Day of the Dead was released on this day in 1985
The final film in Romero's classic zombie trilogy begs the question, when you leave everyone to rot in a stinking sewer, who will ascend to the throne of shit?
It was about a year after DAWN OF THE DEAD was released that the Soviets invaded Afganastan in 1979. This was the beginning of what many call the second Cold War. It steadily escalated for a number of years and people closed their eyes at night wondering if they'd wake to the news of a nuclear war or even wake at all. This was the backdrop of our lives in the 80's. Then, in early 1983, only agitating the powder keg more, the Beirut bombing killed almost 250 American peacekeepers and then the U.S. entered Grenada. This was the reality Romero was living in when he returned a third time to his zombie infested cinematic world. The film he gave us was DAY OF THE DEAD and it was in many ways a reflection of our real world fears. This is Romero's vision at its most bleak.
In the opening moments of the flick we got a quick, broad-stroke view of a decayed landscape. Dust covered cars and rotted corpses litter the city streets. Animals have taken up residence in the abandoned buildings and things once so important like the almighty dollar now blow in the wind like trash. It was made clear that the world we were shown in DAWN OF THE DEAD was no longer adjusting to the birthing pains of the new natural (or unnatural) order. The mother had died in labor and her still-born fetus had devoured her. For better or worse, it had grown up and made its own way.
There is a clear tonal shift from the previous film. The bright primary red colored blood and pie fights and buddy-cop feel we witnessed in is absent. Instead, we get horribly realistic gore, a lunatic in a lab coat and bat-shit crazy soldiers. Gone is the mall full of fun and treasures to explore. We are dropped into a clostrophobic tomb full of dusty old shit,...a dry rotting legacy of life not ever-lasting. This film is angry and calls you a sonuvabitch for even looking its way. That said, in its own way, it's a still a hell of a fun watch.
Romero's original script for DAY was much bigger, included more action sequences as well as more fully realized sets than the base of operations in the cave. But, due to budgetary restraints and Romero's refusal to water down his vision, he simplified the script to fit the available budget. This allowed him to keep in line with the hard edged version he had envisioned which meant the film would be released unrated. The inherent problem was releasing a film without an MPAA rating, especially back then, before streaming services like Netflix and home video had really become a haven for unrated films was risky business financially. DAY was released theatrically on June 30, 1985 and got a wide release the following month. Reviews were not as kind in general as they had been to its predacessor. Some reviews questioned the film's so-called over acting and others attacked the bleak tone. Some simply bitched about it being dialogue-heavy.
Beyond reflecting the fears of the times, one theme really driven home here is that the zombies are still us. Not just a dark reflection of our fears, but child-like entities capable of becoming more. We've seen Romero dabble with this idea onscreen before, but this time it takes center stage. We saw it with the zombie and his fascination with Roger's and Peter's guns in DAWN and even moreover with a zombified Stephen clawing his way through a false wall hiding the doorway to his home at that film's climax. We are shown that memories are at least somewhat intact. This time around we get a zombie with a name. We're given Bub, played by Howard Sherman in possibly one of the greatest pantomime performances ever put to film. He shows us that zombies do not only remember, but can learn and even have emotions. Like the other undead in the film, Bub kills, but for a wholely different reason...anger and possibly even revenge. When Bub shoots Rhodes and he falls int the waiting arms of the zombie horde, Bub doesn't even approach to take part in devouring him. He simply waves him off with a salute and walks away. In that moment, we see Bub's evolution was more than responding to Dr. Logan's excercises. Romero's zombies are clearly as capable of evolving as Romero's own storytelling style.
At the same time we see the zombies are capable of evolution, we watch as the humans seem to do exactly the opposite. Rhodes is a perfect example, the character epitomizes everything we can expect humanity to become when the shit hits the fan; all in for self-preservation and grasping at power. Even if you are living in a sewer, you can be assured some asshole will try to build himself a throne of shit. Rhodes is that asshole. Time and time again in Romero's world, we see humans turn on each other, betray and kill. When the your neighbor becomes a zombie in this world, it begs the question was he more capable of turning on you when he was alive or dead? It's a funny thing George called it DAY OF THE DEAD. One thing you see very little of is daylight literal or otherwise. -By Brian Steward From the pages of Fantasm Presents #1 Buy Fantasm Media's George A. Romero Magazines By Clicking Here!