Another long overdue movie review of yet another George A. Romero classic. Day of the Dead (1985), run time of 1 hour 36 mins and rated 18.
“Day of the Dead is a 1985 American post-apocalyptic zombie horror film written and directed by George A. Romero, and produced by Richard P. Rubinstein. The third film in Romero’s Night of the Living Dead series, it stars Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, Joseph Pilato and Richard Liberty as members of a group of survivors of a zombie apocalypse sheltering in an underground bunker in Florida, where they must determine the outcome of humanity’s conflict with the undead horde.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Day_of_the_Dead_(1985_film)).
This film like Dawn of the Dead, places emphasis on strong female lead characters. Lori is a scientist working alongside her other scientific buddies John and Dr. Matthew “Frankenstein” Logan. Their mission, to find a reason for the zombie apocalypse and find a cure so to speak. Governed, protected and bullied by notorious military man Captain Rhodes and his band of angry and aggressive soldiers. The outlook for her is bleak, as we start by seeing her crossing off the days on her calender.
The opening scene in Day of the Dead sees our heroes flying over a deserted city where they land in hope of finding other survivors. Queue, camera pans to the jawless, balding and thin white haired zombie. The title fades in and we are left wondering how bad the world has gotten. Showcasing an increasingly gory creativity from legend Tom Savini, also known for his work on the other “of the dead” films.
This opening scene is iconic and also fed future apocalyptic and zombie movies. “Hello, is there anybody there?” The relaxing music contrasted with the dark and dreary set is perfect. “Hello, can anybody hear me? Hello!” Shouting only brings out a few shambling dead, a large crocodile and fear. This iconic scene was replicated in Danny Boyles 28 Days Later. This is the one of the best scenes in movie history, although I have only seen it in standard definition so far, as the blu-ray version is difficult to get hold of!
Our group lands back in a fences off area, on the top of an underground bunker. The fences surrounded by the undead. Fans will notice the increase in zombies compared to the predecessor. Lori is soon down in the underground base, and hear is where the claustrophobic terror begins.
The experiments are being carried out and Dr. “Frankenstien” is becoming increasingly obsessed with the idea that you can reason with the zombies and that the dead are capable of reasoning. Bub, his favourite zombie and experiment, brilliantly acted by Howard Sherman, is portrayed as a friendly and yet somehow frightening monster that reflects society well. The whole concept is terrifying. Society the groups of undead, and the bunker of arguing and increasingly stressed survivors looking to somehow cure this disease and live alongside the dead. We soon learn that humans are outnumbered 400,000 to 1.
The bunker itself comprises two main sections: the labs, sleeping areas, canteen etc and the caves, where two of our survivors, pilot John and his friend McDermott are living in a caravan with extensive relaxing set up. The soldiers have barricaded the caves so that they can reel in the zombies into this makeshift undead pen, where they literally use a stick which grabs the necks of the zombies, like the ones they use on animals. This allows them to take their specimens to the labs where experiments are conducted. Another groundbreaking scene, and one which has been replicated in famous films and television. The Walking Dead took this idea as Hershel and Rick do the same on Hershel’s farm, and store the dead in a barn. Romero actually reimagined the idea in Survival of the Dead when the survivors would heard undead to try and get them to eat something other than the living.
Soon our soldiers and Captain Rhodes are becoming increasingly frustrated with the scientists futile attempts to discover a cure. Another iconic scene in the canteen sees Rhodes argue with Sarah (Lori) in which the scientists are trying to ask for more undead and more time. Rhodes orders his man Private Steele to shoot her, and we as an audience realise how serious he is and just how miserable this situation is. Steele is Rhodes muscle and followers orders pretty unquestionably.
So things have heated up, tensions are high and communication is failing. Sarah pays John and Bill McDermott a visit.
This is an important scene. John and Bill already know where things are going and are conscious of where they are now. Things are bleak and the experiments are a waste of time. There is no explaining the dead. Reminiscent of Dawn of the Dead when the group are surrounded by excess and luxury items yet have no goals other than to survive. This is the same, the groups has what it needs and yet, is still determined to find something that they cannot find. John explains that all those records and throughout history the records have become useless as there is no human left to read them or care about them and that they should live their lives instead and begin to procreate and rebuild society. A very real goal.
Soon the soldiers lose more men and have discovered Frankenstein experimenting on them. Rhodes kills the Dr. and Bub, his zombie experiment, is left abandoned. Sarah’s boyfriend Miguel and increasingly insane soldier, left a mess from stress and the apocalypse, left with one arm, makes a break for it, heading to the lift shaft where the survivors come and go. He sees no hope at this point and selfishly, decided to let the zombies in for the gore fest finale. On everything that has happened at this point, this has been a tense, insane build up to the inevitable. There is no hope and the scientists and soldiers have wasted their time trying to cure the undead than actually make a break for it and go live – or survive. I know what I’d choose. I’d take that chopper and go live on a tasty beach somewhere.
So, Tom Savini has a blast with the effects in the final scene in which hundreds of zombies swarm the caves and labs and begin to eat the soldiers one by one. Rhodes, showing his real loyalty, leaves his men and makes a run for it. Sarah and John make for the cave exit and intend to escape in the chopper with McDermott. There journey through the caves is extremely frightening. You wonder whether they can escape. Of course, Rhodes meets his gruesome and silent end as Bub, seeking revenge, shoots Rhodes multiple times, and then Rhodes is devoured and torn in half by the undead. The most brilliantly disgusting scene in any zombie film ever made.
Sarah, John and Bill reach the chopper and escape. A cut here and then they are on a beach, and she is again, crossing off the days on the calender.
(Bonus content – as seen on the Arrow dvd 2 disk special edition of Day of the Dead – Lori became unwell during the filming and afterwards was awfully sick alongside a few other crew. George Romero also stated that a lot had to be cut to attain an R rating and that this was his favourite film in the franchise.)