Day of the Dead (Blu-ray)
Shout! Factory / 1985 / 101 mins / UR
Of all the films in zombie master George A. Romero's "Dead Series," none have divided critics and fans as much as 1985's DAY OF THE DEAD. Building from 1968's genre defining NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and 1978's enormously popular sequel DAWN OF THE DEAD, one would think Romero would be given carte blanche to wrap up what was then a trilogy by any film studio in town. Romero had spoken about how DAY OF THE DEAD would not only be a gigantic end to his undead saga but would be "the GONE WITH THE WIND of zombie films" period. He only needed $7 million and be able to release the movie unrated to see his apocalyptic vision come to fruition. Not a single studio agreed to it. Ultimately Romero was able to secure half his desired budget, 3.5 million, which forced him to drastically scale down and rewrite his epic.
Romero's zombies may be slow, but they have certainly won the war when DAY OF THE DEAD opens. The living exist as small isolated groups, scattered to the winds unable to communicate with each other. In an underground storage facility in Florida, we find our group of scientists and soldiers eking out an existence while still desperately trying to find a cure for the undead plague. Dr. Sarah Bowman (Lori Cardille) is the only voice of reason and sanity in this tense group where the scientists, led by the questionably sane Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty) are constantly bullied and threatened by the remaining military presence, led by the psychotic Captain Rhodes (Joseph Pilato.) Between the never-ending zombie threat outside and the pressure-cooker environment underground, the chances of humanity surviving this dark day are slim at best.
No, DAY OF THE DEAD is not the GONE WITH THE WIND of zombie films. It is much more akin to the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD than, say, WORLD WAR Z. The bulk of the movie takes place in one indoor location and the cast is small, just like in his previous two entries, but the sense of dread and doom that seemed insurmountable but fightable in NIGHT and DAWN is all but a certainty here. The story is no longer about fighting zombies and trying to restore normality. We lost, plain and simple. This is about trying to survive in a world that is broken and inhabited by nothing but hostility.
Romero himself has stated that DAY OF THE DEAD is his favorite of the original trilogy and while I won't go that far I will back this entry 100%. It is a very good and entertaining installment and far better than all the subsequent movies in the series. Cardille delivers a very likable character and a great voice of reason while Pilato is a terrifyingly energetic ball of crazy for her to play off of. But the true stars of DAY OF THE DEAD are Tom Savini's amazing special effects and Sherman Howard's zombie Bub.
Savini's make-up effects for DAY OF THE DEAD have yet to be topped, and I'm including the magnificent work done on "The Walking Dead." All of the effects in this movie are practical and some of the imagery, particularly the nightmare vision of a zombie standing up halfway through an autopsy, are some of the best ever filmed. Savini has proved himself the master zombie maker in several films but DAY has to be his greatest achievement.
In the cinematic world of memorable zombies there is only Bub. The undead are more often than not shown as a faceless (sometimes literally) force of nature, but Sherman Howard infused Dr. Logan's favorite test subject with such pathos and emotion that he can stand and shamble right next to Boris Karloff's Frankenstein Monster as one of the most beloved undead creatures of the movies.
The new anamorphic 1.78 transfer is very nice, though not perfect. Colors are well saturated (those reds certainly pop!) and the source print is almost flawless (a few black specks over the opening credits are the only noticeable defects.) The film, however, still has a very soft look to it. Film grain is evident and under control giving DAY OF THE DEAD an excellent filmic texture, but detail is just mediocre. This is the best the film has ever looked on home video but there is still a little room for improvement.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack is crystal clear. The film would probably benefit from a 5.1 surround re-mix (to open up the cave chase in the last act, certainly) but what is here is a superb presentation of what we heard in 1985.
A very nice package of supplements ports over many (but not all) of the goodies from Anchor Bay's 2-disc DVD release and adds a couple new tidbits to tantalize fans.
The crown jewel of the goodie package is the brand new 85 minute documentary "World's End: The Legacy of DAY OF THE DEAD." Pretty much every surviving key actor and filmmaker chimes in with stories on the production and how the movie has changed their lives. Absolutely must see awesomeness here.
The other new featurette is "Underground: A Look into the DAY OF THE DEAD mines." Our host Ed Demko takes us on a tour of the Wampum Mines today (which look almost untouched since the film was shot) and has fun recreating famous lines.
From the Anchor Bay DVD, we get both commentary tracks (one with Romero, Special Make-up Effects Master Tom Savini, Production Designer Cletus Anderson and actress Lori Cardille and one with filmmaker Roger Avary running solo.
"Behind the Scenes Footage from Special Make-up Effects Creator Tom Savini's Achives" shows the great atmosphere and joking around that happened on set in addition to some spectacular make-up.
Four "Photo Galleries" include: "Behind The Scenes," "DAY OF THE DEAD Locations," "Posters and Lobby Cards" and "Miscellaneous."
A collection of theatrical trailers, TV Spots and a promotional video for Wampum Mines rounds out the package.
DAY OF THE DEAD's reputation has significantly improved over the years. Almost 30 years later it plays extremely well and the effects haven't lost an ounce of shock or punch. Recommended!