Just keep repeating to yourself, "This is a COMEDY web site!"... even if you think I'm patently unfunny!
But, uh, back to the lecture at hand! There's one Zombie review that has been conspicuously missing from the line-up... the third entry into George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead series: Day of the Dead.
The truth is, I've kind of been avoiding it. Day of the Dead was the least critically acclaimed of the quadrilogy and was also the least well-received by the fans of the bunch. In many ways, Day of the Dead breaks with the rules set in the previous films and shows a very different form of Zombie than we've grown accustomed to. Romero takes some strange chances here, paces himself almost too much and goes on some unexpected tangents, all before slamming us with some of the most hard-core violence and gore we've seen in any movie. Any question that Romero was shooting for an X-Rating? Any wonder why the flick got released "Unrated"? Any wonder why it grossed the least of the whole shebang?
But let's take a step back and revisit Day of the Dead fairly and with balance... and with Beer. Hang on, I'm going to go get a beer!
Okay, I'm back.
It's a Foster's.
Romero's vision was compromised by a shrinking budget. He reportedly traded the marketability of a R-Rating for more gore, meaning, less projected ticket sales, meaning, less budget! To balance the equation, he altered his plans to fit what he had well begun, and still keep as much of his vision as possible. Considering all the alterations and compromises Romero's third (and for twenty years, believed FINAL) entry still turned out pretty good.
So far, we've seen Zombification survivors frightened in a house, we've seen Mad Max-style nomad bikers, we've seen Survivalist Mall Dwellers. Now, we've found our current group of Living Living chilled out in a military base. That is if your idea of chilling out is butting heads with humans who make the zombies outside look like Casey and Teddy Ruxpin! Lori Cardille stars as Sarah, the brilliant survivor who seeks out anything with a pulse to help save society. Luckily for her she's got her buddies John (Terry Alexander, also referred to as "Fly Boy"... sound familiar?), McDermott (Jarlath Conroy) and her boyfriend Miguel (Anthony Dileo Jr.) on her side. Unluckily for her she's got a group of sexually repressed, out of shape, immature, and passive aggressive Soldiers who consistently give her boot-loads of horse shit throughout the whole damned flick. As led by lunkhead Captain Rhodes (Joseph Pilato) these are most certainly NOT the guys calling for Don Rumsfeld's resignation! Just as the other (three) films have shown, there is something worse than coming into contact with the flesh-eating Zombies outside... it's dealing with the devil you know... constipated human beings. Need I tell you Romero is still running with his political satire and societal metaphor? You want to buy a bridge, man?
Amid the chaos is the experiment in Military Science that this particular Florida base was founded for. The Mad Scientist Doctor Logan (Richard Liberty) has been working with Zombies in his clinical environment, using pavlovian tools and the proverbial Carrot and the Stick to train Zombies to learn Human Behavior again. Yep, kiddos, the walking smarty-pants Zombies from Land of the Dead got their start in Romero's Brain right here. Enter Bub, Logan's most promising student, as played by Sherman Howard. Howard's surprising and pathos-driven portrayal as the sensitive and knowledge-hungry Ghoul is one of the best of the entire series. While this may sound odd on the page, it works on film! Logan's research with Zombies and working to humanize them succeeds as a quasi Herbert West in reverse.
Sadly, for all the good ideas, Day of the Dead manages to be boring in more than a few parts. Much of the acting is vastly over the top, most especially as delivered by Joe Pilato and his men Gary Howard Klar and Ralph Marrero. Pilato in particular looks like he's about to crack up half the time. Gone is the progressive scoring of Goblin, in is the Silly Symphonic Synth Score of John Harrison. While there's nothing "wrong" with the music (in fact, it's downright proficient) it does set this flick firmly in the 1980's, making Day of the Dead the one entry in the Zombie Quadrilogy that doesn't feel "timeless". Almost as a reaction to the slow pace, vamping synths and over-acting, Romero packs in more shocking gore in this film than in any of the other three put together. Where's the red Karo Syrup? YOU'RE SOAKING IN IT! Having inspired so much of the Italian Zombie movement, it's only rational that the use of real pig intestines and the like have found their way into Romero's increasingly realistic films.
Naturally, this leads us to the makeup and special effects. Tom Savini is back as the Special Makeup Effects Supervisor, and he's brought with him the cutting edge in shock-suspense Special Effects. Romero's Zombies have never looked so real or so gruesome. Nor does Savini's work ever devolve into the obvious and rubbery. These are the nasty dead with whole chunks missing from their rotting bodies. Savini toned down the gore and upped the corpse-realism in his remake of Night of the Living Dead five years later. But well-received or not, Day of the Dead will remain as some of his best work. With a resume like Savini's, that says something, no?
Romero allowed himself to experiment with this one. Unfortunately, the experiments didn't always yield successes. But hey, his worked better than poor Logan's, ay? Take Sarah's dream sequences that work every bit as well as the Romero-directed dreams in Season of the Witch. Scarier and more surprising too. Much more often than the ol' GAR-man "failed", he improvised to greater effect. For example, lacking the funds for a "Fiddler's Green"-like above-ground fortress, Romero opted for the Wampum Mine in Pennsylvania, now an underground Office Space known as "The Gateway Commerce Center" (see the DVD Extras for more). In truth, you might find a few Gregory Benford Moments, and you might wonder where the old rule book got thrown, but take heart: this is George's sandbox! He's just letting us play in it.
Yes, Yes, as sure as I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky, George A. Romero didn't lay the egg that critics and fans claimed he had when the Day was new. It didn't help that a stranger, funnier Semi-Sequel to Night of the Living Dead was released almost exactly one month later (in the form of Return of the Living Dead), and it probably didn't help that Day's big brother Dawn of the Dead was, and is, one of the most popular horror movies in the world. Romero had his own big shoes to fill as well as a shovel-load of stiff competition. However, taking this film as a continuing chapter and (now, thanks to Land of the Dead) not the end, Day of the Dead has managed to succeed as a pretty darned good horror film in its own right. Three Stars out of Five for George A. Romero's Day of the Dead. Yes, Yes! Another one bites the dust! Now you longtime readers can stop wondering when I'm going to write this and what rating I'm going to give it. And those of you who are new to the site can say "How dare he suggest I'm wondering what he's doing? What, is he some kind of post 9/11 paranoid who sees spies at every corner? I don't like what this guy's insinuating! I'm never coming to this site again! It's nothing but a collection of bad clichés and obscure pop culture references. What a fan-boy! I'll bet he still lives in his parents' basement and hasn't ever had sex like EVER! Just look at that picture in his byline! That's a geek for you right there! I'm going to start my own site just to tell people not to come to this one! And a-Blah-Blah-Blah! Yackity Schmackity!"
Yackity Schmackity indeed!
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