I went in blindly, knowing very little about it except that it starred two of my favorite living genre actors: the indefatigable Jeffrey Combs, the RE-ANIMATOR himself (hence the reference in the long title of this opus), and former WISHMASTER Andrew Divoff. I’d also read the slight story synopsis and some promising pictures. Perhaps I set my expectations too high.
The first thing you need to know before going into this is that it’s a prequel to another 3D movie released in 2007, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 3D by the same director, Jeff Broadstreet. As we all know, because of copyright slippage, Romero’s ’68 classic is now everyone’s bitch to be ripped off, remade, reshaped and rearranged, and Broadstreet retold the story of Ben, Barbara, the Coopers et al, but added new characters, such as pyrophobic mortician Gerald Tovar, played by Sid Haig. The reviews for this movie were tepid, though at least Haig was given fair dues for spicing up what was apparently a limp story. I’ve not seen it, don’t want to see it, and everything I’ve read hasn’t convinced me to change my mind.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 3D: RE-ANIMATION is as stated a prequel, apparently taking place a day before the 2007 movie, which I didn’t know about going into this. Not that I think it would have helped much.
Andrew Divoff takes over from Sid Haig in the Gerald Tovar role, a wound-up funeral director running the family’s slapdash business in Hinzmanville, just outside of Pittsburgh (though it looks remarkably like downtown LA. Hinzman is also a nod to Bill Hinzman, the first zombie seen in Romero’s first movie. It’s the first of many subtle and not so subtle nods to Romero’s work). He gets help from his sympathetic Aunt Lou (Melissa Bailey, GEPETTO), pothead Russell (Adam Chambers, from the first NOTLD3D), and stereotypical Goth chick and budding necrophiliac DyeAnne (Robin Sydney, GINGERDEAD MAN). Gerald is a little preoccupied, insisting the doors to the crematorium stay locked, shooing away mysterious men in mysterious vans wanting to offload mysterious containers. Oh, and murdering anyone who sees a stray zombie shuffling around.
He welcomes new apprentice Christie Forrest (Sarah Lieving, MEGASHARK VS CROCOSAURUS) into the fold, and is unexpectedly reunited with his estranged brother Harold (Combs, and admittedly together they do look like siblings), who was cheated out of his share of the inheritance from Daddy, and has now returned for some payback.
It is to Harold that Gerald spills the beans about what’s been going on: Gerald has been supplementing his income by allowing a company to store toxic medical waste on the premises, and of course this waste has been leaking out and reanimating nearby corpses. Right-wing conspiracy nut Harold seemingly believes him, and offers an amusing meta-referential speech about it:
“Are they slow? Are they shamblers or sprinters?”“They’re slow, Harold. They’re dead.”“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 lot gorier.”
Anyway, while prepping a fresh corpse for embalming, Christie takes a break to smoke a joint in the prep room with DyeAnne and Russell (because that’s what you do on your first day at work; just ask the guys who wrote this script). While high, Christie imagines DyeAnne writhing on top of the stoner corpse Christie had just been prepping. What does this have to do with the rest of the story? Bugger all.
Meanwhile, Gerald takes Harold to the crematorium, and the bodies are really piling up down there (with plenty of flies to justify the extra money you paid for the 3D), though there’s no sign of the police coming round to investigate all the missing folk. Harold still doesn’t believe him, until Gerald shows him a reanimated Daddy, tied up in the living room! Gerald’s motives for keeping the undead around are a little vague, ranting about the ‘Life’s Blood’ and other bullshit – but Harold has more profitable ideas, like harvesting the organs (I hope whoever gets the kidney filled with reanimating toxic waste doesn’t pay too much).
Look, you can pretty much write the rest of it yourself – and do a better job than what was presented here. The gore is minimal, mostly CGI, and at times I felt I was watching someone playing a game; I’ve seen better examples on THE WALKING DEAD. As the zombies multiply (not that you ever see more than one at a time until the end, and even then they seem very shy), no one thinks to call the authorities or even run away (as I wrote, it looks like it was filmed in busy downtown LA). The climax in the crematorium is as weak as anything I’ve ever seen, with Gerald (armed with a shotgun with unlimited ammunition) and Christie trying to wipe out the undead, displaying all the limp, languid boredom of a couple filling out their tax form.
A Sarah Palin lookalike (Denise Duff, SUBSPECIES 2,3 and 4) is clumsily written in just so we can later get a visual gag of Zombie Palin for a few seconds, but this bit of subtle political satire is hardly worth the wait. Divoff and Combs are decent actors, but wasted here, as the script has them spend most of their time just talking to each other. Literally just sitting around talking to each other. Hell, I’d rather have had Haig reprise his role; at least he could have chewed up the scenery and brought some energy to this lethargic affair.
Of the many, many films made on the back of the original NOTLD, the best remains Tom Savini’s 1990 remake. Savini set a high bar for any future filmmakers. Jeff Broadstreet’s effort here not only misses the bar, it’s still back in the locker room trying to work out how to tie his sneakers.