Day of the Dead Review
Having already reviewed the remake of Night of the Living Dead (Someone already beat me to the original review) and Dawn of the Dead I thought it only right that I should do a review of the (current) final instalment of the Dead series. Romero originally wanted to do a film that was far wider in scope but budget restrictions meant that a much simpler route had to be taken. This is always regarded as the weakest of the three films and I broadly agree although I don’t think there is much in it.
Time has moved on since Dawn of the Dead and now zombies outnumber humans 400,000 to 1. We join a group of soldiers, scientists and civilians who were apparently put together at the last minute in an underground shelter. They are trying to devise a solution to the zombie problem. To achieve this a number of zombies are being held in an underground corral and are being removed and used in the labs as necessary. When we join the group tensions are running high as men are dying and the answer to the world’s problem seems no closer.
Captain Rhodes (Pilato) is the leader of the military side and he seems to be almost psychotic when the movie starts. He leads a bunch of misogynist, macho thugs who without adequate chain of command have become a law unto themselves. The scientists have split their efforts between Sarah (Cardille) who is trying to find a way to neutralise the zombies and Dr Logan (Liberty) who is trying to condition them to behave. Logan’s research seems to bear most fruit but at an unfortunate price. His greatest achievement is Bub, a partially domesticated zombie. Bub doesn’t try to attack humans and can perform simple tasks. Sarah thinks Logan’s research is misguided, as it will take too long to condition the zombies. The final pair added to this microcosm of society are a pilot and his communications partner who try to avoid trouble at all costs.
The result of this clash of characters is a barely contained war between the factions. Rather than working together they bicker and argue. Indeed for a huge chunk of the film we hardly see a zombie at all. The whole plot is basically more to do with how different parts of society interact under pressure. The answer is that they don’t do it very well at all. Things deteriorate gradually until the climax of the film, which I won’t spoil for you.
The main problem with the film is that in places it feels like a re-run of Night of the Living Dead. The examination of society through a group of vastly different people was handled more than adequately in the first film of the series. Saying that if Romero didn’t use his films to parallel real life issues then we’d feel cheated. In some ways I hope his fourth Dead film does get off the ground (he is writing it now apparently) as I feel the series needs a much wider scope for its final chapter.
One of the main improvements this time round is in the acting. In fact I think it has the best acting of the Dead trilogy. Pilato is suitably insane as Captain Rhodes and the rest of the cast back him up superbly. Special mention must go to Sherman Howard who plays Bub. The most intelligent zombie performance ever I think.
The make-up and effects are also the best yet with Savini doing excellent work as usual. I have to say that this is the only Dead film that actually disgusts me and as a side note it is the only one that still scares me with its claustrophobic look and feel.
Romero’s direction is assured throughout. I always enjoy his direction even though his shot composition can sometimes be a little pedestrian. The pace of the film is just right and it never outstays its welcome.
Many people dismiss this film as a poor relation to the other two. Indeed, if you look at IMDB you will see it has quite a low rating. I think it is sadly underrated and although it is not quite as good as its predecessors I believe it deserves a place on every horror fan’s shelf.
This disc from Arrow has specs that are suspiciously close the Anchor Bay release reviewed by Michael Brooke here). The menus are functional at best and there are 20 chapter stops, which is adequate for the 100-minute running time.
The film is presented as non-anamorphic 1.66:1. This is disappointing but I’m not sure how much we would gain from anamorphic enhancement in this case. The print is very clean indeed and whilst there are some specks and flecks they are hardly noticeable. The transfer is a rather patchy affair. The picture is fairly sharp with little or no obvious artefacting however a lot of the scenes are very dark and the shadow detail is poor. This isn’t a disaster but it does detract from this film, which spends a lot of time wandering about in dark caverns.
The sound mix here is billed as a DD2.0 mix. I have to say that the majority of the sound came from the centre with little or no channel separation and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it was mono. Saying that the sound is clear throughout and dialogue is clean and easy to hear.
The extras here aren’t extensive but what is there is welcome. We have a 20-minute behind the scenes piece that was shot during the making of the film. I hesitate to call it a documentary as it seems to be a collection of snatched interviews and behind the scenes shots cobbled together in some semblance of order. It is the same as the one on the Anchor Bay disc. There are also trailers for the three Dead films, which is nice to have but by no means essential. There is a short photo gallery with a few stills from the film along with some production photos. Finally there are the usual biographies and filmographies of Romero and Savini that contain no new information.
The film is certainly worth a look and you can tell by my rating that I hold it in high regard. The disc is probably the best available out there but that isn’t saying too much. The print is very good but the transfer is only OK. The sound is adequate and the extras are a little thin on the ground. It seems we will have to wait a little longer for the ultimate edition of Day of the Dead.