Night of the Animated Dead, yes you read that right, it’s an animated version of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Not that there haven’t been enough remakes of this film, from the official 1990 Tom Savini-directed version to Night of the Living Dead 3D and more recently Rebirth. This isn’t even the first animated one, Night of the Living Dead: Darkest Dawn retold it in a modern, urban setting back in 2015.
Director Jason Axinn (To Your Last Death) went back to John A. Russo’s original script in that film’s 1960s setting. The intent was to make Night of the Animated Dead a version that would stay true to the original while being more accessible to modern audiences.
In case anyone isn’t familiar with the plot, Barbara (Katharine Isabelle, Ginger Snaps, 13 Eerie) and her brother are visiting their father’s grave when she’s attacked by one of the walking dead. Fleeing, she finds herself in a house with Ben (Dulé Hill, The West Wing).
They find other survivors in the basement, Harry Cooper (Josh Duhamel, Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G, Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One & Two) his wife Helen (Nancy Travis, Rose Red, Last Man Standing) and their injured daughter. There’s also a young couple Tom (James Roday Rodriguez, Pushing Dead, Gravy) and Judy (Katee Sackhoff, Oculus, Don’t Knock Twice). They are able to survive the undead, but can they survive each other?
My admiration for Warner Brothers’ animation division has been made fairly clear in my reviews of their Batman and Mortal Kombat releases, and I was expecting similar quality here. That was my first disappointment. Disregard the film’s poster, Night of the Animated Dead looks nothing like it. The animation is as flat as the film’s mostly static backgrounds and even more lifeless than the zombies.
It’s hard to believe this was done by the same people who animated Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms and Batman: Soul of the Dragon. It feels like it was outsourced to the lowest bidder in order to make a quick buck rather than a project that the studio cared about.
What makes the lack of quality even more noticeable is the excellent voice acting from Night of the Animated Dead’s cast. Duhamel and Hill are especially good and capture much of the fire and animosity between their characters. They also preserve the impact of the original’s racial and social themes, and how relevant they still are over fifty years later.
As I already mentioned, Night of the Animated Dead tries to stay true to the plot of Romero’s original. But at just over an hour long it’s nearly thirty minutes shorter than it was. Axinn says the idea was to give the film a faster pace. Instead, it feels condensed and rushed, as though it was edited to fit an hour time slot on late-night TV.
It also includes some new scenes, we see Ben’s encounter with the living dead at the diner and the gasoline tanker explosion. The still photos at the end of the original are animated and brought to life, or as much life as Night of the Animated Dead can muster. Why they couldn’t have kept more of the original and simply used the new scenes to liven it up is beyond me. Did somebody actually think that an hour and a half is really too long for this to run?
The violence has been pumped up and is more graphic in Night of the Animated Dead than in the original. Unfortunately, it’s rendered so poorly that it lacks any real impact. Even a Fulciesque shot through a hole in a zombie’s head is bland.
Jason Axinn claims to be a huge fan of the original Night of the Living Dead and of Romero’s work in general. The only way I can reconcile that with how Night of the Animated Dead turned out is to think that he was signed on and then given a low budget and impossibly short schedule. Because this doesn’t feel like the work of a fan, it feels like a cash-in. And, as much as I disliked To Your Last Death, it’s still better than this.
Night of the Animated Dead is currently available on Digital. It arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on October 5th. You can check Warner Brothers’ website for more details.