DAY OF THE DEAD (1985)
Day of the Dead is George Romero’s third film in the original zombie trilogy and was supposed to be a large scale movie that was to bring an end to the zombie plague and conclude the series. Despite the huge success of Dawn Of The Dead, Romero couldn’t get the financing he asked for and the film was scaled back to what was released in 1985. While it doesn’t quite live up to the first two films in this series, Day still has plenty to entertain for fans of these movies and is actually very underrated once you remove the post Dawn expectations.
Day is the first to be located elsewhere as it takes place in an underground missile silo in Florida where a group of soldiers and scientist are desperately trying to find an answer to the zombie problem which now has the Earth overrun and the last remaining humans in hiding. But as time goes on and desperation sets in, the two groups start to clash especially when the death of their commanding officer puts the tyrannical Capt. Rhodes (Joe Pilato) in charge and he has little understanding or patience for the scientists’ efforts. Even the scientists themselves are fragmented as Sarah (Lori Cardille) wants to find a cure for the rising of the dead and Dr. Logan aka “Frankenstein” (Richard Liberty) feels they can be domesticated…as long as they are fed. As hopelessness sets in, the group disintegrates and they begin to turn on each other with scientists vs the thug-like Rhodes and his soldiers and pilot John (Terry Alexander) and radio man Bill (Jarlath Conroy) caught in the middle….and let’s not forget about Logan’s “star pupil” Bub (Howard Sherman), a zombie Logan has trained and who is given reason to hate Rhodes and his men. It all explodes in a gore filled climax when the team not only battles each other, but the hordes of living dead that a deranged soldier lets into their underground compound. Will any of them survive?
It’s hard to say what Day would have been like if Romero had gotten the budget he had asked for. Zombie Bub is all that remains of the original script’s concept of humans in fortified cities training a legion of zombie soldiers to destroy the other zombies. But this is the film we got and it is a precursor to a film that never got made as the following Land Of The Dead in 2005 presented humans in fortified cities facing zombies who were gaining intelligence on their own. Day is what it is and it is actually a pretty good movie when not compared to it’s two predecessors. The film might be talky at times, but it is faster paced than Dawn and the gore and zombie FX by Tom Savini are the best of the series at this point. There is also a great electronic score by John Harrison that adds a lot of atmosphere.
The acting is a mixed bag with Cardille, Liberty, Conroy and Alexander being the standouts and Sherman doing a nice job giving Bub a personality without dialog and just using limited facial expression. On the downside, Pilato goes way over-the-top as the bug eyed psychotic Rhodes and sometimes is more laughable than threatening and some of the other supporting players are either overacting a bit or are just bland. The uneven performances does hurt the drama somewhat at times, but not enough to sink the film and Romero wisely punctuates the dialog sequences with some action or bloodshed, so the film is far from all talk and keeps us interested till the all out chaotic action/gore finale. It also helps that we like most of the non-military characters and the soldiers are set up as far more villainous than the zombies that lurk above and gives us heroes to root for and villains to boo. This is a theme that runs through all Romero’s zombie epics that sometimes man’s greed and selfishness is more of a danger than the zombies.
So, in conclusion, Day may be a letdown of sorts when compared to the film classics that it followed, but taken on it’s own, it’s an underrated zombie flick and is well directed by Romero and gives us a lot of gore and action despite some long dialog scenes. It may not have been the movie Romero wanted to make, or the one fans wanted, but it is a nice addition to the series and better than the three films that followed and has rightfully obtained a cult classic status of it’s own over time.
3 and 1/2 “Bubs”!