(Warning this post contains spoliers)
There is no doubt about it; in my eyes George A. Romero is the godfather of zombie horror regardless of his quality now, although I am interested to see how Survival of the Dead turns out. From the late 60’s to the mid 80’s his (first) trilogy of the dead (night/dawn/day) is an example of the pure classics of the zombie and horror genre. Politically charged gore epics revered by critics and fans; they will always have a place in film culture and horror history. I personally think all three are fantastic in the own rights, each one bringing something new and different equally representing that era, with Night of the Living Dead it was paranoia and fear of the unknown. With Dawn of the Dead it was an epically violent metaphor on American consumerism with hordes of the undead and a great screen presence in Ken Foree. And with Day of the Dead it concerned cabin fever and the effect this epidemic had on the remaining living individuals trying to study the zombies, but there is something instantly watchable about Day which allows me to rate higher then the first two cult classics (what can I say it is a more polished and more rounded film). Below I have listed my top five reasons why I absolutely adore this film and why I rate it above the first two, personally I think it is criminally underrated and just gets better with each and every viewing. Dare you walk with me as I encounter Day of the Dead?
“Doctor Frankenstein I presume”
The character of Doctor Logan (played with an extremely campy craziness by the late Richard Liberty) is just one of the highlights of this classic, his constantly positive attitude and naïve sensibility is oddly endearing much to the cairn of the soldiers and even his colleges. He really is a deranged horror professor and mad genius, he honestly relishes experimenting and is often seen in bloodied medical clothes, but even though he looks absolutely crazy he is just engrossing to watch and behold, the little quirks he has such as his ability to look over the rim of his glasses like a medical professor giving a lecture, the fact his glasses have a massive bit of tape attached to the arms of the specs to keep it together (I am not going to go all film student on this but you could well read a lot into this). His constant ability to see the positive and continue to smirk and laugh to himself make him all the more affable and finally he has some of the most fantastically quirky and offbeat quotes such as: “I call him Bub. That’s what the lodge fellows used to call my father. Can you imagine a surgeon called Bub?”.
Check out this clip and see this loon respond to an aggressive confrontation, it is certainly unique, note the overly blood splattered medical coat…..what has he been up to??
The Godfather of Gore
It has often been cited that Day of the Dead is Tom Savini’s gore soaked make-up masterpiece and I am inclined to agree, granted he has done some fantastic work on other iconic horror films and inspired a generation of budding make-up artists to out do him. But for sheer visceral gut wrenching; vomit inducing terror twenty four years on, it still holds up nothing is held back and you get the feeling that Savini (and a then young Greg Nicotero of KNB effects) went as far as could possibly be acceptable to go to as nothing is left to the imagination with every little detail seen in all its blood soaked glory. This was how great horror films where made through imagination and a lot of latex prosthetic make-up, absolutely 100% horror film fried gold, Savini has yet to better himself but this films legacy will continue to hopefully inspire countless generations.
“Who died and made you fucking king of the zombies?”
Day of the Dead is a unheralded classic and as I have previously mentioned just get better with each viewing, but if there is two particular ingredients that make this melting pot of a movie work even better that would be the characters of Captain Rhodes (more on him later) and the crowing glory of a sympathetic zombie (yes there is such a thing) in the form of Bub. Romero went out of his way in this instalment to show a different side to his zombies and that being previously alive meant that they where able to learn, which he explored with the character of Bub (portrayed by character actor and voiceover artist Sherman Howard) a fast learning but non-violent zombie being trained by Doctor “Frankenstein” Logan. I can not explain just why this character is so engrossing to watch but he has made such an impact on horror culture (and to an extent other media such as South Park) he is even referenced through a perfect impersonation by Simon Pegg at the start and towards the end of Shaun of The Dead. He is for all intensive purposes Romero’s king zombie, he is shown to be loyal and heartbroken over Doctor Logan’s outcome. The characterisation is pure emotion you really feel as though he is different from the other blood thirsty flesh eaters, and you genuinely feel sorry for him as you end up rooting for him as a anti-hero of sorts. Romero tried to expand a little on this with Land of the Dead and the character of Big Daddy but it never really felt as fresh or as emotional as Howard’s portrayal of Bub.
This brings me neatly onto my favourite aspect of Day of the Dead, the irrepressible and unashamedly evil Captain Rhodes this guy is bottled evil, he has his motives but through a skewed vision of blinding hatred. Rhodes spits bile filled psychosis with every sentence uttered and like the best screen villains does not so much as chew the scenery but violently pummels it into rubble. But at the same time you come to revel in this bastard and his psychotic ways, he is not as affable as Doctor Logan nor as likeable and sympathetic as Bub but the complete polar opposite and yet you still will him through the film waiting for that moment where he meets his end uttering his classic last words. Over the top this villain might well be but you can not always have classy bad guys like Hans Gruber all the time.
By George I think he’s done it…..and the rest
There are so many other elements to this film which make it more and more pleasurable with each and every viewing such as: The use of dream sequences depicting the main protagonist Sarah’s claustrophobic feelings and fears, this really shows Romero in his element by providing surrealist moments with in this tightly bound gore package. While the use of a classic 80’s synthesizer score by John Harrison perfectly balances these surreal sequences and the claustrophobic feel of the rest of the film, with the odd nods and quick use of a few beats from Goblins Dawn of the Dead score rewarding the fans of the series. Lori Cardille’s portrayal of Sarah is tough yet vulnerable you feel as though she can handle herself and at times shows herself to be more mentally strong then men who are deteriorating quicker with their sanity. And finally you have Romero’s direction which I still believe to be his best to date, his other films are fun and enjoyable but this feels perfect tonally. It is tightly paced with some fantastic technical shots not to mention the use of several accomplished shots (the emergence of the films titles springs to mind with the image of a decrepit zombie walking into a low angle shot, symbolism a plenty there) and managing to get the best performances from his actors successfully bringing it all into a bullet riddled, blood gushing and zombie stumbling final third act. It shows Romero as “the” zombie auteur and which as, in my opinion being the first Romero film I saw late at night on BBC2 at the tender age of thirteen, yet to be beaten in terms of an all round complete gore epic
All hail the king of the underrated zombie epics!