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  Night of the Animated Dead Haggard And Drawn
Year: 2021
Director: Jason Axinn
Stars: Josh Duhamel, Dulé Hill, Katharine Isabelle, Stefan Marks, James Roday Rodriguez, Will Sasso, Jimmi Simpson, Nancy Travis
Genre: Horror, AnimatedBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Barbara (voiced by Katharine Isabelle) and her brother Johnny (Jimmi Simpson) make this trip every year, to lay flowers on their father's grave, because it is what their ageing mother wants them to do, despite the car journey taking six hours there and six hours back. Johnny is obviously impatient, because he starts goofing around, even when his sister tries to say a short prayer, and when it is clear she is a little spooked by this environment, it only encourages him. "They're coming to get you, Barbara!" he says in a Boris Karloff voice, but as a figure stumbles towards them, it turns out that is all too true...

Since it is one of the most famous films of the nineteen-sixties, and one of the most influential, it has been handy for low budget fillmmakers that Night of the Living Dead has been in the public domain for so long, for that offers the opportunity for anyone who wishes to, to remake it. Thus its original writer and director, George A. Romero, was moved to do precisely that in 1990 with beefed up gore effects and makeup supremo Tom Savini at the helm, but there have also been a 3D low budgeter, and a previous cartoon before this one. None of these imitators have ever matched the intensity of the source.

The director here was Jason Axinn, a prolific animator who had already completed a previous feature, To Your Last Death, which was also a gory horror cartoon that garnered some favourable reactions. It was safe to say this Living Dead homage did not muster up a similar level of acclaim, mainly thanks to that decision to animate it (or re-animate it?) in a style that was patently the cheapest they could get away with. You could say they were trying to emulate the sixties technique, but even Hanna-Barbera was more dynamic than this, indeed, if anything it resembled the Spider-Man cartoons from the television.

It was gorier than the Romero, who had really gone to town with the bloodletting in the sequel, Dawn of the Dead, so that appeared to be an equal inspiration, there was a flashback added (about a minute or two) and it was half an hour shorter, yet despite shaving a third of the time off the original remained a far pacier experience, as the cartoon was leadfooted throughout. OK, these zombies the characters battle were of the slow-walking variety, so perhaps that was forgivable, but while it may have been familiarity with the first one, it didn't have the punch, nor that black and white newsreel footage immediacy that Romero had been inspired by the violence on the nightly news to recreate.

So what was good about it? The voice cast were all very professional, and possibly overqualified, with Dulé Hill taking the heroic Ben role, so significant as an African American lead from an era when that was so rarely done, and not in horror movies, and Josh Duhamel was his nemesis Harry, creating a few sparks as the man who wants to hide out in the cellar rather than defend the property the group are all holed up in. They were so effective that you may have preferred the project to have been a radio play, a la Orson Welles' War of the Worlds in the thirties, since the visuals were so disappointing. It was another instance of Night of the Living Dead spawning a work that did not appear to get where Romero was coming from, it wasn't all about the flesh-eating, it was a grim commentary on America and human nature that nobody had really tried before on film. You would search in vain for anything like that in this animated variation. Music by Nima Fakhrara.

[Night of the Animated Dead is out now on digital, Blu-ray and DVD.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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