What is the point of a 3-D zombie movie when the story and the scares have zero dimension to begin with? This and other pressing questions remain unanswered with “Night of the Living Dead 3D,” a juiceless quasi-remake of George Romero’s 1968 classic that, cardboard glasses aside, brings absolutely nothing new to the party. With “Saw III” and “The Grudge 2” still haunting U.S. theaters, even the most desperate horror junkies shouldn’t have to settle for less, and they won’t.
While helmer-producer Jeff Broadstreet and screenwriter Robert Valding clearly intend the pic as an homage of sorts, the result feels like a cynical attempt to cash in on a classic, one that will no doubt attract a few uninformed moviegoers expecting a 3-D version of the original. No less than the characters in this film, they are in for a grim surprise.
Setup is virtually identical to that of “Night of the Living Dead,” as siblings Barb (a feisty Brianna Brown) and Johnny (Ken Ward) drive to their aunt’s funeral, making banal chit-chat along the way. (The era is the present, however; they got their directions off Mapquest.) Upon reaching the cemetery, they are attacked and separated by a horde of slow-moving, flesh-eating uglies. So far, so good.
Separated from her brother, Barb is rescued by a motorcyclist named Ben (Joshua DesRoches), who takes her to a remote farmhouse where Henry Cooper (Greg Travis) lives with his family. Together, Barb and Ben try to convince Henry to call the authorities, but it’s not until after the zombies lay siege to the house and several characters suffer bite wounds that anyone begins to take their story seriously.
Jettisoning the pointed racial and political subtext that made “Night” one of the most genuinely subversive films of the ’60s, the pic instead affects a cheeky, self-referential attitude that serves only to throw its characters’ stupidity into high relief. At one point, the Coopers are shown watching the original film on TV (these clips constitute the most memorable footage in the entire movie), making it all the more mystifying that they don’t realize, until it’s too late, the fate of those who get bitten.
Pic’s only secret weapons are a rowdy barnhouse sex scene that inevitably ends with both participants getting disemboweled in the nude, and Sid Haig (the very scary clown in Rob Zombie’s “House of 1000 Corpses” and “The Devil’s Rejects”) as a creepy mortician who delivers a long-winded explanation about the causes of the zombie epidemic. Never mind that the sheer randomness of the assaults in most zombie movies — as eerie and inexplicable as the avian attacks in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” — is precisely what makes them so terrifying.
While the idea of a 3-D gore feature sounds promising (just imagine a hand reaching out of the screen to grab audience members by the intestines), Broadstreet and technical director Daniel L. Symmes haven’t exploited the possibilities of the form or upped the fright factor in any meaningful or innovative ways.
Low-budget production looks deliberately cheap. Cinematographer Andrew Parke favors a largely monochrome palette with erratic but muted bursts of color; seen through those red- and blue-tinted 3-D lenses, pic could very well give viewers eyestrain.