Day of the Dead, 1985
Directed by George A. Romero
Starring Joeseph Pilato, Lori Cardille and Richard Liberty
Society has completely fallen to the undead, with the remnants of the government and military holing up in large underground bases, attempting to try and work out how to achieve victory in the increasingly futile war against the zombie hordes.
Most films that deal with an apocalyptic scenario often depict a bleak sense of dread and foreboding, with humanity initially struggling with its differences in the face of such a devastating threat whether it is an alien invasion, a natural disaster or anything that Roland Emmerich wishes to destroy the world with that week.
Ultimately though, humanity manages to cast aside its petty rivalries, coming together for the greater good of the planet and overcoming whatever threat faces them.
Very rarely is this the case in George A. Romero’s Dead films.
This series often depict the worst parts of humanity being exacerbated by the onslaught of a zombie plague, with the undead rising be used as an excuse for racists to murder our innocent black hero, under the guise of killing another zombie in Night of the Living Dead (1968), while Dawn of the Dead (1978) saw our heroes unable to resist the lure of commercialism, even with the world falling apart outside, their greed creating themselves their own luxurious sanctuary, or their own prison depending how you look at it.
The third film of George A. Romero’s long-running Dead series finds that humanity’s failure to unite in the face of an undead apocalypse finds the zombies now running the show with the remnants of humanity reduced to cowering underground. Welcome to the darkest day in human history, welcome to the Day of the Dead.
The film is according to director Romero a “tragedy about how a lack of human communication causes chaos and collapse even in this small little pie slice of society”.
This sentiment can be seen in almost every scene in which the scientists attempt to discuss with their military counterparts over the best solution to the zombie menace. They can’t simply agree on a common solution to their common problem, with most discussions devolving into screaming matches, often peppered insults and threats of violence, especially from the increasingly psychotic Captain Rhodes.
The cast of characters are well cast and performed, with a strong performance Lori Cardille as Dr Bowman, an intelligent, strong willed and fierce woman -a far cry from the usual helpless damsel in distress that permeated 80s horror and of previous Dead films, with Cardille proving herself more than capable of staring down her military rivals.
We have a very eccentric and funny performance from Richard Liberty as the always blood soaked scientist nicknamed “Frankenstein”. A brilliant if slightly odd fellow, who’s at his happiest when in his gore splattered lab amongst his living dead guinea pigs with Bub, an intelligent educated zombie being the pride and joy of his numerous experiments.
However, the real scene stealer is the truly mental Joseph Pilato as Captain Rhodes, a far more monstrous creature than any zombie, who dominates the screen in a truly captivating performance.
A power hungry, violent psychopath who has in effect turned the bunker into his own private dictatorship, Rhodes is the true menace of the film, calmly threatening to shoot people who try to leave meetings, and, in my favourite line in the film, demanding to know “WHAT THE FUCK YOU’RE DOING WITH MY TIME!!”.
Tom Savini is back on special effects duty, creating arguably his finest work, although the film wisely holds back on the gore for the most part, instead focusing on drama and character development over gory effects for much of the run-time. But when the inevitable shit hits the fan, it hits the fan in a gruesome orgy of guts and blood, culminating in one of the most gruesome deaths, made iconic by one of the greatest one liners ever uttered by a dying villain.
Day of the Dead might not be for everyone and those who enjoyed the previous installments in the Dead series may be slightly disappointed by it. Day focuses much of its run time on dialogue and drama with very little action until the final act, which may lead some viewers to feel bored by the film. However, I feel that the film really is worth a look for any true zombie fan or true fans of horror for that matter.
Thanks to strong performances from the cast, particularly from Pilanto as Rhodes, a darker tone and more dramatic focus, I would argue that Day of the Dead is in fact the best of the series, proving a fitting end to Romero’s original trilogy that helped to make the zombie the pop culture icon it is today.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★