Day of the Dead (1985)

First came the night, then came the dawn, now the world is experiencing the most frightening day imaginable

Year of Release:  1985

Directed by:  George Romero

Source:  DVD (Own Collection)

Average IMDb Rating:  7.0

Average Rotten Tomatoes Rating:  79%

The United States and, from the looks of it, the entire world are under control by the walking dead.  Modern civilization is extinct and the only thing resembling a stable government is a group of military soldiers, with a handful of scientists, trying to find a cure for the zombie epidemic in an underground bunker in Florida, miles away from the dead.

Dr. “Frankenstein” Logan is the head scientist in the underground bunker, and he really lives up to his nickname:  he’s experimenting on the bodies of the dead soldiers from the unit that is protecting them,  which is lead by the sadistic Captain Rhodes.  Dr. Logan’s research has lead him to believe that a zombie can be domesticated, just like any other savage animal, and his test subject is a zombie named Bub, who has retained some of his basic motor skills.  Dr. Logan feels that Bub is the next phase of zombies, so he requests that Captain Rhodes go back to the surface and retrieve more live subjects for him to continue his research.  Of course, nothing goes according to plan and chaos ensues, forcing the soldiers and scientists to fight for their lives and fight off the army of the dead.

Day of the Dead is one of the most underrated horror films of all time and suffers from something I call Godfather III syndrome.  Godfather IIIsyndrome is when you have the third film in a trilogy trying to live up to the hype and grandiose of the first two movies, and ultimately fails.  The Godfather III is a good movie, but when you compare it to the first two, it just can’t compete.  Think of it like this:  the Godfather opens to rave reviews, becomes an instant classic, is nominated for 11 Oscars, wins 3 of them, including best picture, and is considered an American classic.  The Godfather is ranked a 10 out of 10.  A few years down the road, they make a sequel, the Godfather II, and deja vu, it opens to good reviews, becomes an instant classic, is nominated for 11 Oscars, wins 6 of them, including best picture, and becomes an American classic.  If the Godfather is ranked a 10 out of 10, then part II had to be ranked a 15 out of 10.  Almost a decade later, they decide to release another one, Godfather III, but this time, something different happens:  it opens to mixed reviews, is considered a failure next to the other two movies, gets nominated for 6 Oscars, wins none, and will forever be remembered as the red-headed step-child of the holy trilogy of gangster movies.

Day of the Dead follows the same formula as Godfather III:  first two movies are considered classics in the horror community, but the third one can’t compare to the first two.  I never understood that logic because Day of the Dead, like the Godfather III, is still a damn good movie, but when you compare it to the two masterpieces ahead of it, I could see why everyone thinks they are failures, but they’re really not.

Day of the Dead has a lot going for itself.  Of all the Romero movies in the undead trilogy, this had by far the bleakest story.  In Night and Dawn, it seemed like humanity still had a chance to defeat the living dead, but Day shows you that humanity is almost extinct, and a new dominant species was walking the earth, the undead.  The only humans we see through the whole movie are these 12 scientists and soldiers and for all we know, they might be the last 12 people left on Earth.

This movie had the same claustrophobic feel to it that the original Night of the Living Dead had in the sense that in both of these movies, the main characters are confined to a small space with zombies outside, trying to get to them.  And just like Night, the humans are losing trust of the people around them and are slowly cracking, making them more dangerous than the zombies.  But unlike Night, the humans have some of the zombies chained up like pets, feeding them and trying to teach them to play fetch or something, I forget.

The main reason I love this movie so much is for the super  gory scenes that Tom Savini created.  Savini went from simple gore effects in Dawn of the Dead to some of the goriest, disgusting death scenes in the history of horror films:

Seeing this as a little kid whet my appetite for super realistic gore so much that I became an instant Tom Savini fan.  These two scenes put Savini on the map and made him a household name in the world of horror.

While Day of the Dead may not be a masterpiece compared to the other two movies in Romero’s undead trilogy, it works for me because it builds such strong tension to the end and climaxes with some of the best death scenes ever seen on print, and it features one of the greatest dickheads in the history of film, Joseph Pilato as Captain Rhodes.  God I hated him so much.  I felt Romero ended his original trilogy on a high note with this movie, giving us some hope at the end, even though it did feel rushed, most likely because he ran out of money towards the end of production.  If you haven’t seen this film or heard the negative reviews about it, I suggest you watch it yourselves, form your own opinion, and see the glory that is Day of the Dead, so you can learn to hate Captain Rhodes too.
Until next time,
Matt De Luna, the DeLunatic
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2 thoughts on “Day of the Dead (1985)

  1. Good review! I absolutely love Romero’s original trilogy and I hate the fact that man dismiss Day of the Dead. The gore effects in this film are absolutely jaw-dropping in how realistic they really are. Bub is also one hell of a character, perhaps one of the best in Romero’s zombie world.

    -Steve

    • I agree with you on everything you just said. The death scenes Savini created for this movie are legendary and you really get a better sense of claustrophobia with this film than you would with Dawn of the Dead.

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