“Their coming to get you Barbra” a line that is echoed throughout the annals of film history. Carved deep into the nightmares of every audience member that sat nervously in the auditorium, peering through the gaps of their finger tips to watch George A. Romero’s timeless masterpiece: ‘Night of the living dead’. Yet a line that deserved so much more than what it received here. With the release of ‘Night of the animated Dead’ Warner brothers decided to update this legendary horror movie in a near shot for shot animated remake that does more to harm the legacy of the original than actually add anything of worth, except of course ‘animation’.
Frustratingly, this 2021 rendition follows the exact same premise of the original. A premise which paved the way for a whole sub genre of horror movies, Once again we open with siblings, Johnny and Barbra as they deliver flowers to their parents grave site, which leads to the pair being attacked by the very ghouls Johnny teases Barbra about with his “their coming to get you” line. It’s a brilliantly simple opening which sets the stage for a paranoia and panic filled fight for survival as a group of unlikely survivors are forced to coexist in a small house surrounded by the living dead. The narrative is timeless and beyond relatable yet this ‘new’ version refuses to offer up anything new or dare I say it, fresh, to experience, except for a brief animated sequence that was only ever referenced in a throw away line of dialogue, the sequence? How one of the characters made their way to the house. That’s it.
Director Jason Axinn (To Your Last Death), a relatively unknown director had the opportunity here to stamp his mark on a beloved movie, his vision could have led this movie in any direction he wanted, he could have chosen to shine a light on the movies deep rooted comments on race and police brutality which are still very prevalent in today society, maybe more now than ever or failing that at the very least he could have updated the events of the movie to today’s era, which may have led to a new perspective on the story. My point here is that he could have done anything, the possibilities were truly endless. The outcome, his vision became a floundering retread of the source material involving nothing more than adding bucket’s of gore to every scene. This time around heads explode and limbs are reduced to smouldering piles of blood stained pulp as our characters shoot, stab and bludgeon the dead in their efforts to survive the night.
For all of this movies short comings, it does manage to succeed in one major area, the voice acting. The voice acting here is top tier, Dulé Hill (Locked Down, Suits) steals the show with his nuanced yet commanding performance as Ben, a survivor and our guide through this early look at the end of civilisation. Ben is the epitome of the regular working class man turned post apocalyptic badass, a precursor to The Rick Grimes and Ash Williams-esque characters we have all come to love, which Hill presents with phenomenal line delivery harking back to Duane Jones’ original portrayal of the character. Beside him stands the original character you love to hate, the weasel that is Harry Cooper portrayed in all of his shameless glory by Josh Duhamel (Transformers, Batman: The Long Halloween). Duhamel and Hill lean on each other heavily in this movie as their central performances bare the weight of this sub par remake. It was their central conflict that sucked us into the world with the original and once again prove their worth even here. However, The other surrounding characters are far from standouts. To round out the group we have the typical zombie fodder such as Harry’s wife Helen (Nancy Travis), a young couple Vince and Judy (Stefan Marks & Katee Sackoff) and of course Barbra (Katherine Isabelle). Each character rarely has much to do except for when they are making poor decisions which have deadly consequences.
Now for the reason this remake exists, the animation. The animation used in This movie is very reminiscent of an early form of rotoscoping (for those unfamiliar with this technique, rotoscoping is a form of animation that animators use to trace over footage, frame by frame, to emulate realistic action) except here the execution of said technique is lacklustre at best. Gone are the expressive faces and explosive reactions given by the core cast found within Romero’s original, this time replaced by blank stares with only awkward eyebrow movements left to convey any essence of human emotion. At times I was left scratching my head, why? Why does this film look the way it does? this feature clearly had a budget which is evident from its casting of top acting and voice talents, so why did the producers opt in for this bizarre style of animation? What makes the art style worse is the effort the filmmakers went to create beautifully detailed backgrounds for each scene which further exposes the hideous nature of its animation. Even the zombies in this movie suffered, the pale lifeless shamblers are now less detailed than ever, their dead eyes now replaced with white shaded pupils cloaked in bland uninspired clothing. Never before have the undead looked so dull.
It’s no surprise that this isn’t the first remake of Romero’s classic. From over the top parody’s such as ‘Night of the living Bread’ to Tom savini’s 1990 remake of the same name, featuring a very, very young Tony Todd (Candy Man, Final Destination) as Ben. The legacy the original created for itself is historic and without it and it’s many incarnations, we most likely wouldn’t have zombies invading the media as much as they do today. It’s truly a movie everyone should experience at least once in their life time, and thanks to a slight copyright issue which left Romero’s movie open to the public domain, is now more accessible than ever. Night of the living dead is a great film, this just isn’t the version worth watching.
Animation, Horror | USA, 2021 | 15 | 4th October 2021 (UK) | Blu-Ray, DVD, Digital HD | Warner Bros HE | Dir.Jason Axinn | Katee Sackhoff, Josh Duhamel, Dulé Hill, Katharine Isabelle, Stefan Marks