Why 2006’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 3D Doesn’t Suck as Hard as You Think

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SHOCK makes a kind-of case for the much hated 2006 “re-imagining” NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 3D.

Let’s get this straight before we proceed: I do not endorse or support the craven, opportunistic mechanisms behind the existence of 2006’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 3D. I’m very close with George A. Romero and friendly with John Russo and Russ Streiner. These three titans make up the surviving creative forces behind the original 1968 film NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, the nihilistic, nightmarish black and white shocker that not only laid the groundwork for the ferocity of the contemporary horror film but also pretty much invented the rules for the endlessly pillaged, pilfered, and proliferated zombie sub-genre. And as you likely know by now – or, maybe you don’t – due to the original distributor changing the title from NIGHT OF THE FLESH EATERS upon release and forgetting to have placed a visible copyright on the negative, NOTLD was presumed public domain and was duped and booted from here to Hell and back, to the point where the lads have never seen a nickel from its success (“it’s the one that got away!” says George today) and have no hope in hell of ever doing so.

With that said, I’m going to kind of, sort of, go to bat for a film that most people haven’t seen and those that have just spat at it for its insidious existence and most have simply forgotten about it.

Celebrating it’s 10th anniversary in existence, an unwanted birth if there ever was one, Jeff Broadstreet’s 2006 rip-off NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 3D is about to get a dose of long-denied praise. Get ready…

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The film, not to be confused with the excellent, Romero written, totally authorized, 1990 Tom Savini-directed remake, is a low budget affair, one that ruthlessly steals from the original film not just in its name, framework, narrative drive and character handles, but actually has the cheek to show NOTLD on TV screens throughout the picture. Indeed the famous lonely-road opening scene from NIGHT opens the film, before the camera pulls back to reveal a TV set playing the movie in an abandoned gas station and another “Barbara and Johnny” driving towards another cemetery. The squabbling siblings are en route to meet their mother for a visit to their aunt’s grave when suddenly their plans are foiled by a roving pack of stumbling, grabbing ghouls…including their now-zombified mum (to which oddly, Brianna Brown’s Barbara seems none-too-shocked by).

NOTLD 3D wastes little time getting to the zombie action as Barbara (or Barb as she prefers to be called) runs wild, corpses popping up ‘round every corner, straight through the ramshackle gates of the Tovar and Sons Crematorium, where she meets Gerald Tovar Jr., played by a wild-eyed Sid Haig. As Haig starts bopping zoms on the head, he turns to Barb and rather plainly says:

“You can’t be here, miss…employees only! Come back tomorrow!”

It’s the moment in the movie when we realize we’re not just watching a bullshit rip-off of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, we’re watching a blackly-comic, absurdist and revisionist rip-off of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (with more than a nod to Dan O’Bannon’s RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD) and Haig (who would go on to star in the other irreverent NOTLD riff MIMESIS) is totally in on the joke.

By the time Barb gets to the farmhouse where the pot-farming family live (including a bland, white-bread version of “Ben”), we’re in full-force, hyper-macabre EC comics territory, an aura that gets denser and more deranged when Tovar drags the survivors back to his ghoul filled crematorium and reveals the batshit crazy truth about the undead epidemic

The EC comics vibe continues with NOTLD 3D in its crumbling, oatmeal-faced zombie make-ups courtesy of FX man and TOOLBOX MURDERS 2 director Dean Jones and their cheapness works greatly in their favor. These zombies are the icky, super-scary kind seen in Italian horror films like ZOMBIE, BURIAL GROUND and HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD and seeing them parade around is like as if the props from some class of Halloween outlet store from hell just woke up and went looking for blood.

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage Mandatory Credit: Photo by c. Midnight/Everett / Rex Features (616842i) 'Night of the Living Dead 3D', Sid Haig, Brianna Brown 'Night of the Living Dead 3D' film - 2006

It would be easy to say that the performances are awful and they are, but they’re almost stylized in their badness; everyone speaks in hushed tones and there’s an eerie calm over their line-readings and physical movements. The whole thing feels like a 70’s exploitation film, something Harry Novak would pick up. On that note, it echoes the zom-horror of the Novak flick THE CHILD in its rural setting and night shoots.

I’m not sure if the film was released theatrically in your part of the planet but in Toronto, it ALMOST was. There was a press screening that I missed at a major downtown multiplex and then…nothing. No release at all. So while I never saw the film projected, it showed up on DVD early the next year in its native anaglyph 3D and I was quick to give it a spin as I’m a die-hard 3D junkie and will watch almost anything in the the format.

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Indeed this one was designed from the get-go to be in the usually problematic, budget-friendly old red/blue 3D which is rarely represented well on home video. Here, however the 3D is superlative, some of the best depth and “comin-at-ya” gags that I’ve seen in a 3D horror movie ever. And nowhere to be found is the usual anaglyph “doubling”; bloody hands reach through the screen, gun barrels pop from the TV, smoldering spliffs are laughably offered to the audience and even jiggling boobs bounce from the screen, all in perfectly sharp and illustrated in magnificently unsubtle detail.

Oddly, Broadstreet (who has been making weird, bad but interesting films since 1989’s Linnea Quigley vehicle SEXBOMB) would follow this with a prequel in 2012 called NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: RE-ANIMATION, which re-cast WISHMASTER’s Andrew Divoff as Tovar and had enough budget to nab Jeffrey Combs in a supporting role (“RE-ANIMATION”, RE-ANIMATOR…I get it). I haven’t seen that one so I can’t comment with any authority about its quality.

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NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 3D is most assuredly an insult to Romero, Russo and Streiner; an unauthorized plundering done without any respect or concern about making a buck off the efforts of real, still-living artists and riding without care or caution on the coattails of a masterpiece.

But it’s also kind of fun, refreshingly offbeat and even kind of spooky. And again, the extra gimmick of real deal vintage 3D is just the preservative-rich icing on the expired Ding-Dong.

It sucks. But that’s kind of what’s good about it.

Make sense? No? Oh, fuck it, just put on a pair of red ‘n blue’s and watch the entire film below. Since the producers ripped off Uncle George and company, I have no qualms about assisting you in doing the same…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3uFAhDlu0I