Saturday, July 4, 2015

30 Years of "Day of the Dead"

In 1968, George Romero unleashed the film that started the whole modern zombie craze that would last for decades with the original "Night of the Living Dead". A decade later, Romero would return with the superior (at least to me) sequel "Dawn of the Dead". Both films were revered by fans, and most critics believe it or not, and are viewed as classics of the genre all these years later. In 1985, Romero would release a third "Dead" film that he had hoped would be an epic conclusion to his zombie films, called "Day of the Dead". Romero had envisioned a grand magnum opus of blood, gore, and social commentary with the fate of the world and the human race in the balance...

...things didn't quite turn out that way.

"Day of the Dead" wasn't given much of a budget, and thus many of the big time set pieces Romero had planned out were scrapped and the film as a whole was scaled back. What was released in 1985 instead was a small-budgeted and often claustrophobic feeling zombie dirge that critics and audiences didn't receive well back then compared to "Night" and "Dawn". Over the years though, feelings towards the film have changed mightily.

For starters, "Day of the Dead" doesn't feature many (if at all) likeable characters, compared to "Night" and "Dawn" before it. Everyone seems to be some sort of caricature almost, and there's so much over the top scene-chewing acting from the principal performers that it becomes hard to take it seriously. That being said, Joe Pilato is perfect as the evil bastard Rhodes, and when we see him get ripped apart, it's so damn satisfying.

What really sets "Day of the Dead" apart from the previous two films are two things: first off being Bub: that loveable zombie that is being "rehabilitated" by mad scientist Dr. Logan. Howard Sherman (Sherman Howard) is wonderful in the role, with an expressive face under all that makeup. And speaking of makeup, the second thing that really sets "Day of the Dead" apart from the other films is the makeup and gore effects from Tom Savini. These effects are truly the benchmark in gore effects of the era (for zombie films anyway), and even helped steer the future of gore effects work by employing a young and inexperienced Greg Nicotero, who would go on to form the Oscar-winning and revered KNB Effects group and one of the men behind "The Walking Dead".

It's hard to believe that "Day of the Dead" is 30 years old...and now that I think about it's even harder to believe that "Land of the Dead" is 10 years old. The fourth Romero zombie film wouldn't come out until 20 years after this, which just goes to show you how much of a thud "Day of the Dead" landed on way back then upon its original release. Time has been much kinder to it however, so it's more than worth your time. It isn't anywhere near as prolific as "Night of the Dead" or "Dawn of the Dead" were before it, but it's certainly a super fun and blood soaked blast.

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