DAY OF THE DEAD (director/writer: George A. Romero; cinematographer: Michael Gornick; editor: Pasquale Buba; music: John Harrison; cast: Lori Cardille (Sarah), Joe Pilato (Captain Rhodes), Terry Alexander (John), Richard Liberty (Dr Logan), Jarlath Conroy (Billy McDermott), G. Howard Klar (Steele), Howard Sherman (Bub), Antone Di Leo Jr (Miguel Salazar), Ralph Marrero(Ripples), Phillip G. Kellams(Pvt. Miller), Taso N. Stavrakis(Pvt. Torrez), Gregory Nicotero(Pvt. Johnson), Don Brockett (Zombie Chief), John Amplas (Dr. Ted Fisher); Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Richard P. Rubinstein/David E. Vogel; Anchor Bay; 1985)
“The third leg of an entertaining and thought-provoking but not completely satisfactory 1950’s zombie trilogy.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The cult-fave horror film directed by George A. Romero (“Martin”/”The Crazies”/”Night of the Living Dead”)is the third leg of an entertaining and thought-provoking but not completely satisfactory 1950’s zombie trilogy, that thrives on the writer-director’s black humor and bleak philosophy of nihilism being the message of the day–things will never work out peacefully because the human race is too divided.It goes on to state that if you can’t fix what society made, you’re better off starting over. The film is set in Florida. It tells of the undead multiplying and running rampant for a long time in a forlorn world, where the flesh-eating zombies outnumber the humans 400,000 to 1.
Living without radio contact in a fenced-in 14-mile long makeshift underground missile silo for safety reasons are 3 scientists, 2 helicopter pilots and a small army unit assigned to protect the scientists from the numerous invading zombies surrounding the compound. In the pic’s first half, the three groups shout insults at each other and have such different philosophies that they couldn’t be more distant (the army wants to kill the enemy, the scientists want to learn how to mind-control them, and the pilots want to withdraw from the world without any contact from anyone). The idealisticloopy egghead research scientist Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty), abusively called Dr. Frankenstein by the anti-intellectual, hostile and unsympathetic army personnel, is a workaholic, hardly venturing out of his lab, where he conducts bizarre experiments on a captured undead, a pathetic specimen named Bub (Howard Sherman), to see if he can get him through kind gestures to behave and thereby if successful can figure out a method that would enable science and not the military to save the human race from extinction. Logan’s teamed up with his peace-loving assistant Dr. Ted Fisher (John Amplas) and the tough-minded female rational scientist Sarah (Lori Cardille). The facility also houses the army unit, with the brutish Captain Rhodes (Joe Pilato) waving a few pistols in the air to let everyone know he’s in charge and who states that whoever disobeys his commands will be shot. The vulgarian goonish right-hand man of Rhodes is Steele (G. Howard Klar), who is always on hand to do the captain’s dirty work. Also along for the ride are several other sexist, racist and violent sneering tough talking men, who blindly follow their leader and insultingly laugh at science when they don’t see immediate results. When Sarah ventures outside the compound to look for other human survivors, she’s accompanied by her lover, the weakling soldier Miguel (Antone Di Leo Jr), the helicopter pilot John (Terry Alexander) and co-pilot Billy McDermott (Jarlath Conroy), as they cruise the Florida coastline in the helicopter. The airmen live in a well-equipped trailer outside the compound, and don’t believe in the work the scientists are doing or in the thuggish army unit. If it was up to them, they would abort this mission and live out of harm’s way on a remote Pacific island fishing and loafing.
In this chaotic and dire setting anarchy reigns and humans as heroes are diminished because the filmmaker has little faith that the world can be saved by such flawed diverse humans. The second half of the pic has the activated zombies getting into the compound and eating the remaining human population, with only a few humans surviving the attack.
The brilliantly created gory special effects by Tom Savini, of the attacking zombies, alone should excite the thrill-seekers in the audience looking for some action, in this controversial and misunderstood horror film. Meanwhile, for the thinkers in the audience, the astute psychological question left lingering is– How will people learn to live with imminent death? This question gives the pic some heft despite otherwise being merely a cheesy B-film. In one thought provoking scene, Sarah sits on a Home Depot-like suburban patio with two of her colleagues and debates whether it’s worth leaving proof of their human knowledge to a world without humans (which can be interpreted to mean humans who do not care about evolving to a higher stage, who in their ignorance can drag the world down even further in the stages of evolution and who are not worth giving two shits about).
“Day” upon its theater release never had the crowd approval or critical acclaim as did the other two films in the trilogy,Night of the Living Dead (1968) or Dawn of the Dead (1978), but when released on VHS and later on DVD it soon became recognized as an unfairly neglected cult film and today has received the acclaim it deserves for being a landmark film in horror. Because of last minute budget constraints (having its original 7 million dollar budget reduced in half because Romero refused to make it an R rated film), Romero altered the original script and downscaled it from an epic scale into a more personal film (probably not a bad idea).
REVIEWED ON 4/9/2011 GRADE: A-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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