Ever since I saw my first zombie film, I was intrigued. I remember starting chronologically through the “Dead” series, starting with Night, moving on to Dawn and then to Day of the Dead. When I first saw them, they always scared me. It was the type of fear that made me check behind the shower curtain when I took a shit, look under my bed before I went to sleep, and look over my shoulder whenever I walked through my neighborhood in the dark. After I got over that initial fright (not so initial, as it stuck with me for years), I started to watch these films with a lot more appreciation. I could eventually see past the horror of it all and focus in on the social dynamics and commentary of each film. So with that being said, in continuation of Zombie Week 2008, today I’ll be reviewing George A. Romero‘s 1985 follow up to Dawn of the Dead – Day of the Dead.
Inside of an underground military complex, one of the last bastions of human civilization (if you can call it that) is struggling to survive. On the outside, the undead are running wild, feasting on any living human flesh they can find. Cities are barren, streets are destroyed, and only the groans of the undead can be heard for miles. In the complex, scientists are experimenting with those undead to see if there’s any way to “cure” them of their insatiable hunger, or control the horde. While they attempt carry out their experiments, those scientists feud with a small grouping of military that either want results, or want to go out guns blazing.
Admittedly, Day of the Dead wasn’t my favorite of the dead series. At first watch it’s really slow moving. After watching the other films in the series, you expect to see a lot of gore and zombie action right from the get go. Right off the bat, you can tell that this one is a little different. It teases you with the action. It’s comes in little doses and keeps you watching for your next fix. It’s also very wordy. There are long stretches of dialog detailing the plans between the soldiers and the scientists. One other point is that most of the characters are total shitheads. They’re so sadistic that you hope that each one will be the one to go next. Underneath all of those faults though, lies a complex character study that’s worth watching.
Through all of those long dialog sections, hateful characters and short bursts of action you learn a lot about these characters. It’s like one big social experiment. You see what is probably the best simulation of living under the pressure of a zombie onslaught. People aren’t all heroes, they aren’t all smart, and they don’t always know what to do. Sometimes life isn’t always about happy endings and riding off into the sunset with your loved ones. When the invasion comes (and it will) most people will die horrifying deaths, and Day of the Dead gives you a glimpse of what’s to come.
Day of the Dead is also the first film where Romero flirts with the idea of learning zombies. There is no better showcase to this than Bub (played by Sherman Howard), the ultimate in learning zombies. He displays signs of socialization, remembering his life previous to his reanimation, and also using tools and weapons.
When you do get down to the zombies, the examples that you’ll see in this movie are probably the best looking in the series, thanks to the excellent work of Tom Savini. In my opinion, the zombies look better than every other film in the series. The effects in general are just top notch. There are a lot of disembowelments, eviscerations and the like, and they all look about as real as they can look without actually being real, as you can check out in some of the screenshots below.
This film used to be my least favorite of the series. After giving it another chance and watching it thouroughly again, it’s now one of my favorites, easily tying Dawn of the Dead in all catagories. Before I would probably have said that this was my least favorite in the series because I would always compare the two movies. I realize now that comparing the two are like comparing apples and oranges, as they’re just two totally different films on totally different levels.