Before a certain Smurfs-in-the-jungle SF blockbuster recently made it uber fashionable again, the 3-D process had been filed away by historians of cinema as nothing more than a barrel-scraping gimmick for squeezing the last dregs of juice from dwindling, usually already over-sequel-ed franchises before they were finally consigned to the b-movie bone-yard for all time; its main legacy being the memory of a piercing headache and the slightly nauseous feeling induced by trying to focus your attentions on the onscreen details of numerous woe-begotten cinematic atrocities whilst struggling with the effort of remaining slightly cross-eyed for an hour-and-a-half. "Night of the Living Dead 3D" does a good job of reminding us of those innocent good ol' days by being about equally as dodgy as many of these old-school 3-D cinematic scrapings of yore . It's fitting that the subject should be a "Night of the Living Dead" remake as well: surely the most over-exploited and abused and ripped-off classic in Horror flick history in view of its public domain status. The only surprising thing is that it took till 2006 for the 3-D remake to hit our screens!
This version, directed by Jeff Broadstreet and with a screenplay by Robert Valding (based on the original by George A. Romero and John A. Russo -- which also gets a screen credit) bears at least as much in common with Tom Savini's 1990 remake, especially in terms of the antiquated, rubbery appearance of its zombies. They're the shuffling, doddery brand of undead, as well; none of your super- sprinting aggressive sort here! In fact, the crumbling zombies in this film seem more than usually unsteady on their feet, and appear to take forever reaching their prey, thus providing plenty of opportunities for those necessary shots where they're supposed to be looming menacingly out of the screen with grasping outstretched hands.
We start off with a clever shot in which we pan out from the opening of Romero's original flick, revealing the film to be playing on a TV screen on the counter of a diner, with the car of our own protagonists glimpsed in the background speeding past on the highway outside the window. This is a good way of introducing the 3-D depth effect while also giving a healthy nod to the source material. Valding then simply remounts the original's opening, introducing sister and brother Barb (Brianna Brown) and Johnny (Ken Ward) on their way to visit their aunt's grave. Throughout the film, we keep returning to various characters watching Romero's original black & white version on TV, so it actually ends up seeming slightly odd that neither Barb nor Johnny ever notice that they appear to be exactly replicating the events of that movie in their own lives. Surely they should have anticipated the dead returning to life as soon as they entered the cemetery gates!
In any case, Broadstreet and Valding do at least look as though they're trying to bring a few interesting new wrinkles to some otherwise careworn material -- in the beginning, anyway. Barb notices that there appear to be knocking noises coming from the grave bearing their aunt's coffin, and when Johnny ambles back to the car to look for help he's attacked by a group of walking cadavers, forcing an hysterical Barb to attempt an escape that takes her onto the premises of a nearby morticians, where even more rotting monstrosities appear to be in the process of feeding on anyone they can shuffle upon quick enough -- included among them a naked, portly, green-skinned walking corpse! Eventually, Barb is rescued by a handsome biker, and the pair wind up at the farmhouse setting of the original movie, where the current occupants are completely unaware of the on-coming zombie holocaust.
These occupants turn out to be a family of marijuana farmers, more unequipped than most for dealing with such unusual events, to say the least. This is where the film kind of stumbles to a halt before faltering, for although the film is echoing its illustrious forebear by confining its events to one location, there is never the taut sense of claustrophobia and overwhelming pressure-cooker tension that dominates the proceedings of Romero's siege-based classic. But that is not really surprising in a movie that, by necessity, seeks to emphasis depth of field at every available opportunity. Seeing as this is the whole point of a 3-D movie experience to begin with, it seems in retrospect to have been a huge mistake to have the entire cast shut up inside a house for most of the film's running time, when the nature of the effect means the film really needs to emphasis openness and image depth! Romero's original film actually achieves more in terms of sudden shock moments than this version ever does with all its showy 3-D blood spurts, CGI bullets whizzing past the head and gun points jutting into the living room, never mind the now obligatory (at least it seems so, after "My Bloody Valentine 3D") naked girl bounding across the screen. And as the eye inevitably tires and one struggles to maintain the 3-D effect against an increasingly blurred sense of vision, the slack pace and lack of suspense starts to make the whole enterprise more of an ordeal to be coped with than a thrilling and unique experience. The night-time setting seems to render the film rather colourless and visually lifeless as well, leaving us with nothing but the plot to latch onto for our edification -- and there is certainly not much joy to be found there!
Performances are a mixed bag too: Brianna Brown is a feisty enough performer, more than good enough for the burden of leading lady, but is given little to get her teeth into here; Joshua DesRoches is even more cardboard as the cipher that is now the character Ben, the authors seemingly going out of their way to make him as different as his namesake from the original film as possible by writing the role as thinly and as blandly as they can. The householder farmers, Mr & Mrs Copper (Greg Travis and Johanna Black) are given a potentially affecting little subplot concerning the fate of their errant daughter (Alynia Phillips), who has the misfortune to creep out of the house on the night of the zombie rampage, but it seems to get thrown away in a rush at the end. Meanwhile, Sid Haig's creepy and untrustworthy mortician character Gerald Tovar, Jr. is assigned plot exposition duties after finding his way to the remote farmhouse hideout of the other characters, that result in the film's at least fairly original explaination for the events; namely, that the zombie infection has been created by old and contaminated embalming fluid leaking into unburied corpses that have been leftover from unethical medical experiments. He eventually gets to bow out in an absurd sequence that ignores the rules of zombie infection in its desperate efforts to appear original and unexpected.
"Night of the Living Dead 3-D" is a fairly routine zombie flick in most respects, with the 3-D gimmick only intermittently providing fresh interest in a poorly revamped plot that never escapes first gear. My screener DV-R contained only the 3-D version of the film, but the retail copy should feature the film in both 3-D and conventional 2-D with two pairs of 3-D glasses provided for free. The audio is a robust 5.1 track with pretty clean separation, and the film's anamorphically enhanced 1.78:1 image is as good as can be expected given the murky low-budget nature of this failed restaging of an all-time classic. The disc extras were not available for review but you should be getting the following: a 'Making Of' documentary; Q & A with the filmmakers and actor Sid Haig at the New Beverly Cinema, Filming in 3-D; A Behind the Scenes Special; the Theatrical Trailer and a Blooper Reel. A fairly decent haul it seems, and the inclusion of the 2-D version of the film at least makes the thing partly watchable once the novelty of double vision and a thumping headache have worn off once and for all!
Stax Entertainment's Region 2 disc is available to buy in the UK from the 29th March 2010.