April 06, 2012

Day of the Dead

The third zombie flick from Pittsburgh writer-director George A. Romero (following 1968's Night of the Living Dead and 1979's Dawn of the Dead), Day of the Dead (1985) takes place in an underground military base where a handful of scientists lock horns with a band of macho army thugs. The world has been overtaken by flesh-chomping ghouls, and these are the only living members of society left, as far as we know. One scientist, nicknamed "Frankenstein," has tamed one of the ghouls. Frankenstein believes that wiping out the zombie population is impossible, so the next best thing (and the more scientifically appealing, perhaps) is  figuring out a way to domesticate the walking dead.

Day has some wonderfully freaky moments (especially at the end), and Romero captures a richly ominous mood (with the help of its authentic set, which is a network of underground caves that the government uses to store a menagerie of valuables) and the music of John Harrison.

Romero's penchant for inserting contrived conflict is glaring: Why is everyone so concerned with staying in this gloomy bunker, anyway? And there are moments when the dialogue gets away from him. Some scenes should have been shortened slightly to keep the film from going too far over the top. But it's also a wonderfully apt finale (or at least, it was the final Romero zombie film for a good while), once again bucking the tropes of the genre by avoiding any kind of resolution to the zombie problem. Also, Day features some of make-up master Tom Savini's most impressive (and hideous) effects (just don't watch this if you're turned off by excessive amounts of gore).

Much has been said of Day of the Dead's unfair treatment. It flopped at the box office (competing against the funnier, slicker Return of the Living Dead, a semi-spoof and not a direct sequel to the Dead films), was almost universally reviled by critics who had raved about Dawn, and seemed to usher in a new period of disinterest in zombie movies. In fact, there weren't many noteworthy zombie films after 1985. Romero later worked on a remake of Night (released in 1990) but by the end of the 80s, zombies were largely out of fashion at the movies (having been replaced by slashers a la Jason Voorhies). Now that zombies are in vogue again, it's worth noting that Day of the Dead is far more interesting a film than most of what has been released over the last few years of the zombie craze that has swallowed pop culture. Indeed, the zombies continue to be disturbing commentary on society. And the zombies in Day are perhaps the scariest looking (they've been rotting for quite some time by now).

Featuring a strong lead performance by Lori Cardille as one of the scientists, and the only woman in the cast (she reminds you of Sigourney Weaver's character in Alien). With Terry Alexander, Joe Pilato, Jarlath Conroy, Richard Liberty, and Howard Sherman.

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