Day of the Dead
Review Date: February 7, 2001
Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Release date: 11/10/1998
MSRP: $29.99 (OOP)
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
takes place a number of years after the events depicted in Night of the Living Dead
and Dawn of the Dead
. The world as we know it has ended, and the living dead have completely overrun the planet. In the early days of the crisis, a small team of scientists and military personnel was hidden in an underground bunker in Florida, assigned to try and find a solution to the problem. The group was able to survive the destruction of humanity, but their numbers are starting to dwindle, and for all anybody knows, they are the last human beings left alive on the entire planet.
One of the scientists is Sarah (Lori Cardille
), the only woman in the group, which also consists of fellow scientists Dr. Ted Fisher (John Amplas
) and head researcher Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty
), civilian helicopter pilot John (Terry Alexander
) and electronics expert Billy (Jarlath Conroy
), and her boyfriend Miguel (Antone DiLeo
), who is one of the soldiers. One day, after she, Miguel, John and Billy return from an aerial search of the coast looking for other living humans, they are treated to the sight of a fresh grave. It seems that the commander of the team's military contingent, Major Cooper, died that morning.
As it turns out, the entire project is beginning to fall apart. The soldiers' discipline and morale has started to break down, the facility is running out of food, ammo and fuel, and the scientific team is making little progress because of insufficient equipment. To top it all off, some of them are starting to go crazy, including Miguel, who's on the verge of having a nervous breakdown. With Cooper's death, his subordinate Captain Rhodes (Joe Pilato
) is in command, and his idea of dealing with the zombie problem is to "blow the piss out of them". He has little sympathy for the scientists, considering their experiments with the zombies to be a waste of time and an unnecessary danger to the safety of him and his troops. He demands that the eggheads start showing him some results or he'll shut the operation down.
Meanwhile, Dr. Logan, who's beginning to act a bit strange as well, has started to produce results, though they're not exactly what Rhodes had in mind. Using a captured zombie that he has nicknamed "Bub" (Sherman Howard
), Logan has managed to rid of some of it's more aggressive tendencies. This is all part of his plan to deal the problem by training the zombies not to eat people. "Bub" is able to recognize items he used in life, like toothbrushes and razors, and is even able to salute and aim a gun. Rhodes is absolutely horrified by what Logan is trying to do, and after he makes another horrifying discovery about Logan's research, the officer decides to shut the operation down by force...but not before the zombies get their say in the matter, too!
Although it was widely panned by critics and fans alike when it was first released, Day of the Dead
has enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years as fans have begun to re-evaluate it. The widespread criticism often seems to have less to do with the movie's weaknesses and more to do with the strengths of the two previous films in George Romero's "Living Dead" series. After all, how could Romero have ever hoped to surpass Dawn of the Dead
, especially when, after several disappointing films in the early 70's, it seemed unlikely that he'd ever be able to surpass his original masterpiece, Night of the Living Dead
. The frustration of some fans only grew when Romero's original script became widely available on the Internet, which showed that he had originally been planning something much more ambitious. The script, which concerned efforts by the military to domesticate some of the living dead and train them as soldiers to eradicate the rest, was jettisoned for financial reasons, but a number of the characters from it ended up in the final shooting script. But despite the greatly scaled-down scope of the finished film, Day of the Dead
is still a good movie with a number of virtues.
Tom Savini's SFX work on Day of the Dead
includes some of his best effects and creations. Unlike in Dawn of the Dead
, where the majority of the ghouls were extras wearing a thin layer of gray face paint, most of the zombies here are given their own unique look, many with elaborate make-up jobs that took much time to design and apply. One of the best is "Dr. Tongue" zombie who is intact, except for one thing - he's missing his lower jaw, so he has no mouth, just a tongue! Another impressive creation is a zombie in Dr. Logan's laboratory who has had all of his major organs severed as part of an experiment - the creature manages to break free of it's restraints and sit up, resulting in a pile of intestine slowly sliding out of it's body and onto the floor. But Savini saves a lot of his truly impressive work for the end when the obligatory zombie rampage occurs, including several great dismemberings of various military grunts.
Romero also maximizes on the claustrophobia of the situation. Everyone in the bunker is living in a constant atmosphere of stress and danger, one where they could die at any moment should the 9,000 zombies outside ever break in, and the tensions between the group that this results in are effectively captured. The military vs. science conflict is also well-portrayed, and captures the frustration felt by both sides about the other's activities, even though Rhodes and his men are clearly the badguys of the whole story. The scientists see the military's desire to solve the zombie problem with brute force as being naive, while the military viewpoint is that the scientists are deluding themselves with their work. But both parties are actually engaged in a mutually pointless struggle, since under the circumstances the odds of finding a scientific solution to the problem don't seem much better than the odds of Rhodes and his men stumbling upon a couple hundred million rounds of ammunition to carry out their extermination plans with.
Regrettably, the acting and dialogue are a very weak part of the movie. Many of the actors seem to have confused good acting with emotional acting, which means that people tend to shout and scream their lines at almost every opportunity. The blatant over-acting is often distracting - several times, instead of focusing on the story, I've caught myself wondering how, with a pissy attitude like his, Rhodes ever reached the rank of Captain. It also doesn't help that a lot of the dialogue that's been given to these characters seems either contrived or stupid. This is very regrettable, since there are quite a few dialogue scenes in this movie, but if you don't spend too much time focusing on them, they aren't as much of a bother.
Although it may not be as good as Dawn of the Dead
and Night of the Living Dead, Day of the Dead
is still a very good film, and I'd easily place it in the top-ten list of zombie movies. You're horror experience isn't complete if you haven't seen it yet.
The film is presented on Side A of the disc, letterboxed at 1.85:1, and it is not enhanced for 16x9 TVs. This was an early release for Anchor Bay, and as such the image quality is not nearly as good as many of their newer releases. On the plus side, the print used was in great shape, colors are stable and exteriors look fine. On the negative side, the compression job here is only adequate, which results in a number of darker scenes where there is noticeable haze and pixelation. Still, the transfer is much better than VHS, which is more than can be said for some of Anchor Bay's other early releases.
Day of the Dead
is presented in Dolby 2.0 Mono, and it sounds okay, but is generally lacking in effect. The dialogue sounds fine and there's no distortion, but the disc's reproduction of John Harrison's music score is disappointing. It seems a bit flat and is lacking in power. No subtitles are provided.
Only two supplements are included, and they’re both on Side B of the disc. The first is a short theatrical trailer. The second is a 20-minute featurette from the Elite LD release, with behind-the-scenes footage of the movie’s production, with quick peeks art how some of the special effects done and brief interviews with George Romero, Tom Savini, Joe Pilato and others. The featurette makes you appreciate just how much work Savini and his team put into the SFX.
Unfortunately, this disc is missing the LD’s only other supplement, a "video journal" from the archives of Tom Savini and Greg Nicotero. Hopefully, when Anchor Bay re-releases this movie, they’ll be able to include this, as well as round up a few new extras as well.
While certainly not the greatest presentation, this disc should hold all fans of the movie over until a better version is available. I'd advise you to pick this one up - the definitive editions for both Day
and Dawn of the Dead
have been tentatively scheduled for 2002 by Anchor Bay. It's going to be a loooooong wait.
Movie – B+
Image Quality - B-
Sound – B-
Supplements – C+
- Running Time - 1 hour 41 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- 12 Chapter Stops
- Dolby Digital Mono 2.0
- Theatrical trailer
- Behind-the-scenes featurette