With Land of the Dead and Diary of the Dead you could have pretty much attributed the films to any director. Although I enjoy both to a certain degree I really do not feel any passion towards them, they both seem a million miles away from what came before. I fail to mention Survival of the Dead purely because I haven’t seen it, and don’t suppose I will any time soon. George A Romero, once upon a time, made truly excellent Dead, or undead if you like, movies.
As a wee youngster I was introduced to the Dead trilogy, as it once was, first through Night of the Living Dead, which was shown on television, and then Day of the Dead which I rented on VHS. Dawn came later due to it be a bitch to find in the UK during the 80’s. Out of the three though Day definitely had the biggest impact on me at the time, this was due mainly to the copious amounts of gore on display. Of course I have found more to enjoy about it over the years, and decided to give it another airing just recently.
Now, it’s always tough to look at such an iconic movie, and one that helped mold me as a young horror fan, and not just go off into crazy fanboy mode. Actually it is a lot easier than I had thought, I just have to think about Romero’s more recent output to appreciate the craft he put into his earlier flicks. Worlds apart I tell you, worlds apart.
Onto Day of the Dead itself though. I’ll not rabbit on too much about the plot, as chances are the majority of folk reading this will have seen it umpteen times, but I really better mention it for those that haven’t. The world, or at the very least Florida, has seemingly been completely overrun by the living dead. Towns are decaying masses where the dead gather waiting any brave living soul to venture into. Amid this carnage are a small group of survivors cooped up in an underground facility, consisting of scientific and military types, who are trying to find other survivors whilst also working to find out what caused the outbreak and possibly trying to reverse it, or at the very least somehow try to domesticate the undead.
Tensions rise between the two opposing groups, or three if you include John and Willy (Helicopter pilot and Electrician respectively), and this being a Romero zombie flick you know it is only a matter of time before the shit hits the fan.
Day of the Dead is an incredibly dark and bleak film, even with its few moments of levity, the violence is only ever a breath away and the threats are very real. Unlike Dawn of the Dead, which is often referenced as many folks favorite of the series, there is no frolicking about a mall for hours on end to break up the tension. Even when the film heads into its lighter moments, which consist mainly of scenes with Frankenstein (Dr. Logan), there is still a sense of dread of what could happen.
For me though what lifts Day of the Dead head and shoulders above almost every other zombie movie is the cast. Virtually every character in this flick is memorable and played to perfection by wonderful cast. You will love or loathe these characters, you totally believe Rhodes (Joe Pilato) would shoot you in the head, Richard Liberty as Dr. Logan is a character you’ll love for his humor, yet be terrified of if you fell into his hands. I could go on, suffice to say this is one of the best ensemble cast I have witnessed in a horror movie. I say that yet the only real weak part, and I will no doubt get shot down for this, is the character of Sarah (Lori Cardille). Essentially the lead character of the movie, and aside from any zombies the only female in the movie, yet she is almost overshadowed by the strength of the rest of the cast.
The special effects here are also top-notch, with Tom Savini really going overboard in creating some really stomach-churning effects. Did you really need all that CGI in Land of the Dead George? A great setting coupled with an incredibly effective score help cement Day of the Dead as a classic horror movie, zombie or otherwise.
It isn’t without its faults though. One being that the movie felt as though it wanted to be a grander large scale affair and I do believe that was Romero’s original plan. The scope was here for a true epic conclusion to the trilogy. Alas I believe funding was the issue. The plot as well was not without its minor flaws, characters conveniently finding items at hand to amputate and cauterize wounds and are you seriously telling me that an underground complex that stretches for 14 miles or so only has one electronically controlled entrance and one other through a missile silo that is in walking distance from the other? These are all petty little observations I found that in all honesty take nothing away from the finished movie.
If Night of the Living Dead was the groundbreaking original classic and Dawn of the Dead the benchmark zombie movie then Day of the Dead is quite possibly the best. Yes I said it. Technically, visually and in terms of its story I believe that Day is not only Romero’s best movie, it is also one of the best horror movies made. A stone cold classic that’s ugly yet strangely beautiful. Let’s just try and forget about what came after though.