Day of the Dead 

By
the time 1985 rolled around, Romero had made one other Dead film: the
brilliant Dawn of the Dead. Other countries, especially Italy and
Spain, turned zombie movies into virtual cash machines and zombies,
for the first time, were everywhere. So there was great anticipation
for Day of the Dead, Romero’s third film in what was, for years,
thought to be a trilogy. Expectations were high and, unfortunately,
the film was a bust and the zombie craze began to slowly fizzle out.

In
retrospect, Day of the Dead is a nihilistic masterpiece and not at
all worthy of the criticism lobbed against it. Concerning the tail
end of civilization as we know it (the zombie to human ratio is
400,000 to 1), Day of the Dead pits scientists and the military
against each other as they work together in an underground
silo in an attempt to reverse the course of the plague, which has reached
global proportions.

These
days, we know that Romero wanted to make a much bigger movie than he did. Initially budgeted around $6 million, the film was
also to include the sequestered city on an island
that would turn up in the studio-backed Land of the Dead almost 20
years later. Nervous about releasing such an expensive movie without
an MPAA rating, the producers slashed the budget in half and Romero
pared his vision back.

What
Romero did capture, however, is spectacular. The cavernous setting of
the underground cave is wholly unique and unusual. It’s also
creepily effective as the sounds of the zombies who have been taken
prisoner for scientific experiments waft through the echo chamber and await their fate. It should also be said that this movie
represents the pinnacle of Tom Savini’s career. A Romero stalwart,
Savini had never before created the kind of gooey practical effects
on display here. Dripping with entrails, internal organs and flapping
dermis, Savini need only put this movie in his portfolio as it truly
is the alpha and omega of his work.

The
performances are all pretty great, even if everything is dialed up a
bit much in moments. Lori Cardille, daughter of Bill Cardille from
Night of the Living Dead, is fantastic as the stoic Sarah who has to
oscillate between keeping it together and collapsing under severe
emotional strain; Terry Alexander is cooly brilliant as John, the
moral center of the piece and the character with the best lines;
Richard Liberty gives the finest performance of his career as Dr.
Logan, the mad scientist with a strange past to which he subtly
alludes; but it’s Sherman Howard as Bub who steals the movie. The
star pupil of Dr. Logan, Bub’s physicality and dialogue-free
delivery runs the gamut from pathos to rage and is easily the
greatest zombie performance of all time.

Once
again, Scream Factory hits a home run with this release. Previously,
Day of the Dead had been under the stewardship of Anchor Bay, and
while its DVD and Blu-ray releases weren’t insulting, there was
room for improvement in both the picture and sound departments. Here,
the brand new transfer serves the film well, allowing for the small
doses of color to pop off the screen and render the textures quite
nicely. While some of the dialogue seems to include a certain hiss
that I may have just never noticed before, John Harrison’s
evocative score sounds great and the gruesome sound effects are all
balanced quite well. Added to this is a full-length commentary ported over from the Anchor Bay release, a bevy of trailers, a
retrospective on the locations and a few others. However, the real
draw is the extensive, almost-90 minute making-of documentary containing new interviews with just about everyone involved.

Just
in time for Halloween, Day of the Dead finally gets the Blu-ray
treatment it deserves. — Patrick Crain

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Patrick Crain

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