The darkest day of horror the world has ever known.
1985 was a watershed year for the zombie movie. Not only were we given George A. Romero's third part of his zombie trilogy, Day Of The Dead, but Dan O'Bannon also unfolded his send up of Romero's zombie films, The Return Of The Living Dead. If this were a race, The Return Of The Living Dead became the winner by a landslide, as Day Of The Dead was considered the weak link in the zombie trilogy which began all the way back in 1969 with the first installment, Night Of The Living Dead. But does Day Of The Dead stand the test of time or become just another cheap '80s gore flick?
Facts of the Case
Day Of The Dead is one of those movies that makes you wonder what kind of drugs they were passing around in the '60s, and where can I get some? It feels like a bunch of 12 year old boys got together and said "Hey, lets see what the grossest thing is we can come up with, and then film it!" I am often flabbergasted by what is actually put on celluloid sometimes. This is one of those cases (and you'll hear no gripes from me.)
We begin at the end of the world. The zombie population has outnumbered the human population by about a million to one. A helicopter crew is searching over the coast of Florida looking for any survivors, but it's a hopeless cause. This crew along with a band of scientists (Lori Cardille) and military specialists led by the super wacky Captain Rhodes (Joseph Pilato) are holed up inside an underground bunker where they are trying to find a cure for the zombie epidemic. Some want to domesticate them, including a crazy scientist (Richard Liberty) that the crew has nick named "Dr. Frankenstein" for his eerie experiments with body parts and human brains. Others want to kill the living dead, wiping them off the planet for good. The smartest group wants to take the chopper and go to a tropical island and live the rest of their days sitting on the beach, making sugar sweet love and sipping drinks from coconuts.
If I may interject for a moment, I would do that even if there wasn't a zombie plague going around. But I digress.
Because all these people are being forced to spend a lot of time with each other in very cramped quarters (kind of like my family vacations), a few of them start to go a little Crispen Glover. Some start to go stir-crazy, other start to crack from the pressures of the zombies taking over the earth. The sadistic Captain Rhodes especially gets a wee bit of an attitude going and starts to use his gun in the type of manner that Rosie O'Donnell keeps warning us about. Tensions rise, tempers flair and after a while (and believe me, I am not spoiling anything when I say this) the zombies decide to crash the party. As you can guess, the humans are not as happy about this as one might think (me, I say the more the merrier, but I'm a party kinda guy.)
Do the humans get out alive? And what happens to the zombies? Who will survive? Well, I can say this…heads will roll. Literally. And arms, and feet, and livers…
Tom Savini has been a staple in modern horror filmmaking. He has created some of the most spectacular effects for some of the most famous horror films in recent years, including the original Friday The 13th, Creepshow, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. In Day Of The Dead, he out does even his own grisly handiwork. Combining intriguingly mind boggling special effects and more gore than you can shake a limb at, he does a great job in bring the living dead back to life.
Personally, I love this movie. It's one of my favorites in the zombie genre, and for good reason. It deals very well with what would happen if the world were suddenly over run by the living dead. If I may get a little personal here, this has to be the scariest thing that could ever happen to me. I'm sure that one day the reason for this will all come out in some psychologists office, but for now I don't have a clue why. Killer spiders? I can deal with 'em. Stalkers with knives and other sharp, fun objects? No problem-O. But throw a few zombies at me and I freeze up like a six-year-old sniffing Smarties up his nose.
The acting is a bit over the top, especially when Captain Rhodes (Joe Pilato) has center stage. However, the rest of the cast is great at conveying a sense of impending doom and tense differences. The story could have taken place a little more in the outside world, and not always in such small spaces, but I'm guessing when you get to the end of a series like the Dead Trilogy, you end up backing yourself into a corner.
This is the fist time I have ever seen this film in widescreen (1.85:1), and although the transfer is as good as it's ever been for Day Of The Dead, I would think that it could be a bit more clear. At times it often looks a bit muddled and grainy, but over all it's not a terrible transfer. However, don't be expecting something up to par as say, The Matrix. Anchor Bay has done a decent job, but it seems to be we could have had an even better presentation of the film (and I won't even start about the fact that it's non-anamorphic!)
The audio on this was in the same range as the visual. Nothing overly spectacular, nothing tremendously terrible. The track for the film is mono, so you're getting about as good as you're gonna get with that kind of mix. I did not have any troubles hearing effects or music, but once in a great stretch the dialogue sounded a bit murky.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
For the extra supplemental material on Day Of The Dead, I was a bit disappointed. I'd have thought Anchor Bay would have included a commentary track with some of the cast and crew, but I guess that's just nitpicking. There is a full frame theatrical trailer, but it's more of a teaser trailer (in my opinion). Also included is a somewhat interesting video behind-the-scenes documentary that is somewhat scattershot. It has a few tidbits spanning what kind of food they used for the zombie actors to eat to what promotional materials they used to give out when the film opened. It's interesting for a few minutes, but gets old relatively quick. It would have been much more useful if there were interviews with the cast or Romero himself. Hopefully someday Anchor Bay might put out a definitive DVD version of Day Of The Dead with a better transfer and better supplements.
Oh yeah, and did I mention Joe Pilato's performance rivals that of Cindy Crawford in Fair Game?
This is a great DVD to rent, and to buy (but only if you are a die hard fan like myself). You can do a lot worse in the zombie movie field, such as the Troma film Redneck Zombies (oh yes, I've seen it…and I had to take a shower with Lava soap and an S.O.S pad just to feel clean again.)
Day Of The Dead is just barely let of the hook because it is one of the better zombie flicks around. Anchor Bay is sentenced to 30 days hard labor to get a better version with more materials out on the store shelves soon!
Choke on 'em!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Behind-the-scenes footage
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