Directed By: George A. Romero
Starring: Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, Joseph Pilato
Tag line: "The Dead have waited. The day has come"
Trivia: This was the lowest grossing film in George A. Romero's "Dead" trilogy, but, over the years, has gained a cult following
The 3rd entry in director George Romero’s “Living Dead” series, 1985’s Day of the Dead throws a spotlight on the zombies themselves, while also showing us that man can sometimes be the most frightening “monster” around.
In an underground facility, a group of scientists, with the help of a small military unit, are experimenting on the living dead, trying to learn everything they can about them. The lead scientist, Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty), who the soldiers have nicknamed “Frankenstein”, is, at the same time, attempting to “re-train” the dead, reminding them of what it was like to be human. His main subject is a zombie named “Bub” (Sherman Howard), who seems to be responding well to Dr. Logan’s tests. All of this research is threatened, however, when Capt. Rhodes (Joe Pilato), a gung-ho military type, becomes the soldiers' new commanding officer. Tired of life underground, Rhodes wants to destroy all of Logan’s test subjects and return to the world above, where he and his men can start searching for a new place to call home. Caught in the middle of this tense situation are researcher Dr. Sarah Bowman (Lori Cardille) and a pair of helicopter pilots named John (Terry Alexander) and McDermott (Jarlath Conroy), all of whom are doing their best to survive both the onslaught of the living dead and the dangerous feud that’s developed between Logan and Rhodes, a showdown that threatens not only the mission, but their lives as well.
Thanks to Tom Savini, who did the make-up and special effects for Dawn of the Dead, the zombies in Day are the most gruesome in the entire series. In the opening scene, Sarah, accompanied by Pvt. Salazar (Anthony DiLeo, Jr), hitches a ride with John and McDermott to search for more survivors, only to end up in a deserted Florida town that’s been overrun by the dead, many of whom are missing body parts (the first zombie to stumble on-screen doesn't have a nose, and the bottom part of his face has been eaten away). Yet as grotesque as many of the living dead are in Day, we actually find ourselves sympathizing with them throughout the movie. Aside from being tortured by Rhodes and his men, the dead are used as guinea pigs in Logan’s “research”; one of the film’s most memorable images is that of a zombie, his chest cavity opened and his main organs severed, turning over and spilling his guts onto the floor. Perhaps the most likable character in Day is Bub, the zombie who’s slowly remembering his life before the chaos. Played superbly by Sherman Howard, we root for Bub to win out over many of the film’s human characters.
Part of the reason for this is that the so-called “humans” in Day of the Dead are more deadly than their undead counterparts. Shortly after becoming the new commanding officer, Rhodes threatens the scientists with physical harm if they don’t do as he says (in one of the film’s tensest scenes, he instructs his second-in-command, Steel, played by Gary Howard Klar, to shoot Sarah if she doesn’t sit down). Almost as bad as Rhodes is Dr. Logan, who, despite the success he’s been having with Bub, has also been using the bodies of the deceased soldiers for his experiments. As dangerous as the living dead are, Sarah and the others realize that staying in the bunker with this group might prove even more lethal.
One of the best horror movies to emerge from the ‘80s, Day of the Dead expands upon the world created in both Night and Dawn by revealing that zombies do, indeed, have the capacity to evolve. As for mankind, who are now in the minority, they're clearly going in the opposite direction.