This review originally appeared on Shelf Heroes.
The third (and weakest) part of George A. Romero’s original ‘Living Dead’ trilogy. Holed up in an underground military facility a handful of survivors of the zombie apocalypse made up of research scientists and soldiers remain trapped with no possibility of escape. While the maniacal Dr. Matthew "Frankenstein" Logan (Richard Liberty) tinkers with a few of the caged living dead – hopeful of finding a cure, or a solution – the volatile Captain Henry Rhodes (Joseph Pilato) and his men rapidly lose patience with him, leaving the moral Dr. Sarah Bowman (Lori Cardille) stuck between the warring factions attempting to keep the peace.
Because of its restricted plot and dreary location ‘Day of the Dead’ puts a greater focus on its characters and dialogue. Ultimately this is its downfall – these are its weakest elements. There are plenty of interesting ideas about acceptance and the tension of cohabitation floating around but these are often delivered through rage filled tears or overblown seriousness so it’s hard to really engage with. The characters themselves are all fairly flat, providing few surprises in terms of survival or actions: there isn’t much incentive to care what happens to them. A cutting satirical edge and sense of humour are also sorely lacking here. Playing like a conventional horror flick, it is robbed of some of the poignancy and enjoyment present in ‘Dawn’.
That’s not to say it’s a bad film – any zombie film struggles next to Romero’s first two offerings – and there are plenty of great moments to be savoured here. Most importantly its remarkable special effects can still be considered some of the best and the most gruesome in the genre. Every bullet hole explodes with gushing blood, skin is stretched and ripped from arms, and entrails and gizzards are pulled from the insides of the living. It’s awesome, tactile stuff that will always look fresh thanks to its solid physical production. When the blood is flying and the tension is ramped up ‘Day’ is an exhilarating experience, but when it’s trying too hard to intellectualise events and assign meaning to the chaos it becomes a little wordy and trying. It doesn’t feel intelligent or articulate enough to provide that degree of satisfaction, but when taken as a straight up gory thrill ride it’s more than entertaining enough.