Film Review: Day of the Dead (1985)

Written and directed by George A. Romero, and starring Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, Joe Pilato, Jarlath Conroy, Anthony Dileo Jr., Richard Liberty, and Sherman Howard.

"A zombie apocalypse has ravaged the Earth whilst America's last surviving humans study them from within an underground military establishment. The survivors in the film are horrified at the prospect that they 'are the only ones left', creating a crisis within human civilization over whether or not the idea of human society should be continued or abandoned. The living characters in the film are made up of three distinctive groups, each of whom have been given a task by the government - but since the government is no longer providing oversight (and may no longer exist) each group is becoming increasingly subject to temptations that go beyond their instructions. The scientists have been ordered to find a resolution to the epidemic but are tempted to violate nature's boundaries guarding life and death, soldiers who are assigned to protect the doctors appointed to study the zombies but are tempted to enforce fascistic martial law and destroy the specimens in an act of rebellion, and the civilians who are assigned to serve both groups with basic though necessary services like transportation and communication are tempted to abandon the cause and, instead, live out their last days in reckless abandon."

Since I'm going in order reviewing Romero's series, and I've looked down on Day of the Dead for years, I decided to revisit the movie again after having not seen it in a very long time. Do you want to know what I think after a repeated viewing? Day of the Dead is the best movie Romero has ever made. Hell, even Romero agrees: "The lowest grossing film in George A. Romero's "Dead" trilogy. Nonetheless, it's gained a cult following over the last two decades, and the director himself has stated that he considers it his best film." Romero even originally intended the film to be his undead epic; "the Gone with the Wind of zombie films." While I find that a bit funny (and yet, still plausible), I feel terrible for giving this movie such a bad rap for so long. But I've come to find that zombie movie fans either love this movie or hate it. There doesn't seem to be much in between.
The movie itself is the darkest in its tone, and is the main reason that people (critics especially) have a hard time enjoying themselves. Even "Roger Ebert, who reacted favorably to other films of Romero's Dead Series, gave Day of the Dead one and a half stars." But I've come to find over the years that, in most cases he really isn't in touch with good cinema, so fuck what Ebert thinks. The distaste from some of the fans and critics probably has to due with the fact that the movie is so claustrophobic. Almost the entire movie takes place in an underground military bunker, but the bleakness of the movie is why I love it so much. I can definitely tell the Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead comic book series is inspired in no small part by Romero's Day of the Dead. The acting is the best it has been under Romero's direction, with only a few too-dramatic scenes. But the definite stand-outs are by Lori Cardille as Sarah, Richard Liberty as Dr. Matthew Logan, or Frankenstein as they call him, Terry Alexander as John, and, of course, Sherman Howard as the zombie Bub. The dialog itself is very well-written, and might even be the reason that puts this movie at the top of my Romero series list. Even the score, by John Harrison, is the best in the series, thus far, and maybe even overall. Tom Savini is also back, doing even better make-up effects than in Dawn of the Dead.

There are a few minor complaints on my end though. No movie is perfect. As I mentioned before, some of the acting is a bit over-dramatic at times, and one of the big reasons I disliked Romero's follow-up to Day, Land of the Dead, is that these undead, decomposing people still have the ability to learn, use weapons, and, in Day's case, have the ability to speak, even if the speech is barely recognizable. Yet, for some reason, in Day of the Dead, it actually works in its favor. Frankenstein's attempt to "make the zombie behave" was actually one of my favorite parts of the movie. And the end wraps it up all so neatly that I can't help but look at Land of the Dead in a (slightly) better light. So far, to this point, Day of the Dead stands as the best zombie movie I've reviewed. Oh, and I loved the zombie crocodile at the beginning. That's actually one of the few things I could remember liking, however minor, before I watched it again.

Best quote: "We're bein' punished by the Creator. He visited a curse on us. Maybe He didn't want to see us blow ourselves up, put a big hole in the sky. Maybe He just wanted to show us He's still the Boss Man. Maybe He figure, we gettin' too big for our britches, tryin' to figure His shit out."

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