Wednesday, October 2, 2013

George A. Romero's Day of the Dead (1985) - A Review

“First there was ‘Night of the Living Dead’, then ‘Dawn of the Dead’… and now the darkest day of horror the world has ever known.”

I had the wonderful privilege of attending the Day of the Dead Soundtrack Festival on Monday night at the beautiful Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. George A. Romero was in attendance, along with composer John Harrison, Howard Sherman, Greg Nicotero (The Walking Dead) and Joe Pilato for a post-screening Q&A. It was a dream come true for any horror fan, and to be sitting a mere 20 feet away from the godfather of zombies was quite an honor. 

While I have grown weary of the current zombie infestation that seems to be infecting every inch of pop culture, I had a wonderful time watching this film and getting a nice reminder about why George A. Romero is one of the horror greats. No matter how many zombies I see, his will always be the best. 

For those of you who have not seen Day of the Dead, it is a wonderful zombie flick with a twist. It’s strangely heartfelt, whacky, zany, hilarious and extremely graphic. It’s a very fun ride, you will laugh, you will cringe, you will jump, you may even get a little misty eyed, but mostly you’ll laugh. A lot. 

Title: Day of the DeadDirector: George A. Romero
Writer: George A. Romero
Producer(s): Richard P. Rubinstein
Starring: Lori Cardille, Joe Pilato, Terry Alexander, Richard Liberty, Howard Sherman
Studio: Dead Films Inc., Laurel Entertainment Inc.
Running Time: 100 min
Release Date: July 19th, 1985

Here’s your IMDB approved synopsis:

Zombies rule the world, except for a small group of scientists and military personnel who reside in an underground bunker in Florida. The scientists are using the undead in gruesome experiments; much to the chagrin of the military. Finally the military finds that their men have been used in the scientists' experiments, and banish the scientists to the caves that house the Living Dead. Unfortunately, the zombies from above ground have made their way into the bunker.

First of all, the opportunity to see this film on the big screen was amazing. Adding on that it was the stunning Blu-Ray transfer made it a bit better, but tacking on that George A. Romero was sitting 3 rows behind me made it a perfect experience. There are certain films that are meant to be seen in a theater, with a large group of people, plenty of pop corn and a great sound system. Horror films, no matter what kind, are those films. It allows you to be fully engrossed in the film, and go on the ride you were meant to without distractions from talkative friends, ringing cell phones, beeping IM services or bothersome roommates. 

This film is drastically different from Romero’s work on Night of the Living Dead or Dawn of the Dead. The vibe and feel is different, but that is one thing that makes Romero so great at what he does. Each film has its own identity, especially Day. In Night, you see the birth of the zombie; truly one of his most terrifying zombie films. In Dawn, you see him perfect the zombie and create what is widely believed to be the perfect zombie film ever. In Day, however, you see Romero having tons of fun. In his own words, Day of the Dead is his favorite zombie film, out of all the ones that he’s created. 

This is not your typical zombie film. From the intentional over acting to the greatest zombie of all time, Bub, this movie will do things that most don’t. Tug at your heart strings, make you laugh and maybe even make you cry. 

The first point that I want to focus on is that of Bub, the tender hearted zombie that everyone grows to love. When Dr. Logan discovers that zombies can be “conditioned” he finds a favorite subject in a zombie that he dubs, “Bub”. Bub is a special case, he remembers life as a living man, he responds to Dr. Logan in a calm and collected manner. He resembles a misunderstood puppy that you just want to rub behind the ears and give a bone to. All credit of course goes to Howard Sherman, who brought such life to the lifeless role of Bub and for pulling the audience to his side. You actually side with a zombie in this film. Amazing, not only on the part of Sherman but of course through the ingenious writing of Mr. Romero. 

For me, one of the most interesting aspects of this film was the soundtrack. While there are a few dark and moving moments, for the most part it’s an extremely uplifting soundtrack. If you were to listen to the soundtrack without any of the context that the film provides, it seems woefully out of place BUT when listened to in conjunction of the film… it somehow fits absolutely perfectly. In fact, during the Q&A portion of the evening, Romero said that initially the movie received relatively bad reviews with great focus on the “out of place” soundtrack. Now, with the addition of the sensitivities of Bub’s character, the soundtrack is perfect. I mean, after all, there’s a reason that John Harrison’s work was being honored that night.

This cast was funny, in a good way, but when going into this film do keep in mind that this film is intentionally over-acted. The acting borders on cheese in such a delightful way, it adds a very light tone to the film. Yes, there are moments of dread, moments of tension, but for the most part the acting lends to a very fun and light ride. There is a beautiful moment though, shared between Sarah and John (played by Lori Cardille and Terry Alexander) in which they discuss the importance of the time they had and how to spend what few moments they have left on earth. This is a prime example of what an amazing writer George A. Romero is. It certainly shows that his “zombie” films are not at all about the zombies themselves, but the living. The one’s attempting to survive. It was nice to see such a deep moment that resonates so deeply embedded in the middle of this film. 

Tom Savini, perhaps the greatest special effects and make-up artists in the horror world led the special effects team on this film and what a wonderful display it is. While Savini had already made his name through work on Friday the 13th and Maniac (among many others) I believe this film to be some of his greatest work of that time. From the make-up effects to the gratuitous scenes of decapitation, it’s absolutely entrancing to watch, especially for me. Savini’s work is part of what made me fall in love with the horror genre; what he creates with prosthetics, gun powder and fake blood is nothing short of pure art. 

So all you zombie lovers out there, I say this. You cannot call yourself a zombie fan unless you see this film. From the lovable Bub, to the intelligent writing of Mr. Romero, to the incredible special effects of Tom Savini and Greg Nicotero, this film is far and above one of the greatest zombie films ever created. Make sure that you head over to Scream Factory and pick up your very own copy of it on Blu-Ray as well, the transfer is absolutely beautiful. 


‘Til next time…

Rg Lovecraft

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