There’s a scene towards the end of George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead (1985) that’s among the goriest of the past thirty years. I won’t directly spoil it — rather, spill it — but I will tell you that a man is simply pulled apart.
If Romero’s name wasn’t enough to get you through the door — and as goes for any self-respecting horror fan, it should be — then let that be the little nugget be the one that tips the scales.
The third film in Romero’s original zombie trilogy, Day of the Dead critiques militarism and the Cold War relations of the 1980s as the original Night of the Living Dead (1968) took on the Civil Rights Movement, and Dawn of the Dead (1978) did consumerism and Vietnam (if you’re into things like subtext and all).
Romero’s personal favorite of his first three films, Day of the Dead should get the freest of passes — although it doesn’t necessarily need it.
The flick is endlessly eerie, perpetually grey, better acted than it needs to be, and—looking back now — perhaps the most distinctive stylistic precursor to the zombie phenomenon we see today on our movies screens.
Nonstop Zombie HangoverNight had lead to dawn, and now that day is upon us, zombies have taken over the entire planet.
At the beginning of the movie we join Dr. Sarah Bowman (Lori Cardille) — an intelligent and strong-willed protagonist, Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty) — a kind doctor getting to the bottom of making zombies docile and controllable, and base-commander Captain Henry Rhodes (Joseph Pilato) — a crass military blowhard who checks all the boxes: racist, sexist, and no respect for human life.
The rest of the group of survivors loosely fall into one of the three camps: Scientists, Civilians, and Military. The group has found relative safety in an underground bunker, which serves as the claustrophobic backdrop for this battle between science and soldiers…..oh, and just to add to the tension, supplies are dwindling.
While attempting to capture more zombies for experimentation, two soldiers are killed, and Private Miguel Salazar’s (Anthony Dileo, Jr.) arm must be amputated after a zombie bite. The scientists aren’t always in the right and the ‘rogue’ Dr. Logan gets into the bad habit of feeding freshly dead soldiers to zombie specimens in order to continue his experiments (although his zombie Bub (Sherman Howard) shows promise in remembering past parts of his life – a theme that Romero would later explore more fully in Land of the Dead).
When the short-fused Rhodes gets wind of everything, it means war.
Romero insisted the film be Unrated, which played a part in the lowering of the film’s budget to $3.5 million. Pressure was on, and the auteur worked through five different scripts for the film. Zombie extras in the movie’s opening were sourced from Pittsburgh and compensated with a $1.00 wage and ballcap reading “I Was a Zombie in Day of the Dead.”
The film saw a very limited theatrical release — again, thank the Unrating — but recouped its share in VHS and later DVD and Blu-ray sales.
Total Apocalypse of the HeartFor a movie almost entirely below ground — a Romero zombie flick, no less — Day of the Dead has an unexpected heart. Although certain scenes are chilling and the fraught militarism couldn’t be darker, it’s offset by a feeling so rarely found in the genre: warmth. It happens somewhere between John Harrison’s dated but still classic synth score, the comforting lilt of John’s Caribbean accent (Terry Alexander), or in his cute friendship with Bowman and Bill McDermott (Jarlath Conroy). It’s the feeling of the film playing on TV at 1:30 in the morning after your other friends have fallen asleep. Right when the monologues about God punishing humans come off as sincere instead of corny due to sleepiness and too many drinks.
Take John’s revealing line to Sarah as she frets over rising tensions. “That’s the trouble with the world, Sarah darling,” he says. “People got different ideas concerning what they want out of life.” It’s a beautiful metaphors you can drape over a zombie plot, and although it’s tacked on with ice picks and a sledgehammer, it’s still poignant and heartfelt, like all of Romero’s work is. It’s as heartfelt as a gorefest can be
Watch Day of the Dead below:
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|Buy the film at Amazon.co.uk|
Written by: Ben Mueller