Day of the Dead (1985)
The darkest day of horror the world has ever known.
Year of Release: 1985
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 101 minutes (1:41)
Director: George A. Romero
Lori Cardille ... Sarah
Terry Alexander ... John
Joseph Pilato ... Rhodes
Jarlath Conroy ... McDermott
Anthony Dileo Jr. ... Miguel
Richard Liberty ... Logan
Sherman Howard ... Bub
Gary Howard Klar ... Steel
Ralph Marrero ... Rickles
John Amplas ... Fisher
Phillip G. Kellams ... Miller
Taso N. Stavrakis ... Torrez
Gregory Nicotero ... Johnson
Howard Berger ... Spinaround Cave Zombie Shot by John (uncredited)
Everett Burrell ... Surgeon Zombie in Cave (uncredited)
Bill 'Chilly Billy' Cardille ... Elevator Zombie (uncredited)
George A. Romero ... Zombie with Scarf (uncredited)
The "walking dead" have taken over the world. Only a small band of scientists and soldiers are definitely known to remain, and they have taken refuge in an underground missile silo. The only hope for survival of the human race hinges on discovering a way to either control the walking dead or get them back into their graves for good. Grotesque research experiments are being conducted by Dr. Logan, a borderline mad scientist, appropriately nicknamed Dr. Frankenstein by his associates. His most promising prospect for controlling the hordes of walking dead is one "guinea pig" zombie who seems to have a trace of humanity left in him. But the military leader soon discovers that some of his soldiers have been used as substitute guinea pigs in zombie experiments, and he retaliates by locking up the remaining scientific team with the zombies. Now, the remaining human survivors engage in a horrific last-ditch battle for life with thousands of the walking dead.
Day of the Dead, the movie that reminds us that just because there's no more room in Hell, that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of jerks that're yet to be sentenced at the pearly gates. Hell really aughta get some new zoning permits, or maybe just annex Heck so there'll be more space for damnation. Anyhow, we've got some good ones here so clear your desks an get our your three subject notebooks, this is important. One, science and the military really aughta think about getting separate places, they fight way too often an it's probably frightening the poor zombies in the cave next door. Consider the extensive therapy they'll require one day from listening to Mommy an Daddy fight all the time. Two, zombies make great pets, so long as you've got enough human entrails to keep their bloodlust sated. An don't try giving them that generic shit, they hate that. It's like giving a person dog food and being surprised when they try to kill you. Three, people always gotta have someone to blame. When the leash breaks on Miguel an the zombie starts gnawing on tracheas, it really wasn't his fault, but people generally won't accept that shit just happens sometimes. So don't take it personally if you're blamed for something beyond your control, people are imbeciles. An four... Hell hath no fury like a Mexican amputee scorned. That's quality stuff right there, straight from Professor Romero himself. But one lesson stands out above all others here: never stop trying to better yourself. As we learn in the movie, not all survivors are created equal. The oblivious military places a much higher value on individuals that're deemed necessary than those who aren't, and when the zombie apocalypse comes, there's only going to be so many helicopters to carry people to safety. It's not gonna be like the Titanic where having breasts gets you a free pass onto the life rafts, oh no. There's gonna be people lined up for miles with their college degrees and resumes in hand trying to get on board. An if you're not useful? You're zombie chow. It's not gonna be like a job interview where you get the job for having the nicest tits or being a relative of an employee, no sir. Your size triple Fs are not only not getting you on the chopper, but they're gonna make it real tough to escape the zombie horde. So the next time you're considering not studying for the test, reconsider. Not gonna go to college because it's too expensive? Your funeral. So get it together, or you're gonna be stuck at the bottom of the food chain.
Day of the Dead begins with a helicopter full of people looking and radioing for anyone who may be a survivor of the zombie apocalypse. Where exactly they intend to put them if they find them wasn't given a great deal of thought, but we're down to 12 people on the planet so we can't exactly be choosy about who gets sent on these missions. Unable to find anyone on the radio other than Art Bell, who only pops on long enough to tell them he told them so, they decide to land the chopper an yell into a bullhorn an wait to see if anyone without massive bodily trauma comes out to greet them. Unfortunately, everyone that shows up for the meat 'n greet is just there for the food, an they have to head back to base. More unfortunately, the base has quite an infestation problem outside its gate, an Sarah doesn't want them to refuel the chopper until after dark when they can't see it happening. John argues that she's out of her coconut cause they may need to make an emergency beer run later an then look at the mess they'd be in. But John gets over ruled on account of Sarah knowing what DNA stands for an she tries to help her boyfriend out of the chopper on account of him being so weak an delicate. But Miguel (her boyfriend) is on the rag an tells her to leave him alone an stomps off muttering about how she never takes him anywhere nice anymore. Upon reentering the facility, Steel an Rickles (who kinda resemble Mutt an Jeff) pull up in their golf cart an tell Miguel he'd better put down his purse an come with them cause Dr. Logan needs more extras for Savini an Nicotero to fill up with nasty guts for the next shot. Sarah tries to explain to them that he's in a vulnerable emotional state right now, but they're not having it, so Sarah and Miguel hop on the cart to go zombie wranglin'. Not far away they have constructed a wooden gate with a section that can be raised an lowered, for ideal zombie wrangling conditions, an Steel starts yelling into the catacombs on the other side of the gate to attract the zombies. Steel's a real jerk, an the zombies don't wanna come out cause they know he'll just hurt their feelings again like he always does, but as is the case with most women an bad boys, one zombie lady still thinks she can change him an comes up to the gate, an Steel drops it as she steps in. Miguel puts the leash around her neck, only she's a wiry one an it turns out that trying to walk her is even harder than walking Marmaduke an he drops the leash an she almost puts the bite on Rickles.
Sarah gets ahold of the leash an passes it off to Rickles, but Steel is pissed, an holds Miguel just inches above the zombitch an Sarah has to pull out her AK so Steel'll stop making Miguel piss himself. Then Steel shot puts Miguel into the cave wall an they take the zombies to Logan's lab. Later, there's a meeting of the minds going on in the conference cavern, or at least a meeting of the mind, as it's mostly soldiers at this point. Sarah's not there because she's in Logan's lab watching him hook corpses up to electrodes so he can make them do the Thriller. Logan's a few fries short of a Happy Meal an he wants to try to domesticate the zombies so they'll stop trying to eat their livers with Fava beans an Chianti. On the other side of the room, Logan's detached the stomach of one to see if it still wants to gnaw on him, only it breaks its restraints an literally spills its guts an Logan has to take a power drill to its forehead. Sarah thinks he's so looney that by comparison even the military guys might have something less insane to discuss an heads for the meeting room. But mostly it's just a lot of male posturing from the soldiers an before long Sarah gets tired of it an decides to go check on Miguel cause she doped 'em up earlier so she wouldn't have to listen to him whine about how bloated he is. But Captain Rhodes isn't done feeling like a big man yet an tells her that if she doesn't sit down an make him feel important he's gonna have Steel shoot her. She eventually sits back down an Rhodes metaphorically jizzes in his pants. It is at this point that Logan finally shows up an basically derails Rhodes' power trip, shows 'em less respect than Rodney Dangerfield, an reminds him that he's a lot like Richard Gere, in that, he's got no place else to go. So he's pretty much got to give the scientists the time they've asked for. Then Sarah an Miguel have another screaming match an she tells him to GTFO cause she's the woman, so long as it's convenient. After he storms out, she leaves to go find some aspirin when the soldiers roll out of the door to their barracks an start wrestling around on the floor, trying to get access to each other's back doors. McDermott (the electrician) happens to be passing by an takes her out to the trailer he shares with John, cause watching men jockeying for position is no place for a lady. John gives a big speech about how he thinks they're all wasting their time, that what she's working on doesn't matter, an that they should go find an island an make babies.
The next morning, Logan brings Sarah an Fisher (another scientist) into his lab to see Bub. Bub's a zombie. Only instead of trying to eat everyone, Bub likes to read Salem's Lot an shave off his jowls with a Bic razor. Sarah's impressed. But Rhodes is still just a dick, an he's got nothing better to do than wander around the base an make sure nobody's forgotten that he's a dick. Strangely, when Bub sees Rhodes, he salutes. Signifying that Bub was once in the military, but as I understand it, you're only supposed to salute your superiors, an Rhodes is without question Bub's mental inferior. Logan wants to see how Bub reacts to having the salute returned, but Rhodes doesn't go for it, an he wants to kill Bub cause he hasn't shot anyone in the last couple hours, but Logan steps between them an tries to talk sense to Rhodes. Fortunately, Rhodes can't be bothered to take a step to the left to fire, an leaves. Moments later, the zombie round up squad is back at it, apparently it's worthwhile to Rhodes to risk his men's lives to get more specimens, as long as it's him dispatching them for no reason. Unfortunately, it's not just Miguel's concentration that breaks this time, it's the leash, and the loosed zombie chows down on a couple jugulars an bites Miguel before Steel's able to dispatch it. Miguel runs like a bitch with a skinned knee an Sarah catches up with him at McDermott an John's place an is able to calm him down with a 20lb rock to the skull. She quickly hatchets off his arm at the elbow an puts the barbie on the shrimp to cauterize the stub just as Rhodes an his goons show up, an they're none too pleased. After a standoff they end up leaving Miguel with the trailer trash, only Sarah has to go get some morphine on account of Miguel experiencing some mild discomfort. After securing the morphine, they see Logan at the end of the hallway an watch as he teaches Bub how to turn the music on his Walkman off and on, which sounds simple enough, but my neighbors are yet to master it while I'm trying to sleep. About that time, Rhodes shows up just in time to see Logan giving Bub his reward, which consists of pieces of Rhodes' dead soldiers an Rhodes completely flies off the handle an goes all Scarface on Logan an drags Sarah an McDermott down to the zombie cavern where John's arrived to check on them. Meanwhile, Miguel has gotten up an gone walkabout, an Rhodes locks Sarah an McDermott in with the zombies cause he thinks that if he kills them John's gonna be real inclined to fly them out. An we'll cut it off here to preserve the great ending.
It seems like some critics are giving Day of the Dead some harsh treatment. Not all of them, nor does it get any real negativity from fans of the genre, but there does appear to be some panning going on. I personally don't get it, I think it's great. But beyond that, I find it extremely odd that any critic who liked the first two would give it a negative review. There's really not much difference between it an the first two. It's got more plot, better special effects, and a great antagonist, which is something the series has actually never had up to this point. (Nor did it need one, considering the way the story went in the first two) I dunno, I really don't get it. It's not quite as good as Dawn, but it's damn close, and I think it's better than Night, although not many people are going to agree with that. Still, it's got a very respectable 7.1 currently on IMDB and a 72% on Rotten Tomatoes. Considering it's the third in a series, which is generally a major let down, it really delivers. The real downer is that Romero had initially roped in a lot of money for this and had big time plans for an amazing movie. In his words, it was to be the "Gone with the Wind" of zombie movies. Unfortunately, studio jerks that think they know better than the guy that's churned out the best zombie franchise in history went all stupid on him, AGAIN, and cut his budget in half. Gotta wonder how much of Joe Pilato's character's egotism was inspired by the asshats that keep screwing with him every time he's working on an amazing movie. Probably none, but I wanted to include that remark anyway. You've also got to wonder, as well as this came out, could it have been even better if people would have left him alone an let him do his thing? Maybe so. In spite of the nonsense, Romero says it's his personal favorite of the series, which is funny considering it was most people's least favorite at the point where there were only the three in the series. Still, you've got to admire Romero's desire to keep all the good parts off the cutting room floor. Unquestionably, when the MPAA got their hands on it, they'd have tried to slap an X on it, until they scissored out about three minutes of footage. But he took half as much money he could have gotten, kept it out of the MPAAs hands and got it released, unrated. Would the bigger budget even matter when they would have to kill so much of the gore to get an R rating? Possible. Although it'd cheapen it, no pun intended.
So, to review. The acting is pretty good. My one questionable performance is Anthony Dileo as Miguel. Questionable, not bad. I'm not exactly sure if he's supposed to come off as such a whiny, hormonal bitch. If he is, it's a great performance. His behavior just seems a little over the top. Maybe that's the idea, bottom line, good acting. The lead is played by the daughter of Chilly Billy Cardille who played news broadcasters in the first two movies. Chilly Billy also makes his third appearance in the series, as an uncredited zombie. You've also got two special effects guys playing zombies, much like Tom Savini did in Dawn, although Savini must have been too busy managing the effects this time around to get gooped up himself. Romero also played an uncredited zombie. You've also got Greg Nicotero as a non zombie character. Another great special effects artist in his own right, although only studying at the feet of the master during that time. Taso Stavrakis also back again, played a biker in Dawn. Got a bigger role this time, but still no speaking lines. The rest, while good, never did too much in the genre after Day of the Dead, and thus don't interest me, although several had previously been in two of Romero's non zombie movies, The Crazies and Martin. The setting, while simple, is effective. Not much in the way of shooting locations, we've got a cavern in Pennsylvania for the underground scenes, and the rare above ground scenes somewhere in Florida. The cavern is somewhat unique, but overall, nothing astounding. The special effects are amazing, some of the best in the history of the genre, and probably THE best in the zombie sub-genre. Some really nasty stuff, extremely well executed. But you wouldn't expect anything less from Tom Savini, Greg Nicotero, and a host of other very talented, if less famous people. Particularly when they're actually given a budget to work with. Just fantastic. The soundtrack is great, vintage 80s. The suspense tracks are where it particularly shines. Bottom line: classic splatter fest, one of the best, never be another one like it. Check it out with someone you're confident won't vomit on you.