus, she does have more than one emotion besides stoic, right? Adam Chambers as Russell was the stereotypical pothead. And Melissa Jo Bailey was good as Aunt Lou, although her best moments are when she's a zombie. Plus you have Denice Duff looking and acting like a Sarah Palin wannabe. Pretty middle-of-the-road stuff, but I'll put it on the good side since the acting didn't bother me all that much.
I also thought the make-up job was actually very good in this film. The zombies did look dead, with some nice detailing in their faces and corroded bodies. I was expecting less actually, and was pleasantly surprised by the work done. The CGI blood splatter was a different story, as it looked ridiculously fake. But it barely happens, so not a total eye sore.
And while the script itself will be discussed on the Bad side, I did enjoy a bit of dialogue between Gerald and Harold after Gerald explains what the crematorium is really being used for:
Harold: "Are they slow? Are they shamblers or sprinters?"
Gerald: "They're slow, Harold. They're dead."
Harold: "Ah, Romero Zombies. This has happened before back in '68, again in '78, in Louisville, Kentucky in '85, and again in '90. I heard that one was a bit gorier."
I don't care how pointlessly meta it is. I found that bit of dialogue quite amusing. Plus, the characters live in Hinzmanville, PA - in honor of the first Romero zombie, the late Bill Hinzman. When the story gets things right, it gets them quite right.
Bad Things: Unfortunately, when the script gets things wrong, it really gets them wrong. And that's mainly the issue with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: RE-ANIMATION - the narrative doesn't add much to anything by its conclusion. Like a Romero Zombie, it meanders around until it finds a schmoe like me to prey on.
For a supposed prequel, it didn't really connect itself to what it was trying to explain in the 2006 remake. The only connections are that Gerald Tovar, Jr. and zombies appear in both. I guess it also explains, without doing much explaining, how the zombie outbreak came to be. Pretty much the evil government was behind it all. Yeah, that's original. And not much is done with that aspect either. So why bother?
There's also some commentary on politics with the Sister "I'm a Sarah Palin lookalike" Sara character, who works for Fix News. There's some dialogue bashing the Tea Party, calling them "crackpots" for being too conservative when it comes to societal issues. I get that George A. Romero used these zombie films as a way to convey some sort of language. NIGHT was about the Vietnam War and civil rights. DAWN was about mass consumerism. DAY was about the social ills during the Reagan Era, especially towards women and outsiders [zombies] in general. LAND was about a class divide between rich and poor. And so on. But what these filmmakers failed to realize and that all the social commentary stuff was only the subtext. Romero was getting his points across through the story, which at the end still looked and felt about a zombie apocalypse with interesting enough characters we can relate to and follow as they deal with it. Here, the political subtext is anything but subtle. And what's worse is that it doesn't add anything to the narrative, or go anywhere besides having an actress look like Sarah Palin. If you don't know how to do subtext, why do it at all?
I think the biggest issue about NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: RE-ANIMATION is I'm not even sure what this film is even really about. What is the film's purpose for existing? Is it about Gerald? If it was, I felt his arc finished before it even got started. The guy was obviously descending into madness due to the whole "Life's Blood" chemical that raised the dead, and his moral ambiguity about it. I wish the film focused more on that as a character study, because Gerald was the most interesting thing about this film. Is it a zombie film? Because if it was, you couldn't really tell. Besides a random attack in the beginning, some shots of them [including a zombie baby in a fridge that never appears again] in the middle, and the zombie invasion at the end, it's just scenes of characters talking and/or smoking pot. The Walking Dead this ain't! And if it was trying to be a prequel, it failed big time. I would have had no clue this took place before that 2006 remake besides the fact that one of the characters appears in both movies. The only thing this did was make that remake look worse, because this was a better film than that one. And why would Gerald be surprised by zombies existing in a later film, but know quite a lot about it in this film? Confused much?
Plus, I felt Jeff Broadstreet didn't do justice to the narrative with his visuals. I understand it's a low budget film, and I respect how much he got out of that to make a feature. But when you're shots are framed in an odd way, your composition is uninteresting, and your pacing [especially that dull middle section that had me playing with my phone for some of it] is uneven, I gotta call it like I see it. The actors also seem without much direction, which is a shame. Like I've always said, if the script isn't that great, at least compensate with interesting visuals. The flashback black-and-white and saturated red coloring was cool and added life to the film for a short bit. But other than that, I was bored with how the film looked. And I only really noticed the intended 3D stuff in the final act, when things were popping towards the screen. I can't say if it worked or not though as a 2D film.
THE FINAL HOWL
While it was slightly better than what I was expecting, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: RE-ANIMATION still manages to be a dull time overall. Besides Andrew Divoff's and Jeffrey Combs' performances, and good zombie make-up effects, there is really no reason to force yourself to watch this supposed "prequel" to a terrible remake from 2006. Unless you like boring and inconsistent narratives, bland direction, and political subtext that doesn't add anything to the rest of the film. And with only a few scenes with the undead, it can barely call itself a zombie film. For a movie called NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: RE-ANIMATION, it's ironic how lifeless it is.