“Hello! Is anyone there?” There are no better words for an opening scene in a zombie movie!!! This particular verse comes from George A. Romero’s third “dead” installment, Day of the Dead (1985). In the scene, as Dr. Sarah Bowman and Pvt. Salazar call out from their nearby helicopter, searching for other survivors, the camera pans out, revealing a ravaged and empty tomb of a city slowly echoing with the hungry cries of the undead. This scene is one of the first images shown in Day of the Dead; with it we’re given a very chilling and unforgettable moment in horror, the feeling of desperation.
How desperate have things become? Following Night of the Living Dead, where folks were simply trying to survive the night, and following Dawn of the Dead as folks were escaping the cities, abandoning attempted containment zones and searching for safe havens, Day of the Dead shows us a group of survivors after the flood, the last ditch effect of a collapsing government desperately looking for a cure, while also searching for other survivors near the area of their underground complex. How desperate have things become? In the words of Nick Furry, “very desperate,” and they might not like the outcome their kind of “situation” tends to bring out in people.
Day of the Dead is a highly regarded zombie movie, though, typically, fans of the series will rate Dawn of the Dead as the better “dead” flick within Romero’s trilogy, if only marginally. To be honest, this holds true for me as well; Dawn was simply a better movie. The things Dawn said about society and people resonated with me better than with Day; however, this doesn’t mean Day didn’t have something valuable to teach us regarding said society. If anything, Day of the Dead told the tale of desperation and how people react when cornered better than the other two movies combined.
There was also something about Bub that wasn’t told in the other movies…not until Land of the Dead at least. Bub was a very unique character; a zombie interacting with peoples both positively and negatively. With Doctor Logan, aka Dr. Frankenstein (who by the way reminded me of an aged Herbert West), Bub was rather nonviolent and friendly, but with Captain Rhodes, while Bub started out friendly, he turned violent in response to Rhodes aggressive attitude. Though Rhodes was a total jerk and was constantly boarding a nervous breakdown, it was hard not agreeing with him. How were they supposed to “train” millions of undead? While Logan was looking towards domestication, Rhodes was hoping for some kind of WMD. Logan was obviously mad, but we can’t ignore Bub as proof that some form of domestication was possible…or maybe Bub was just the next evolutionary stage for the zombie within the Romero universe.
The strangest bit with Bub was when he discovered Logan’s dead body. Okay, so you can train Bub by showing him things he “remembers” from when he was alive. I can buy that, its not a huge leap of faith to see a zombie interacting with something it remembers from its past life. This was the theory in Dawn of the Dead for why the undead were coming to the mall. But when Bub finds Logan in the freezer, he reacts with emotion, Bub is sad and then becomes enraged. You can see on his face a desire for resolution. Bub is strange because he forces us to question the existence of the zombie. Are they not mindless beings? Do they feel? Do they cry? Obviously, in the movie world, these undead beings are a huge threat and very dangerous, but with Bub we have to question everything. However, in Day of the Dead, Bub is an anomaly, he’s the only zombie we see behaving with cognition, the rest simply follows the food. The lasting imagine with Bub is how Logan falsely thought he had domesticated him. Did bub stop seeing people as food? Sure, but that doesn’t mean he stopped seeing them as the enemy. In the case of Rhodes, Bub guns him down, pushing him into a horde of zombies to be pulled apart. The final scene with Bub shows him giving the disemboweled Capt Rhodes a mocking salute.
The great flaw Romero highlights in his stories are how incredibly messed up people are, the ones who react poorly in face of some earth shattering event. His movies show us the ugly truth: when folks are scared and desperate they make selfish decisions. But Romero doesn’t take away hope, he also shows us the smaller band that pulls together and survives. This smaller group of heroes goes back to the original play-on-words that spawned his zombie vision, Romero’s response to Richard Nixon’s call for the non-violent silent majority to stand up and be counted (1968), still lives on in Day of the Dead. However, now the silent majorities are no longer mindless zombies, but evolving, and perhaps not in the way Nixon had originally intended.
On September 17, 2013, the Collector’s Edition Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack for Day of the Dead releases nationwide. The cover art, conceived from the morbid mind of Nathan Thomas Milliner, is amazing and just how mama used to say, “First impressions are everything.” Some of the special features include, but are not limited to:
• New High-Definition Master
• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director George A. Romero, Special Make-Up Effects Artist Tom Savini, Production Designer Cletus Anderson and Actress Lori Cardille
• Behind the Scenes: 31 Minutes of Production Footage from Special Make-Up Effects Artist Tom Savini
• Audio Interview with Actor Richard Liberty
• Wampum Mine Promotional Video
• Photo Galleries
• Theatrical Trailers
• TV Spots
• And More…
You can pre-order your copy here with Amazon. Which, in my opinion, is worth the $20.96 cost, especially as this edition comes with both the blu-ray and DVD. And the Bottom Line? Good story, awesome traditional effects, what more could you ask for in a zombie movie? Was Day as good as Dawn? Not for me, but that doesn’t mean Day of the Dead wasn’t worth watching, it is; Day of the Dead is an amazing movie full of characters you’ll love and hate.