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“Invitation to Dance - It’s a Dance. And sometimes they turn the lights off in this ballroom. But we’ll dance anyway, you and I. Even in the Dark. Especially in the Dark. May I have the pleasure?” --- Stephen King ::::::::::: MY CRITERIA FOR DISCUSSION ENCOMPASSES THE HORROR GENRE AND BEYOND, SO I USE THE TERM "NIGHTMARE MOVIES". SPOILERS CAN OCCUR WITH OR WITHOUT WARNING. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Day of the Dead

November 7th 2007 01:05
Day of the Dead movie poster
“The darkest day of horror the world has ever known.”

George A. Romero’s third installment in his Dead quartet, Day of the Dead (1985), is not only the best of the series, but is arguably one of the most darkly powerful and viscerally intense modern horror movies ever made. It is a tenebrous, atmospheric masterpiece; a stomach-churning indictment on the abject greed and inherent nihilism of the human race. It also set a benchmark for special effects makeup which has rarely been equaled.

Set in Florida several years after the events of Dawn of the Dead, zombies now outnumber humans 400,000 to 1. It is a grim reality indeed, and only getting worse by the day. In an isolated underground bunker, actually a disused missile silo, a small group of scientists are experimenting neurologically on the undead in a vain effort to domesticate them, or at the very least remove their urge to feed on human flesh.
Day of the Dead newspaper
The headlines paint a grim picture

Day of the Dead Lori Cardille
Lori Cardille as weary scientist Sarah
The desparate scientists are being facilitated by the military, a bunch of disgruntled soldiers, who spend their time acting the goat, or like cowboys, and harassing the scientists. The tension is palpable, insubordination is lurking, the situation increasingly dangerous.

Day of the Dead Terry Alexander
Terry Alexander as wry flyboy Johnny
Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty) feels he is close to a breakthrough. His colleagues, including fiesty Sarah (Lori Cardille), aren’t so sure. The helicopter pilot Johnny (Terry Alexander) would rather get the fuck outta dodge and find some nice tropical island and makes some babies. It’s inevitable the shit will hit the fan … along with much flesh and blood.

Day of the Dead Joseph Pilato
Joseph Pilato as nasty Captain Rhodes
There is a tone prevalent in Day of the Dead which is more serious than most other supernatural horror movies. It presents the zombie predicament as wholly realistic, an horrific plague upon the earth. Johnny sees it as God getting us back for “gettin’ to big for our britches, tryin’ to figure His shit out.” Yeah, that’d be right.
Day of the Dead Richard Liberty
Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty) with one of his specimens
The acting, considering the cast are all unknowns, is of a much higher calibre than the two previous Dead films, with Lori Cardille’s quiet intensity often overlooked by critics. The overall production is superbly realised, everything from Michael Gornick’s moody cinematography through to John Harrison’s solid synth score. But especially notable is Tom Savini’s special effects make-up, truly astonishing stuff. More than twenty years down the track and the prosthetic work is, without a doubt, far more convincing than any CGI effects.
Day of the Dead amputation
One must act swiftly to avoid infection
Romero’s original screenplay for Day of the Dead was a far more elaborate final chapter; the soldiers and scientists were segregated above and below ground. The military had managed to train an elite combat force of zombies, a kind of Green Beret of the undead, to pit them against the rest of the zombies in a final ditch attempt to conquer the problem. However the budget for this ($7m) exceeded what executive producers were willing to spend unless Romero could deliver an R-rated version. If he wanted final cut with all the gore trimmings, he’d have to work with half the budget.
Day of the Dead zombie carnage
OWW! That's gotta hurt!
So Romero changed the script and, as he’d done with Dawn of the Dead, released Day of the Dead unrated. But while Dawn of the Dead did great business, for reasons we’ll never really understand Day of the Dead bombed at the box office. Perhaps the combination of the movie’s lack of any obvious humour, the surly, sullen characters, the dark tone, and the overly realistic graphic violence at the time the movie was released (mid-80s) backfired. Perhaps many Americans thought the movie was a documentary on the Mexican Halloween festival? Who knows?
Day of the Dead zombie surgery
Military leaders come to good use in the lab
What we do know is like John Carpenter's The Thing (1982), which also bombed at the time of release, Day of the Dead has garnered a very strong cult following. It demands repeat viewings, as there are many subtle directorial touches and character nuances to be relished. The dialogue crackles, especially from the malicious Captain Rhodes (Joseph Pilato), flyboy Johnny, and dry-rot crusader McDermott (Jarlath Conroy), the communications man. I also like the reference by Romero when Dr. Logan gives featured zombie Bub (Sherman Howard) a book to see if he recognizes what to do with it: Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, a novel about a town overrun by vampires.
Day of the Dead Sherman Howard
Sherman Howard as zombie Bub
The movie’s piece de resistance has to be Captain Rhodes demise; “Choke on ‘em! Choke on ‘em!”, surely one of modern horrors most memorable splits from this mortal coil. But there are many great horror set-pieces, including Pvt. Miguel’s arm amputation (Anthony Dileo Jr. in an excellently sustained performance of anxiety), Dr. Logan’s unruly lab zombie run in with a power drill, while the doctor’s neurological work on the unrecognisable army Colonel has to be seen to be believed.
Day of the Dead throat rip
Nothing like a tasty jugular to tear into
Day of the Dead is up there in my top five favourite horror movies of all time. It’s not your average horror movie, often criticized for being too talky, but this is actually one of its strengths; it’s a dramatic horror treatise. But hey, if you want the blood and guts you’ve come to the right movie! I first saw the movie as a grainy NTSC-to-PAL dub that I’d scored back during high school. At the time the movie was unavailable in Australasia and remained unavailable for many years. I was the only person who had a copy among my friends and we’d have regular screenings of it, the bootleg quality adding to the movie’s nightmarish vision.
Day of the Dead Joseph Pilato
Oops, I can't feel my legs no more!

Day of the Dead - the ne plus ultra of the zombie movie genre.

Day of the Dead title card

Here's an unusual trailer which injects an odd sense of humour:

And for those with bigger appetites here's a juicy extended clip (warning: contains spoilers):


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5 Comments. [ Add A Comment ]

Comment by Cibbuano

November 7th 2007 04:12
love it - great review... it's easy to pass this one up, but its got such a sense of futility and desperation, making it hard to stop watching.

Great moments in this film, with much less humour than Dawn.

One thing that definitely put me off the film was the cheesy 80s synth pop soundtrack. Ruined the mood for me completely.

The scientists are a little over the top (it doesn't really seem like they're doing research), but what a great premise: scientists vs soldiers.

Comment by Damo

November 7th 2007 04:37
Pass the barf bag.
This movie will get me divorced if I bring it home.

Comment by Bryn

November 7th 2007 07:26
Cibby, didn't like the soundtrack, huh? Yeah, I guess it is a bit of a date stamp, but over the years it's ingrained itself, and I actually really dig it. I think it actually fits the mood, but hey ...

Damo, yeah, this would get you divorced.

Comment by Cibbuano

November 8th 2007 00:28
just watched the weird trailer... man, it made me want to see it again. Ah, Captain Rhodes...

Comment by Bryn

November 8th 2007 02:18
Cibby, yeah Rhodes is a legendary asshole. "Is that food enuff faw ya!!!"

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