Picking up several years after “Dawn Of The Dead” left off, “Day of the Dead” shows that the walking dead now outnumber the living – depicted in an eerie sequence involving a deserted Florida town – and has a small pocket of humanity holed up in an underground military installation where morale is at a startling low. Scientist Sarah (Lori Cardille) clashes with the nearly out-of-control leader, Rhodes (a marvelous over-the-top Pilato), and tries to make sense of the experiments of Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty – calling to mind an aging Jeffrey Combs as “Herbert West”), whose most successful subject is an “intelligent” zombie dubbed “Bub” (masterfully portrayed in the film by Terry Alexander). The effects are both gut wrenching and mind-blowing, provided by Tom Savini and his crew at the top of their game. Dark, dreary, depressing and downbeat.
Considered by many to be the “least of Romero’s “Dead” trilogy”, “Day Of The Dead” has an aggressive and highly-confrontational cult following, eager to fight other, equally rabid horror fans from the opposite camp. At the time of its original release, “DAY was considered a deep disappointment, unable to emerge from the shadow of the previous – and arguably “brilliant” – classics, 1968’s “Night Of The Living Dead” and 1979’s “Dawn Of The Dead”. “Day” is grim, gruesome, virtually humorless, and much more bleak than its predecessors. It was a movie about the ultimate breakdown of civilization, and despair was not among the buzzwords in the ‘80s age of denial.
But time has a way of allowing movies to be re-examined with new perspective. And in the last twenty-five years, fans have been stepping back from “Day Of The Dead” and watching it with new eyes and experience beneath their belts. While less colorful and more claustrophobic than “Dawn”, “Day Of The Dead” is also more philosophical, asking hard questions about the film’s depiction of a civilization over-run by walking corpses that could easily be applied to our own real life society. With each passing year it feels like America is edging closer and closer to socio-economic collapse, “Day” feels more relevant than ever.
Anchor Bay Entertainment has re-released “Day” in a remarkable double-disk DVD set, boasting a truly nifty gatefold package that opens with a die-cut tag of the film’s mascot, the intelligent zombie “Bub”. The movie is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, accompanied by two separate audio tracks – one by Romero, Savini, Cardille, and production designer Cletus Anderson; the second by filmmaker Roger Avary. Disc Two is – as is typical of an Anchor Bay release – filled to overflowing with a pair of documentaries, an audio interview with the late Liberty, stills, trailers, TV spots, advertising – literally anything that could be found relating to the project (including a promotional video about the Wampum Mine that provided the production with their primary set).
One of the niftiest aspects of the packaging is a liner-notes insert written by Michael Felsher – revealing that some of the film’s downfall upon original release was due to the predominant society of horror buffs already grooving to the comparatively light and anarchic offerings of other ’85 releases “Re-Animator”, “Fright Night” and “Return of the Living Dead”, which clashed with the dreariness of “Day” — which was designed by Rob B. Webb to look like Dr. Logan’s notepad, and is peppered with zombie illustrations, bloody fingerprints and pseudo-scientific notes. It’s a cool little collector’s item that can be placed proudly next to their ‘Book of the Dead’ “Evil Dead” package.
When you get right down to it, it isn’t a matter of “is “Day” equal to or less than “Dawn” or “Night”?” That’s a question that will vary from one opinion to the next. Regardless of your own opinion of the film, you have to admit, it has served the basis of some interesting discussions. How much philosophy have you gotten out of “Darkness Falls”?
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