See "Cast and Crew" below for what information I have.
This 1988 (that's what the copyright says, though the official webpage claims 2004) audio drama rendition is not exactly a high caliber performance. I'll not echo the standard response of "Radio drama could have provided an excellent medium for the zombie genre" besides to say that it's true. I will, however, point two immediate flaws with the product at hand. First off, the case's claim of "original cast" is a lie. It is not "the original cast", but I suppose you could call it "an original cast". Secondly, the whole thing, including credits (however short) and a short, blank track, clocks in at exactly 56 minutes, which is 40 minutes short of the original movie's run time. That is nearly half the length gone, but the movie did include a number of visual shots that would be undoable in an audio form. What's amazing, in what seems to be the one and only act of promotion for the CD, Simon and Schuster gave a 30 minute excerpt on a halloween themed podcast a few years back. That means that anyone who listend to the podcast got about 60% of the finished product. The podcast again claims this to be the original cast.
Why make the claim of the original cast if you don't have the original 1968 cast? That's just a flat out lie, and means that the single reason why a good number of people would track this down is invalid. It's not like the 1990 remake or the 2006 3D Version had the original cast. I don't know why or when the "original cast" thing got stapled on to this drama unless it was what I jokingly suggested above, that "an original cast" degraded to "the original cast" during a marketing snafu. Considering the lack of information on who IS in it, besides a few small notes on the inner booklet and about twenty minutes of audio at the end, neither of which is viewable until you have bought it and the latter is only known once you listen to it, there is a chance of a purposeful misrepresentation of the facts. There is also the chance that Simon and Schuster assumed the original film was still under copyright and assumed that the original people had to have something to do with it.
You will not be getting Duane Jones calm and powerful portrayal. You, instead, get a voice actor that almost hams it up as Ben, foul mouthed and quick to anger in random places but generally ok in most places. Many of the other actors drive the roles to camp, especially true in cases of the bit parts: Johnny, the President, and the Sheriff. The president sounds like someone trying to do an impersonation of Jack Nicholson impersonating Ronald Reagan. Johnny tries to be sardonic but comes off as the zany guy to Barbara's straight man. The Sheriff sounds, at the best of times, like John Ratzenberger. Barbara is largely played well except for when the breakdown starts, and then she goes from normal voice to shrill shriek. At least the actress does a generally good job with the Helen role. Harry and Todd work well enough, but Harry comes across as a little too mousy, not the pushy and brash man the lines are trying to make him.
Mixed in with the fair sounds of acting (some bit parts nonewithstanding) you have what could only be called "overly straight played" special effects. They are used as glaring, but recognizable sound props. They do not enhance the scene so much as go "This is the sound of a man knocking" instead of using a knock that would fit into the scene where it's used. One of the very first moments is a radio announcer talking about a state of emergency and so forth, but the radio is cutting in an out. Rather than record the full speech, and then use some technique to make it crack and pop so that words are lost "naturally" in the effect, the actor apparently clips the speech. In other words, I assume the script has written "A Stay...f Emer....Sea" because you can almost hear the words slam to a stop in the actor's mouth. Then, a few minutes later, when you hear the first zombie approaching, the effect is created by loud, club-footed step sounds. It's distracting stereotypical. Sure, it helps you to image someone getting closer, but it also sounds like something a five year old would do.
Then, in scenes of action, Ed Bishop takes over as narrator and describes the fights and flights. This is kind of like watching a movie that gets to an action scene and cuts over to a director describing what he wanted to accomplish instead of showing what he did accomplish. You couldn't really tell what was happening during the scenes without some sort of audio clue, sure, but having the most intense moments cut out of emotional character and go right into a calm narrator ruins them. "Ben slowly walks down the stairs," in an audiobook-like performance is less effective than having Ben talk about the stairs in character. Sure, having a man talk out loud to himself is a bit unnatural, a stage direction more than realistic, but it's better than having all tension dashed everytime the writer felt that an action sequence was beyond his ability to describe outside of straight narration.
To top it all off, Michael Brooks apparently felt the need to shore up some flaws in the original script. You have to be bitten to come back to life. At least one zombie talks (to a very poor effect). The Venus probe is mentioned as failing, but it's story is a little different and the news caster seems unconvinced. Gone is the historic speech "The dead is coming back to life and attacking the living" but in it's place we get an info dump from the President himself. And, worst of all, the final death of the movie, which helped to elevate it above and beyond slasher picutre to something with a statement, is explained away. The last person to die has a bite, and the Sheriff had given orders not to shoot. The guys didn't mean no harm, they just assumed that everyone in the house must be dead based on logical conclusions about the state of the house. Brooks ends up apologizing and forgiving the scene, which wrecks the ending.
Since just about everything I wrote has been negative, is there anything good I can say about it? Well, it's at least as good as about 90% of the other zombie movies out there. It's kind of unique in it's format. And, at least on it's Amazon.com Used-and-New listing, you can get it for fairly cheap. Mine cost something like $2.99 through an overstock bookstore I used to manage. It's not good, and actually is kind of annoying, but it's kind of neat to have around. It's kind of like the American version of Red Dwarf. You will never prefer it, but you might enjoy glancing at it. Also, if you are fan of the genre, you are used to putting up with low-budget productions with problems, just to get a few hints of brilliance. This one also has them, too. Some of the narrator's descriptions work well (the playful tone when Ben flees into the cellar comes to mind: "unholy appetite for a five year old" and "rolled over and played living"). One newscast both tells the survivors to stay put and to try and seek out safe points. That's the sort of commentary that can be worked out and worked on. Unfortunately, Ben makes one comment on this and proceeds to forget it. Likewise, when they find out that bites can cause reanimation, there is only the briefest nods towards the fact that one of the characters is bitten, and they do not mention it again (though it, of course, comes up in the storyline).
My final verdict is Meh and I only say listen to it if you are a fan of the original film, zombie films, or independent radio drama (though this isn't technically independent). Even then, this isn't going to be one of the better excursions. It might even be listed as one of the worse ones. If it was any more expensive, I would say avoid it, but for it's cost (both time it takes and money) it's not a bad investment. Just to collect, and all that.
I'm including this information largely because no one seems to have any of it anywhere. Looking around the Internet for over an hour, I have found only one article that says "Not the original cast". Everyone else just claims the same thing from the back of the case.
Note, the actor's names were taken from the "Credits Track" at the end, which is incomplete. I am not 100% sure that he said "Bill Hootkins" instead of, say, "Bill Hookins", and I'm not sure how Linda Hayes is spelled (I will assume the spelling I just quoted, unless someone corrects me). The voice of Karen, the daughter, is probably Linda as well, since it sounds just like the mother's voice. I can't remember if Judy had any lines, but if she did, she was probably also by Ms. Hayes. It gives absolutely no information on any of the announcers, news crew, or the militia. Or the president. The Sheriff and the President both have campy, inflected voices, as does Johnny, so it is probably either Bishop or Hootkins trying to sound different.
The other possibility, however remote, is that the uncredited voice actors are the original and it only credits the new ones. I don't believe this, I'm just saying it's possible.
The "Crew" section below (which is the first) comes from the scant information contained with the CD. There are no actors listed, but there is information on the Audio Director and the like.
I assuming it is Bill Hootkins and Ed Bishop. They are two actors who have done a good number of bit parts and vocal roles, though both are dead now. They make likely candidates. The only Mike Berniker I could find fits the description of an audio man, but there is no indication that he did audio drama (seemed to be a somewhat serious producer and writer and the like). Still, he might have been mostly there in name only and not there for the actual recordings. All I could find on M'lou Zahner was that s/he may have done something on mosquitos.
Written by George Romero and John Russo
Abridged for Audio by Michael Brooks
Produced and Directed by Michael Berniker
Executive Producer: M'Lou Zahner
Recording Engineer: Keith Grant
Audio Director: Ian Grant
Presented by Simon and Schuster Audio
Ed Bishop played the Narrator and Harry
Bill Hootkins played Ben
Linda (Lynda ?) Hayes (Hanes, Haynes, ?) played Barbara and Helen
Written by W Doug Bolden
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