Enjoy this Monday with Mildred!
This is also a Zombie World Tour post!
Day of the Dead
A few years went by between 1978’s Dawn of the Dead and 1985’s Day of the Dead, the third in the series. During this time Romero sampled the Big Name Director waters and began working with the Hollywood money men – you know, the ones who WANT movies to be stupid because that’s what they think we want. This shows in Day. It’s not, like, a billion dollar Avengers movie, but you can tell there was more money for stuff. By now, Romero is hitting his stride as King of Zombies, and this film has all the things he’s known for, only a lot more of everything: conflict between the living despite the end of the world, gruesome goriness, social messages, tight situations, enclosed areas full of danger, etc. The story is deeper than the “Lets hide!” and “Whoo Hoo, spending spree!” of the first two films. There’s an actual story going on, which marks it as a new direction for Romero.
Lori Cardille (daughter of “Chilly Billy”, “Yeah, they’re dead, they’re all messed up.” fame) opens the film, sitting forlornly in a sterile cell of a room. Her nearly vacant gaze is caught by the bright, summery photo on a calendar across the room. She goes to investigate, and as she draws near sees that the days have been strongly X’d off – a significant number of now dead days. It’s a surrealistic start, even more so than the beginning of Night, and is very, very effective. It’s a scene that was included in the original trailer and made me not watch the film for decades because I thought it would be too scary. Fortunately, I got over that.
Unfortunately, for me the movie goes downhill from there. It’s not a bad film by any means (well, except maybe the acting), and some people consider it the best of the lot. It just felt a little flat for me. YMMV of course, so don’t let that hold you back. Set mostly underground, Day of the Dead shows what happens just after the initial apocalyptic surge of undead unravels the normal human world. There is military, and science, and a slew of mismatched survivors who must throw off the shock and begin the process of figuring out what our world will be and how we’re going to get there.
I’ve only seen Day twice, once decades ago and again recently in order to do this review. As with many things, I’m discovering, I liked it better when I was older. The broadly drawn stereotypes are kinda funny this time instead of irritating, especially the Soldier In Charge who would in real life be asked not to Tell only a few years later. There’s the Clueless Scientist, the Murderous Jerk, the Sensitive Man (who just can’t handle it), and the Sentient Zombie. When I first saw Bub (the zombie) it ticked me off, because I wanted my zombies to be simply fun-to-kill husks of their former selves. Like taking the high end goods available first come first serve in Dawn, there was no real guilt in killing something that’s dead and not at all like the person he or she used to be, before Bub challenged that concept big time and made you think: What if it’s NOT okay to simply kill the zombies?
You know there’s going to be trouble when the first real military type person you see is wearing a khaki dew rag and tending his pot plants. We also now get very harsh language. It all feels very grown up. This is the introduction of another, unsurprisingly strong, Romero meme of the dangerous-to-the-living military/police/man in charge, aka the people who enjoy the apocalypse because they get to do all the moronic, sadistic, sneeringly ignorant things they always wanted to do but society held them back. Poor babies. Even five minutes into the film, though, Romero is already piling it on high and deep. The army men aren’t just ignernt sadists, they scream obscenities at the zombies and use them shamelessly, with great glee. This is the first time Romero leaves subtlety behind.
The African-American lead has been downgraded to Significant Character, but this time a woman carries the film. Very near the front of the movie there is even a bit of dialogue that outright states the woman is the toughest person in the whole bunch of them. This of course is a significant plus so far as I’m concerned, and sad that thirty years later it is still noteworthy.
There was a 2008 remake of this Dead film as well, but very little remains of the original (though it’s co-written by Romero) and there is a scene that
me out. Sorry, I can’t even think of it. NAH NAH NAH NAH NAH NAH!!!!! CHANGING SUBJECT!!! (Thinking of cute kittehs……okay.)
I don’t recommend the remake, as I did with Dawn of the Dead. But do find the original Day of the Dead for a more innocent look at a post-apocalyptic world than we could manage today. The movie made me nostalgic for an era in which the end of the world seemed more fantastic than possible.