On a trip to a country graveyard to pay their respects to their mother, Barbara (Patricia Tallman) and her brother are attacked by a monstrous stranger. This signals the start of an ordeal in which it becomes clear that the recently dead have returned to life to destroy the living...
For legal reasons, George A. Romero and his business partners decided to remake Romero's classic 1968 horror so that they could retain the rights. Special makeup effects maestro Tom Savini was brought on board to direct, and the result was a colour retelling of the original, with a few new twists added.
The trouble is, even with those new twists, the 1990 version will never have the impact of the 1968 version. That film was so groundbreaking that many of its innovations - the violence, the downbeat plotting - have become clichés themselves. The remake seems like a conventional nineties horror now.
That's not to say it isn't enjoyable, in fact it's better than you might expect. Savini handles the action and makeup sequences well, although is not so strong on the dialogue scenes. The bleakness of the original is retained, but the humour of the two sequels is dispensed with, creating a more grim and serious project. The hopeless nature of the story sees people failing to cope with a major crisis, finding it easier to fight amongst themselves or make fatal mistakes.
Ben (Tony Todd) is an intense, square-jawed and resourceful hero who, as before, clashes with abrasive Harry (Tom Towles), a man whose strong sense of self-preservation puts others in danger. But Barbara does not descend into catatonia this time, becoming instead a trigger happy woman of action, driven by her disgust and despair at the desperate situation.
The conclusion that the living are no better than the dead perhaps stretches the point a little - not everyone's a gun-toting redneck who see the zombies as an excuse to shoot people in the head. But it's refreshing to watch a horror that takes itself seriously after all those jokey shockers of the 1980's. And I like how the disaster is never properly explained. Droning synthesiser music by Paul McCollough. Don't you think Tom Towles looks like a white, balding Antonio Fargas?