Tuesday, July 2, 2013

#1,051. Day of the Dead (1985)

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 shows us that, sometimes, man can be the most frightening “monster” of them all.

In an underground facility, a group of scientists, supported by a small military unit, are experimenting on the living dead. The lead scientist, Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty) - who the soldiers have nicknamed “Frankenstein” - is trying to “re-program” the dead, rekindling memories to remind them what it was like to be human. His main subject is a zombie named “Bub” (Sherman Howard), who seems to be responding well. 

Dr. Logan's research is put in jeopardy, however, when the "gung-ho" Capt. Rhodes (Joe Pilato) becomes the bunker's new commanding officer. Tired of life underground, Rhodes wants to destroy Logan’s test subjects and return to the world above. 

Caught in the middle of this tense situation are researcher Dr. Sarah Bowman (Lori Cardille) and helicopter pilots John (Terry Alexander) and McDermott (Jarlath Conroy), who must ultimately choose a side in the showdown between Logan and Rhodes, a clash so intense that it threatens not only the mission, but the lives of everyone involved.

Thanks to the fine work of Tom Savini, who also handled the make-up and special effects in Dawn of the Dead, the zombies in Day of the Dead are the most gruesome in the entire series. As the movie opens, Sarah and Pvt. Salazar (Anthony DiLeo, Jr.) are searching for survivors in a deserted Florida town when they're overrun by the living dead, a few of which are missing body parts (one of the first zombies they encounter doesn't have a nose, and the bottom part of his face has been eaten away). 

Yet as grotesque as many of the zombies are in Day, we actually find ourselves sympathizing with them as the movie progresses. Aside from being tortured by Rhodes and his men, the dead are used as guinea pigs in Logan’s “research” (the film’s most memorable image is that of a zombie, its chest cavity opened and main organs severed, turning over and spilling its guts onto the floor). In fact, one of the most likable characters in Day of the Dead is Bub, the zombie who is slowly remembering his life before the chaos. Played superbly by Sherman Howard, we root for Bub every step of the way.

Part of the reason for this is the behavior of the so-called “humans” in Day of the Dead. Shortly after becoming the new commanding officer, Rhodes threatens the scientists with physical harm if they don’t do as he says, and in one of the film’s most intense scenes he even instructs his second-in-command, Steel (Gary Howard Klar), to shoot Sarah if she continues to disobey. For Sarah and the others, being trapped in a bunker with Rhodes, Logan, and the rest is more dangerous than a zombie attack.

One of the best horror movies to emerge from the 1980's, Day of the Dead expands upon the world created in both Night and Dawn, revealing that zombies do, indeed, have the capacity to evolve. 

Unfortunately, mankind seems to be going in the opposite direction...

1 comment:

shanrick said...

I met Tom Savini at a comic-con and he related a story about how they were working on a shoestring budget and they bought a bunch of five-gallon buckets of guts from a slaughterhouse. Over the weekend the fridges went out and the guts spoiled. As they couldn't afford to buy more they just used what they had. They were filming as quick as they could and then running away gagging. That's some hard core dedication.