The Film (5/5)
Those of us in the 30+ club will probably remember how difficult it used to be to see the complete filmography of a particular filmmaker in the days pre-Internet. As a child I was introduced to the works of George A. Romero through a TV screening of Night of The Living Dead. It would be years before I would find Dawn of the Dead in a bargain bin at a Jersey City department store (the same store provided me with my first copy/viewing of Psycho). A friend introduced me to a film from the director of Night of the Living Dead, but he assured he it was dull. That was Season of the Witch, but it took finding a copy of the "Encyclopedia of Monsters" in my middle school's reference section to be alerted to the fact that Night and Dawn were not the only George Romero zombie films there was a final film, a film that promised to show the world devoured by legions of the living dead that film would be Day of the Dead.
My friends and I promptly rented it, and along with my copies of Night (which included the J.R. Bookwalter documentary on the film), and Dawn we proceeded to have our first ever Dead Trilogy screening. We watched each film as if it were telling a small part of a greater story, although admittedly this was our first experience with a thematic trilogy rather than one that follows the same set of characters throughout. When we reached Day of the Dead, having just set through the gleeful zombie carnage of Dawn we were prepared for anything, or so we thought.
It turns out the end of the world involved a lot of talking. When zombies were on screen the film seemed awesome, but to our young minds the film was a massive step down from the excitement brought on by Dawn of the Dead. It would be 5-6 years before a friend with some herbal assistance would reintroduce me to Day of the Dead, and open up what could very well be considered George A. Romero's Zombie Masterpiece.
George A. Romero has always weaved social commentary in his films, sometimes in a more subtle manner than others. This has probably been mentioned in every review of a George Romero film ever, but it warrants a special mention here. Dawn of the Dead was an in your face attack of modern consumerist society, on first glance Day of the Dead seems to be a military vs. science parable, and to a certain extent the ability of power to corrupt even in the smallest of group situations. Watching it now, I now see it as an extremely bleak government satire. Over the course of 3 films we have watched zombies rise, and cause what is essentially the end of the world. We have now reached the point where to quote Dr. Logan the zombies have outnumbed humans "400,000 to 1", and the possibility of a recovery is quite slim. In the midst of this we do not have people trying to survive with what little we have left in the face of an undead plague, we have government bureaucracy. This isn't the science vs. the military, this is a society trying to remain in a similar holding political holding pattern while the world falls apart around them. The anti-thesis to this, the only characters who seem to get it right are John (Terry Alexander), who would just love to take his helicopter to the nearest island, and live out the rest of his days in the sunshine, and McDermott (Jarlath Conroy) who will drink his merry way to the end of the world.
Day of the Dead is a film that gets better to me with each subsequent viewing. A film that I once viewed for the visceral thrills (and they are there, though limited, but no less glorious), I now view on multiple levels from psychological drama to political satire, and it works sweepingly well on all of them. The performances across the board are quite excellent, and between Romero’s direction and the set design bring the claustrophobic and intense atmosphere of Romero’s apocalypse to life. Most films attempt to show the end of the world as some epic grand event, Romero, like Don McKellar would do over a decade later with Last Night makes the apocalypse a personal experience. He shows the effect of the world’s end on a small group of people. It shows the psychological effect of what happens when a species who until recently was on top of the Earth’s food chain finds the roles switched, and are now trying to avoid being eaten by a creature who doesn’t even need the sustenance. He shows the pressure of having to save a world, that is beyond saving without even the remotely resources to do the job.
The film for those unfamiliar follows a group of soldiers and scientist who have been assigned by the remnants of the U.S. Government to find a solution to the zombie plague that has swept society. They have been living for an undisclosed, but lengthy amount of time in a missile silo somewhere on the Western Florida coast. The soldiers are led by the high-strung Captain Rhodes (Joe Freakin' Pilato!), who would like nothing more than to leave the facility, and take out as many zombies in the process. The remaining science team request more time to continue their research, and during the first part of the film they get that extension. Unfortunately, no amount of time can help reduce the tensions in the facility, and the 2 factions find themselves neck and neck, which is not a good place to be when the world is overrun by zombies, and bullets are limited.
Full disclosure, I am not the kind of person who runs out and buys the latest edition of a film just because it’s out, knowing Anchor Bay’s reputation with its first generation Blu-ray’s I held out on Day of the Dead until the Scream Factory iteration, and so this is my first viewing since the DVD SE from 2003. That being said the Scream Factory edition which is presented in a 1080p AVC encoded 1:78:1 transfer preserving the film’s original aspect ratio. The transfer presented here looks very good for the most part. The first few minute prior to the title (and Dr. Tongue) looked a little bit rough to my eyes, but then the transfer really took off. Day of the Dead will never be considered a sumptuous visual feast, but detail looks quite good here, and although the film is shot with primarily Earthy colors (due to the underground location) certain colors like blues (in the zombie caves), red (blood), and greens come through beautifully. The flesh tones are accurate, and black levels are completely solid. In keeping with the natural tone of the film there is a nice organic grain structure present throughout the feature, never overwhelming, but a good reminder that a film is being watched.
Scream Factory has presented Day of the Dead with a DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track which is completely suitable for the film. The dialogue comes through nice and clearly, as do the effects and the films score. I did not detect any instances of pops, cracks, or hissing on the track.
A few extras were ported from the prior AB edition of the film (but not all of them) and Scream has seen fit to create some of their own exclusive extras for their edition of Day of the Dead. The disc has a pair of commentaries ported over from the Anchor Bay edition of the film. The first with George Romero, Tom Savini, Cletus Anderson, and Lori Cardille, the second commentary track features Killing Zoe director Roger Avery commentating in a fan capacity. We get a new documentary called the World’s End The Legacy of Day of the Dead which discusses the film at length, and is a great addition to the disc. We also get 31 minutes of Behind The Scenes footage shot on video by Tom Savini, and an audio interview with Richard Liberty who played Logan in the film. The disc is rounded off by a promo video for the mine that the film was shot at, a photo gallery, TV Spots, and trailers.
Quite possibly Romero’s undead finest hour, Day of the Dead is an absolute masterpiece of nihilistic horror cinema. The A/V restoration from Scream Factory is fantastic, and the extras really make this a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED package.