Day of the Dead (1985)
By: Michael McQueen on August 17, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
Umbrella Entertainment (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0. 104 minutes
The Movie
Credits
Director: George A. Romero
Starring: Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, Joseph Pilato, Jarlath Conroy, Anthony Dileo Jr., Richard Liberty, Sherman Howard
Screenplay: George A. Romero
Music: John Harrison
Tagline: Prepare yourself for the darkest day of horror the world has ever known!
Country: USA
Fans of George Romero's acclaimed Dead series will know exactly what to expect from this, the third instalment, Day of the Dead. For those without a clue, the picture of the zombie autopsy on the cover of the DVD case is a strong indication that this is not a film for the squeamish. Romero is the great-granddaddy of zombie cinema and a pioneering innovator of blood and gore visuals throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s. All contemporary horror directors, both mainstream practitioners and B-grade fringe artists, owe an incalculable debt to the legacy of Romero's original trilogy: Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead – a case strengthened by the release of a much-anticipated follow-up, Land of the Dead in 2004, which made everybody else look like a bunch of amateur hacks. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Romero is one of the few horror directors to take his subject matter seriously; the Dead films often contained cautionary fables regarding the malaises of modern society (conformity, racism, paranoia, consumerism and tyrannical government), and were driven by horrific violence and visceral splatter that is amongst the most anatomically detailed in cinematic memory. Newcomers to zombie cinema are advised to start with Romero; his powerful aesthetic is driven by an irony-free approach to horror that exemplifies how stylish low-budget blood 'n' guts cinema can be.

Day of the Dead sequentially follows on five years from where Dawn of the Dead left off: entire cities have become infested with zombies, who now outnumber human beings 400,000 to 1, and the survival rate of the living is dropping. A small group of military soldiers and scientists are housed in an underground laboratory with hopes of discovering a solution to the problem, however the mood is becoming volatile as what's left of the human race attempts to scavenge a living from the dead-infested wasteland of America. Following his predecessor's death, Capt. Rhodes rules over the cramped compound and its deteriorating population with a megalomaniacal grip: the man isn't so much unhinged as completely off the fucking wall! Among the team is Dr. "Frankenstein" Logan, who spends most of his days dissecting zombies in order to find out what makes them tick; apparently, the key to survival is domestication of the dead, not eradication.

Of course, everything goes to shit. The soldiers are becoming increasingly despondent over the lack of scientific results, and Logan's crackpot theories about domesticated zombies and rehabilitation programs aren't what Rhodes wants to hear. The deaths of two soldiers who were attempting to 'collect samples' for Logan's research is the final straw, and the already-strained relations between scientists and soldiers go into meltdown. As the laboratory submits to marshal law, the dead breach the perimeter and eventually the whole compound descends into an anarchic state of blood and terror.

Day of the Dead is reportedly Romero's favourite of the series, and it's not hard to see why. Day has a considerably darker tone to it than the previous instalments (not that they were light-hearted) and the focus of the threat to survival turns inwards as humans turn on humans while the un-dead mass outside the door. There's a grim sense of fatalism and futility about the characters' plight as logic fails and dictatorial authority rears its ugly head. The zombie plague becomes a giant cleansing wave of unholy retribution, an antidote to man-made madness, and I found myself cheering them on (though, admittedly, I do that with every zombie movie). Day of the Dead is undoubtedly Romero's most sombre effort, thematically speaking, and the visuals definitely reflect this. The blood and guts effects are vastly improved from Dawn thanks to gore maestro Tom Savini, and the grisly attention to anatomical detail is downright disturbing: you don't know what gore is until you've seen a man's face torn off by the eyelid, or watched rotted fingers pry open a stomach and wrench out the intestine! What's more, the zombie effects are vastly superior to anything else on the market; the living dead are now showing signs of decay and deterioration, and many bear the injuries they suffered when they were first attacked, such as missing jaws and rotting limbs. No other zombie film comes close to matching the visceral power of Day of the Dead; even Land of the Dead only had to provide minimal improvements some nineteen years later. Quite simply, zombies have never looked so good.

For dedicated fans of zombie cinema, it's impossible not to fall in love with Romero's twisted vision and Savini's complimentary visual effects: Day of the Dead is a masterpiece of splatter and gore, and the zombies look brilliantly deformed. It's pleasing to note that Romero never lost his touch or compromised his vision by giving into censorship; Day of the Dead could have effectively doubled its budget of $3.5 million if Romero chose to produce an R-rated film. Instead, Romero produced an 'Unrated' version that received a limited release, but has certainly stood the test of time and has emerged as one of the classics of the genre. If you are considering delving into zombie films, treat yourself to the best in the business.
Video
Presented in 1:78:1 aspect ratio with a 16:9 enhancement, Day of the Dead looks better than ever. The picture quality is visibly of-the-era, but the transfer is free from dirt and grain; enjoy the carnage in crystal-clear widescreen glory!
Audio
The Dolby 2.0 audio is mixed surprisingly well: all the dialogue is audible and the music never dominates. A synthesiser-based score is unavoidable given the time period, but it's not as irritating as some.
Extra Features
Umbrella have done an admirable job with this package, ensuring that this 2 Disc set will be the definitive edition for Australian buyers, which hopefully means no more upgrading. However, most of the material appears to have been culled from previous Day of the Dead releases, which will prove annoying if you already own more than edition already. If you don't already own Day of the Dead, then this is probably the recommended buy.

Disc 1: The Behind-the-Scenes featurette is the most rewarding addition: there are interviews with Tom Savini and footage of him at work in the make-up department, as well as some insight into other special effects like head explosions, gunshot wounds, latex masks and mechanical heads! There's also substantial time dedicated to interviewing the extras who played zombies, some who travelled across America just to be there! Even cooler is on-set backstage footage of Romero directing his beloved zombies with unbridled enthusiasm. Elsewhere, there are a few retro TV spots advertising Day of the Dead and three original theatrical trailers, plus an assortment of ads for Umbrella releases.

Disc 2: This disc features two commentaries. The first is by Goerge Romero, Tom Savini, production designer Cletus Anderson and actress Lori Cardille, and has been poached from the Anchor Bay/Divimax edition. The second commentary features members of the special effects team and was pinched from the Arrow Films release. As you might imagine, both commentaries are choc-full of trivia and insight, however Romero's comments are indispensable to any fan of his work. Also featured is the movie-length documentary, Reflections of the Living Dead, which cobbles together footage from disparate sources spanning multiple time zones; includes interviews with cast, crew and admirers, such as Wes Craven and Sam Raimi. It's a fine accompaniment to the Dead series as a whole. Elsewhere, there are more Umbrella trailers for Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead 2: Contagium (not part of the Dead series).

If you don't own Day of the Dead, then this 2 Disc Edition will suit you just fine. However, if you already own more than one version of this film then you probably have all the essential extras which span multiple editions. If your obsessive and simply must have everything related to this movie, by all means buy this edition, but be prepared to experience déjà vu.
The Verdict
Watching one of Romero's Dead films is an experience like no other, and Day of the Dead is arguably his best effort; it's certainly the goriest. I can't recommend this film enough.
Movie Score
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