Night of the Living Dead: Reanimation (Jeff Broadstreet, 2012)
To put it kindly, Night of the Living Dead: Reanimation has been savaged on the Internet, with just a 3.1 rating on IMDB. I think it suffers from the same disease that pummelled the stupid-yet-oddly-entertaining 2008 Day of the Dead “remake”–”it’s not canonical!” Which is absolutely true, and I will warn you right now I’m about to give Jeff Broadstreet a pass on something I castigated George Romero for in Land of the Dead (and I’m giving Broadstreet a pass because this isn’t a canonical film in the NotLD universe). But let’s face it: given the average quality of the canonical films that have come out in the past ten years, culminating in the loathsome Survival of the Dead, well, I’m really starting to prefer the movies not made by George A. Romero. And this one’s got something truly special, albeit in the cheesiest of ways: it’s Wishmaster‘s Andrew Divoff squaring off against Re-Animator‘s Jeffrey Combs. You’re talking about a recipe for cheesy greatness here! And while I will be the first to tell you this is a low-budget (despite the 3D—and I should note for the record I saw it in 2D), amateur, labor-of-love kinda film, it’s not even playing in the same city, much less the same zip code, as Survival of the Dead, and it is immensely preferable.
Plot: Gerald Tovar, Jr. (Divoff, taking the role Sid Haig played in the 2006 Night of the Living Dead 3D) is the only funeral director in Hinzmanville, PA. (Yes, that is the level of inside-jokey humor to be found in this movie, and you know what? I loved it.) He works there with his Aunt Lou (Geppetto‘s Melissa Jo Bailey), aide Dyeanne (The Lost‘s Robin Sydney), and general handyman/stoner Russell (Redemption‘s Adam Chambers). Gerald has himself a small problem for a funeral director: he’s pyrophobic, and so every time someone has wanted a body cremated since he took over, he’s just kind of… stored it. At the same time, he’s kept up pappy’s old business of taking in medical waste (a government contract, of course!), and he doesn’t burn that, either. A couple of weeks ago, they delivered something that, when combined with the corpses, started having nasty side effects. But the zombies—and as a side note, the funeral home is not the only place the zombies are popping up (in fact, we are told in a TV clip the characters are watching that the Vice President of the United States is a zombie!)–are far from Gerald’s only worry. His younger brother, veterinarian Harold (Combs), has turned up looking for money. He’s not happy with Dyeanne’s work, and has just hired recent mortuary school grad Cristie (Lakeview Terrace‘s Sarah Lieving) to replace her. Some whistleblowers are sniffing around, having got wind of pappy’s side business. You know, that sort of thing. Oh, and Russell keeps getting the workers stoned…
Yes, it’s stupid. It’s gratuitous in at least one scene (Dyeanne, it turns out, seems to be based on Karen Greenlee, which is the only way I can say that without spoilers; wikipedia the name if you want to know more without seeing the film), which paves the way to a scene that rivals the girl-on-girl kiss in Land of the Dead for sheer gratuitousness. But again, this isn’t Romero-canon, it’s Jeff Broadstreet making a loose sequel to an even looser remake that parts ways completely with canon. So you want to throw in a gratuitous sex scene? Go right ahead—I mean, you’ve already stuck a pot-smoking zombie in less than two minutes previous.
I don’t mean to imply this scene is synecdochic of the entire film. It’s an anomaly, though not too much of one; there’s a lot of stuff that’s in here just for laughs, or just for nostalgia purposes (the first TV clip we hear Aunt Lou watching is Chilly Billy’s news report towards the end of Romero’s ’68 classic), that does nothing at all to advance the film’s admittedly paper-thin plot. (But come on, save the original Dawn of the Dead, what was the last zombie movie that did have a plot? White Zombie?) When you’re making a movie that’s basically plotless—and even worse, derivative—you’ve got to work on points for style, as David Gilmour once said. And I’m not entirely sure what Jeff Broadstreet was slipping into folks’ drinks when he was making this movie, but he managed to coax performances out of these folks I haven’t seen in dogs’ years—or ever seen. The last time I remember liking Jeffrey Combs this much was The Frighteners (1996). Divoff? Never been this good. Same can be said for Sydney, though she’s been around much less time. If she keeps throwing out performances like this one she’s got a very bright future ahead of her. In fact, all the principals here are very good, though some of the minor characters could’ve used some… okay, a lot of… work. Specifically, Denice Duff, a mainstay of the Subspecies franchise, portrays a Sarah Palin knockoff who never rises above one-dimensional parody. Imagine what Broadstreet could have done with a character like that had he attempted to build in some classic-Romero-era satire. But when Broadstreet is on, he is on. Combs and Divoff’s first face-off, when you’re not quite sure whether Gerald is going to welcome him back into the family? That’s very good stuff, right there. If the rest of the film had been of that quality, we would have had a minor gem on our hands. Instead, we got a watchable movie with a number of missed opportunities, a number of surprising performances, and a lot of, in my estimation, undeserved brickbats being tossed at it from all comers. ** ½