"They are us."
Day of the Dead (1985) is the second sequel to Night of the Living Dead (1968), following Dawn of the Dead (1978) it was the final film in the "Dead trilogy", until Land of the Dead (2005) was made years later. Like those films this one is also written and directed by George A. Romero.
Day of the Dead starts months after the zombie outbreak. The story follows a group of survivors who are having trouble living with each other inside an underground military-medical compound that is otherwise pretty safe.
I like the soundtrack in this one, it's a bit too repetitive for my tastes personally, but it still probably has the best soundtrack of any of Romero's Dead films.
Like the previous films in Romero's Dead trilogy, this film offers up a theory to why all of this has happened to them. Unfortunately it's very similar in this film to Dawn of the Dead's theory, but they do take it a little bit further and say that it's possible God was getting angry with us because we're getting too close to him. Which is actually quite fitting for the scientific nature of this film.
[Spoilers!] I like how even though this ending is essentially the same as Dawn of the Dead (our characters escaping at the end of the film via helicopter), Romero finds a more interesting and unique way to do it with the jump to them in their paradise. It's a cool way to do it, and doesn't feel repetitive even though it's really the same ending as before.
[Spoilers!] I don't love the final act of this film where everything kind of devolves and falls apart. It is fitting for the story they set up and the theme of the film though, and even though it kind of just becomes a senseless bloody gore-fest even I must admit it is quite satisfying to see Captain Rhodes and his troops get what has been coming to them the entire film. I also never really felt like the tension was high enough for the main characters as they're escaping in the madness. At no point to I feel like they're ever not going to make it out.
I love the premise and the core roots of this film. When you boil it down, this is a story about struggle, and how peoples lack of communication and inability to overcome each others differences leads to destroy a good thing they had going. Romeo once again uses the zombie fiction as a way to hold up a magnifying glass to the human race" Saying even if we were all safe together somewhere we would be the reason for our own demise. And I love how none of the characters are actually incorrect, they just are all so stuck in their ways that they can't listen to the other people at all and realize if they worked together they could be doing a lot better. "That's the trouble with the world, Sarah darlin'. People got different ideas concernin' what they want out of life."
I really love how this film starts. A novice director would never start a film dropping you in the middle of the story like this, but it works so well! The film starts with the tail-end of a failed helicopter mission, only to find the previous commander has died, and the new guy is kind of a dick. Having the characters learning to deal with the way things are going to be now is a great way to introduce the audience to the world, characters and story.
This film has great acting all around, possibly only trumped by the great characters that this film has. I love how Romero basically makes up for his failure in the previous films at writing a female character by making our central lead her one of the strongest and most badass female characters in film history. She can literally hold her own against a whole crew of asshole military guys, and yet she's not one dimensional at all either. There's plenty of times in this movie that we see how dealing with these people and living like this takes a toll on her.
Day of the Dead also does a really great thing by advancing the zombie findings and lore in a way that makes perfect sense for the way they've acted in the previous movies. I think this was completely necessary for this film series and brings so much more to rewatches of the older films too! And despite there being a bit of a jump in the advancement of what the zombies can do, nothing seems out of place here thanks to the really solid story. And one of my favorite things is the theory of amputation after a zombie bite working if it's quick enough, it's such a bittersweet thing how we never actually get to see if it actually works or not!
And lastly the zombie makeup and special effects is leaps and bounds better here than it was in the previous films. It looks really spectacular. Also the way it works out, the makeup actually seems like they've been decaying over time thanks to the way the makeup technology is advancing and the story keeps taking place further and further away from the original disaster in each film.
Day of the Dead (1985) is my favorite of Romero's Dead films, there's so much accomplished in this small little film and gives you so much to chew (mentally) that I don't think there's been a zombie film as smart as this one since its release.
Come back tomorrow as we're going to jump a couple decades, to this film's sequel Land of the Dead (2005) on the 31 Nights of Macabre Movies.
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