Romero’s Third Round - "Day of the Dead" (1985) Review
Night of the Living Dead established the universal laws of what a zombie should be in any cultural product.
Dawn of the Dead is almost unanimously considered to be the best zombie movie ever made.
And then there is the closer in George Romero's Living Dead trilogy, Day of the Dead.
And like The Godfather III, this third installment simply failed to exceed its predecessors in quality, reception, and legacy.
The central idea of Day of the Dead is interesting. This is a universe where the zombie epidemic has been for months, perhaps years, destroying the planet. Zombies now outnumber humans 400000 to 1. In more than one way, this is the perfect setting for Romero's third film. To see where it sits in the Romero zombie movie universe check out our Romero ranking.
The plot revolves around a group of scientists who live together with a small military unit in a secure underground bunker in the Everglades in Florida. Dr. Sarah Bowman (Lori Cardille) is developing an investigation that tries to find the cause of the epidemic.
On the other hand, Dr. Matthew "Frankenstein" Logan (Richard Liberty) has a more short-term approach: he has managed to get a zombie named "Bub" to modify his behavior and not be hostile to other human beings.
However, neither investigation goes at the speed required by Captain Rhodes (Joseph Pilate). The leader of the military unit wants short-term solutions. His thirst for power combined with stress and despair over the situation will progressively turn him into an unreasonable and erratic tyrant.
It's evident that after being basically the man who gave a new face to the genre, Romero wanted to bring something fresh with Day of the Dead. Night of the Living Dead established the rules and turned its plot into the classic setting of the thousands of zombie stories that came later.
Dawn of the Dead again changed the rules, using the zombie outbreak to analyze the human condition and its obsessive need for stability and routine.
Day of the Dead changes the tranquility and temporary routine of the humans of the Dawn of the Dead mall and encourages conflicts by placing its protagonists in a real brink of extinction. In addition, it's clear that with the zombie "Bub" that Romero sought to take the series one step further in studying and accepting the zombie. This movie tried to establish a new trope in the genre: that of the adaptable accepted and "regenerated" zombie.
Unfortunately, for now, the legacy of Day of the Dead has not been as powerful as Romero hoped (This was, after all, his favorite movie of the trilogy). Day of the Dead does not have the cultural impact of Night of the Living Dead nor the thematic depth of Dawn of the Dead.
And in large part, it's because of its unstable rhythm. 75% of the time is used to establish the characters and their situation. The problem is the characters and their situation is precisely that of stagnation, that of the unsolved problem.
The film suffers a lot because of this frustrating slowness where there are no great special effects, battles or interesting symbolism about our human condition. For more than an hour, what we basically see is a series of erratic characters screaming at each other in despair until, finally, everything goes to hell.
And that's when Day of the Dead finally starts its engine. And when it does, it's a glorious and memorable display. It's probably the only reason why this film has managed to stay afloat in time, like an inferior Romero film, but with still undeniable cult status.
What's Your Rating For Day of the Dead (1985)?
The make-up artist and special effects creator Tom Savini stands out in this last half hour, raising the technical bar regarding the creation of devouring zombies. His teachings are still felt today. For example, one of his assistants at that time, Greg Nicotero, is one of the creative heads of that gigantic cultural monster that is The Walking Dead TV show.
The scenes with Bub, the John Harrison soundtrack, the horrible death of Captain Rhodes and his improvised "Choke on em!", among others, are enough reasons to value Day of the Dead as one of the best films about the genre.
Because even when its impact has been much less than the expectations ordered, dozens of cultural products have paid tribute since then. From the Resident Evil video game to bands like Gorillaz, Misfits or Ministry to the same The Walking Dead TV show (Bub is still kicking!), many work have paid their respects.
Sometimes, the form defeats the substance. And it works.
Title: Day of the Dead
Release Year: 1985
Director(s): George A. Romero
Actors: Sherman Howard, Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, Joseph Pilato, a.o.
© 2019 Sam Shepards