The zombie outbreak has widespread, and an underground research base is hard at work trying to figure out just what the zombies are, and how to cure them. A civilian operation with the protection of the military. Well, at least that’s how it’s started. Now it’s been at least a month, lives have been lost, tensions are high. The mission is becoming skewed.
This is the situation we are thrust into at the beginning of George A. Romero’s DAY OF THE DEAD (1985). The zombies run amuck above ground, below ground the civilians are butting heads with the military sent there to protect them. Protection is a thing of the past, now it’s just survival, as we learn from the new military boss, a surly, power-hungry bastard named Rhodes who threatens to have one of the scientist (our protagonist, the brash, female scientist, Sarah) shot if she doesn’t take her seat at the meeting he is overseeing. Don’t worry, he’s very, VERY serious. He doesn’t see the value in the scientists work and is on the verge of mutinying over their original cause. At this point we are down to a handful of military, three scientists working independently of each other, and an electronics engineer and a helicopter pilot (who mostly stick to their own area of the underground base).
We’re given a glimpse into the zombie’s in this film. Their motivation, what makes them tick, thanks to Dr. Frankenstein (that’s what they call him, can’t recall the characters actual name). One of his experiments he takes out all the internal organs, except the brain and the zombie still bites at him, even though it’s not going to feed anything, it still bites because of instinct. Pretty fascinating. His big experiment is a zombie he called Bub, he teaches Bub to remember what certain items are used for (like a razor, a phone, a book, and an empty gun). The most important part about Bub is he doesn’t go apeshit when a human walks in the room like the other zombies, hungry for flesh. However, Dr. Frankenstein has been making the mistake of fresh human parts as ‘treats’ for Bub’s good behavior, which proves to be his undoing.
When tensions reach the boiling point between the scientists and the military, the military take over in an ugly, barbaric way.
In the end, pretty much everyone gets what they deserve (Rhodes receives his comeuppance at the hands of Bub, a very rewarding sequence). Those who were courteous were rewarded with their lives and escape, those who did not, died in some of the ugliest ways imaginable. The gore level in this film may take until the last 20 minutes, but it is off the charts! For those of you interested in that sort of thing.
Also, whereas in DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978), we only see the survivors fly off in the helicopter, left to wonder if they got somewhere where they continued to survive. In this film, we’re given a definitely happy ending with the survivors hanging out on a beach and fishing. Ah, closure.
What’s at play in DAY OF THE DEAD, in its basic terms is human behavior. Just like NIGHT and DAWN showed us, it’s not the zombies you need to worry about, it’s the other survivors, the military, the raiders, you need to look out for. If you do good in DAY, you’ll make it out alive. If you do bad, prepare for suffering. The way we treat each other can be appalling, and that’s one of the more basic themes Romero was touching on.
DAY OF THE DEAD (1985) and I have had a weird relationship. Back when I first saw it in early high school, I had seen DAWN several times, and I’ll admit, the thing I was most concentrated was on the make-up and the gore, at the time thinking that’s what I wanted to do when I grew up. So everything else in the movie kinda bored me as I waited for the last twenty minute chaos. As I matured, and watched it over and over until my viewing last night. I have slowly grown to appreciate it more and more. Last night, watching it directly after DAWN, I really appreciated the leaps and bounds Romero had made in writing dialogue. It’s much better in this film, sparse, but better. The film was also shot more professionally, with only one shot I noticed being a little out of focus. Blu-ray is sort of unforgiving to those sequences. All in all a good evolution for George A. Romero to have made. He also says this was his favorite film to make of the original DEAD trilogy (NIGHT, DAWN, DAY). The best part? NO BLUE ZOMBIES!!! Yes, we got through all of the DAWN OF THE DEAD 91978) review without talking about the blue zombies. Here’s the thing, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) was black and white, so the color of the zombies hadn’t ever really been a thing before DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978). When it came time to it, Tom Savini thought a grey, ashen, color would do best. He has later regretted his decision as they came out looking blue, painfully blue. So painfully blue that you can tell where the makeup begins and ends on some of the zombies. Tom Savini was head of makeup and gore on DAY OF THE DEAD (1985) as well, and luckily, he corrected his mistake. Ha, blue zombies, crazy.
The current zombie-TV-juggernaut THE WALKING DEAD occasionally does throwback zombies to represent iconic zombies from older zombie movies and such. If you’re a fan of THE WALKING DEAD (and you should be), you may notice that in the fourth season, in the episode Glen and co. go into the tunnel, there is a brief shot of a zombie they did up to look like Bub, the iconic lead zombie from DAY OF THE DEAD (1985).
Another thing I like about this film is that DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) ended with Fran and Peter in the helicopter, flying away. Well DAY OF THE DEAD (1985), begins (after, SPOILER, a brief and terrifying nightmare) with Sarah waking up in a helicopter. Which leads you to wonder if this is supposed to be the same character as Fran from DAWN, which you slowly and sadly realize is not to be because she isn’t flying the chopper, and there are three other people in the chopper with her. But for a moment, your prayers had been answered, then shot down to the ground and stomped into the dirt.
Also interesting to note that the lead female in each film has gotten stronger throughout the series. From the incredibly weak in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), to take charge in DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978), to defying direct orders that would have her shot in DAY OF THE DEAD (1985). Just wait until we get to the female protagonist in LAND OF THE DEAD, you’ll be pleasantly surprised, I think. However, that isn’t until the ‘L’s, so…it’ll be a while.
Also, there is a remake of this out there, but it is truly terrible, and doesn’t even really follow the same basic story as the original. That and the cover of the DVD is a puking zombie. Classy…