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Day of the Dead(1985)
A small group of scientists and soldiers have taken refuge in an underground missile silo where they struggle to control the flesh-eating horror that walks the earth above. But will the final battle for the future of the human race be fought among the living or have they forever unleashed the hunger of the dead?
For more about Day of the Dead and the Day of the Dead Blu-ray release, see Day of the Dead Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on September 15, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, Joseph Pilato, Jarlath Conroy, Anthony Dileo Jr., Sherman Howard
Director: George A. Romero
» See full cast & crew
Day of the Dead Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, September 15, 2013
George A. Romero is often credited with having reestablished (or even having outright established) the modern zombie film with his 1968 opus Night of the Living Dead. It's perhaps instructive then to note that it actually was a good ten years before Romero followed up Night of the Living Dead with Dawn of the Dead in 1978, and then another seven years until Day of the Dead appeared in 1985. In the interim, Romero at least tried to stretch out into other fare like Creepshow, but the zombie genre seems to be what Romero will forever be associated with, for better or worse. When I was first introduced to Romero's Night of the Living Dead in my freshman college level Film Theory course (this was long before the days of home video or cable television, mind you), and was then required to write an essay about what I thought it "meant", I managed to eschew the more typical race relations angle many have imputed to the film to instead make the iconic "if you shoot the head, you kill the ghoul" sentiment of the film into a perceived screed about anti-intellectualism. My only excuse for this now embarrassing decision is that I was still only 17 had just recently been immersed in a high school onslaught of reading material by Nietzsche and Ayn Rand. But there's one salient point of interest to be gleaned from my patently ridiculous response to the film: Romero's zombie outings have always seemed to have something more on their minds than merely providing us with a few scares with shots of slowly marauding undead munching their way through an ever diminishing food supply of living human beings. Romero has of course followed Day of the Dead with even more zombie offerings, including the Night of the Living Dead reboot (which he wrote but did not direct), but this film holds an interesting place in Romero's zombie oeuvre as an outing that was met with some resistance when it was first released but which has gained a more appreciative audience in the many years since its theatrical exhibition.
There were huge tonal variances between Night of the Living Dead, in many ways the most "traditional" horror film in Romero's zombie filmography, and Dawn of the Dead, which had an almost slapstick feel to it, at least some of the time. But few were probably prepared for the kind of dour, depressing and intensely introspective outing that Day of the Dead turned out to be. While Day mimicked one aspect of Dawn, by taking place (mostly) in one labyrinthine but enclosed space, the ambience here is decidedly more dramatic and almost hopeless feeling, detailing as it does the desperate exploits of a ragtag group of human survivors who are trying to withstand the zombie onslaught by hunkering down in an underground bunker. In a very real way, and in a way that may or may not be intentionally playing in an ironic way on the title of the film, Day of the Dead is probably the darkest of the first three zombie films.
In what turns out to be a recurring motif in the film, what appears to be happening in the opening sequence is in fact a dream—or nightmare. Sarah (Lori Cardille) is the dreamer in question, though considering the world into which she awakes, she may well want to stay asleep, even if her dreams are a bit unsettling. Evidently years have now passed since the outbreak of zombieism, to the point where Sarah's scientific cohort Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty) estimates that the undead outnumber living humans at a ratio of 400,000 to 1. Sarah is part of a scouting team which ventures forth topside occasionally to see if there is any noticeable life moving around. Her search proves unsuccessful, and she returns to the underground lair where an uneasy mix of scientists and military personnel attempt to figure a way out (both literally and figuratively) of their predicament.
Even the underground lair is not completely safe territory, for Sarah is tangentially involved when a bunch of the macho military guys round up slowly marauding zombies wandering through the caves and treat them like so many cows, putting them in stalls and then clamping huge iron "necklaces" around them in order to control them, ultimately delivering them back to the lab where Logan and Sarah are investigating the outbreak, albeit from different perspectives. Unfortunately one of the military guys, Miguel (Antone DiLeo), seems precariously close to a mental breakdown, and his ultimate freakout starts to uncover simmering tensions in the group, some evidently because Sarah, the only female in the surviving group of humans, has been shacking up with him, and some of the other guys feel that maybe they'll have a chance if Miguel goes off the deep end.
The bulk of Day of the Dead details the slowly devolving interrelationships and mental health of the various survivors. The chief bad guy is Rhodes (Joe Pilato), the martinet ruler of the military side of things, who becomes increasingly unhinged, threatening at one point to shoot Sarah if she doesn't sit down and remain in a "meeting" he's called. Meanwhile, Logan is convinced that he can actually "train" the zombies to behave better by using a reward and punishment system. He actually has a fair degree of success with one imprisoned zombie nicknamed Bub (Howard Sherman, who evidently went on to reverse his professional name as Sherman Howard). Rhodes is having none of this "New Age" rehabilitation nonsense, and things get to a boiling point when Rhodes and his cohorts discover exactly what Logan has been using to feed his little "pet".
I have a feeling what may have created part of the misperception Day of the Dead sometimes engenders in viewers is the fact that it's part of a supposed trilogy, though as discussed above, the trilogy is all over the map from a tonal perspective. Night was a chilling but visceral romp through horror tropes, and Dawn was like a Keystone Cops movie with zombies instead of policeman. The sudden abrupt turn into character study in Day probably caught more than a few—even diehard Romero fans— completely off guard. Day is an ode to survival at any cost, and as such, it has fewer outright scares than the first film and certainly none of the comedy (despite the manic laughter of several supporting characters) of the second outing. Day of the Dead is therefore probably the hardest of the original three Dead films to outright "enjoy", but for my money, it's the most thoughtful of the bunch. That's right—I just called a zombie movie thoughtful.
Day of the Dead Blu-ray, Video Quality
Day of the Dead is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Scream Factory (an imprint of Shout! Factory) with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.78:1. Fans of the film will know that Starz/Anchor Bay released a generally nice accounting of the film on Blu-ray several years ago. This Shout! release is being touted as coming from an "all new film transfer", and there are some subtle but noticeable differences between this and the Anchor Bay release. The aspect ratio here is obviously slightly different, and a minimal amount of information has been lost, which nevertheless may bother some videophiles. The palette here looks quite a bit warmer to me than on the Anchor Bay release, with flesh tones especially ruddy in comparison to the previous release. Fine detail may be marginally improved here, but it's an incremental improvement and one which doesn't appreciably improve the sharpness or clarity of the film (if I were able to, I'd probably give this a 3.75 rating to indicate a bump up from the Anchor Bay release). The opening several minutes of the film, which include the credits, is one long optical and looks quite soft in comparison to even the rest of the film, as do the other opticals (as should be expected). The rather amazing makeup and other special effects look marvelously gruesome in this offering. One thing that frankly surprised me here was the relative lack of grain, especially in the many darker scenes, something that seems to be at odds with the rather aggressively pushed contrast on display here. Make no mistake—there is definitely fine grain here, rolling quite naturally through the image, but it's very fine and tends not to spike at all in the many shrouded sequences scattered throughout the film.
Day of the Dead Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Unlike the Starz/Anchor Bay release, this new Blu-ray sports only the film's original mono mix, presented via DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. While shallow, and struggling a bit with prioritization when things get sonically busy and especially when the John Harrison score comes into play, overall things are very clear and well balanced here. Dialogue and some of the frankly goofy sound effects sound clear and precise, and the track has none of the (slight) editing that plagued the faux surround mix on the Anchor Bay outing. Fidelity is excellent, and of course dynamic range is very wide courtesy of all the grunting, groaning, and tons of gunfire.
Day of the Dead Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Day of the Dead Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I evidently am much fonder of Day of the Dead than my colleague Martin Liebman, who reviewed the Starz/Anchor Bay version. But I completely understand why some may not (initially at least) "get" this film. This does not have the visceral entertainment value of the first two Dead films, and is really more of an introspective, moody effort that is frankly kind of a downer for most of its running time. But Romero crafts some great sequences here, and he makes Bub, the hapless zombie learning to be a "good boy", into one of the most memorable undead of all time. This Blu-ray offers slightly different (and to my eyes, marginally improved) video quality from the Anchor Bay release, offers the original mono mix sounding fine, and comes replete with great supplements, including some from the previous Anchor Bay release, as well as new ones commissioned especially for this version. Recommended.
Day of the Dead: Other Editions
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Day of the Dead Blu-ray, News and Updates
• This Week on Blu-ray: September 17-24 - September 15, 2013
For the week of September 17th, horror-movie fans get a boost with the dueling releases of Paramount's World War Z and Scream Factory's Day of the Dead, as well as the flawed-but-fascinating first season of Bates Motel. Other titles include HBO's Behind the Candelabra, ...
• George A. Romero's Day of the Dead Detailed - July 4, 2013
Scream Factory, the horror-thriller offshoot of independent film distributor Shout Factory, has detailed its upcoming Collector's Edition Blu-ray release of George A. Romero's Day of the Dead (1985), starring Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, Richard Liberty, and ...
• Day of the Dead Collector's Edition Blu-ray - May 7, 2013
Scream Factory, the horror-thriller offshoot of independent film distributor Shout Factory, has revealed the cover art for their upcoming Collector's Edition Blu-ray release of George A. Romero's Day of the Dead (1985), starring Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, ...
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