Day of the Dead

THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS: Well, no one knows.  It just kind of happens one day.

The dead come back to feast on the living.  This creates problems.

A group of scientists have been teamed up with a group of army guys and put into an underground storage-facility-cum-laboratory for the purposes of studying the zombie problem and coming up with some solutions.  Solutions have not, as yet, been forthcoming and this is stressing everyone out a little.

THE ARMY GUY IN CHARGE says “Forget about our mission, let’s just get out of here.”  (By “us” he means himself and his fellow army guys.)
THE OTHER ARMY GUYS say “Yee haw!  Let’s kill some zombies!”
THE MAD SCIENTIST says “Let’s socialize the zombies as we would children or domestic animals.”
THE RATIONAL SCIENTIST says “We have to figure out a way to reverse the process.  That will take time and patience.”
THE JAMAICAN HELICOPTER PILOT says “Why you want to waste your time wit’ dat, mon?  Scientific knowledge an’ record keepin’ ees pointless mon, let’s jes’ find a nice island somewheres, make some babies an’ enjoy the rest of the time we’s got ‘ere on dis Eart.”
THE IRISH GUY drinks whiskey and says “Jaysus, Mary an’ Joseph” at every opportunity.

WHERE DO WE LEAVE THINGS?  George Romero is a populist and secular humanist.  His head is with the rational scientist, but his heart is with the Jamaican helicopter pilot and the Irish guy.  (Strangely, the Jamaican and the Army Guy both have the same plan, but the Army Guy is a selfish, autocratic bully whose plan includes shooting everyone else before escaping, so we don’t like him.)

AND THE BEST DEATH GOES TO: It’s hard to top the Army Guy whose eyelid gets torn away and the Other Army Guy who keeps screaming after his head is torn away from his body (not to mention the zombie who’s decapitated with a shovel-blade — man, I’ve always wanted to try that — but the winner has to be the Army Guy In Charge who lives to see his own intestines dragged away by zombies and still has the gumption (and the lucidity) to scream “Choke on ’em!” before he succumbs.

NOTES: This movie is a lot more compelling than I remember it being.  Especially since it doesn’t have much of a plot, or very good acting.  It’s pretty much: Act I: introduce everyone and delineate the situation they’re in, Act II: gather and sort theirconflicting viewpoints and theories, Act III: set the zombies loose and see who survives.

The scenes of zombie carnage still carry an undeniable punch of profane revulsion.
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5 Responses to “Day of the Dead”
  1. seijiwolf says:


  2. never_wakeup says:

    For the scale of what Romero really wanted to do here (see: Land of the Dead), I don’t think his production budget allowed him to do some of the things he had originally hoped. From what I’ve observed, most fans consider this the least-appealing of his zombie films, and I tend to agree, even though I still enjoy watching it.

    You should write on “Dawn of the Dead,” though, if you haven’t already. I really appreciate the way the setting is so well-used, and though it shares a similarly lower budget like its sequeled brother, I feel like the social themes are much more well-expressed (“consume”rism), possibly because they’re more concentrated and there’s a few less characters.

    • Todd says:

      In the little “making of” featurette on the DVD, Romero talks about how he wanted to make “the Ben-Hur of zombie movies,” and all through the interview you can see him just barely holding back his resentment about the whole process. I was surprised, because I thought the movie was quite entertaining and thoughtful, while still retaining the patented Romero “do it yourself” home-made quality.

      Dawn, when I saw it in the theater at 18, was one of the most frightening experiences of my life. From the moment the guy in the tenement building bit his wife’s neck and we didn’t cut away but instead watched the skin stretch and the tendons snap and the blood gush, I was a complete basket case. It was a waking nightmare and I completely forgot that I was watching a movie and that this wasn’t really happening, it was that powerful. I’ve seen it many times since then, but when I watched it a few years ago I found myself a little disappointed; the social satire seemed laid on a little thick.

      That said, I rushed out to see Zack Snyder’s remake and had the time of my life. That opening sequence, the helicopter shot of the ruined town and the van careening into the gas pump sent that all-too-rare feeling of dread deep down into my stomach; I suddenly thought that maybe I shouldn’t have gotten on this ride after all.

      In all of Romero’s zombie movies, the zombies aren’t really “bad guys,” they’re more like a weather condition; they’re just the prevailing atmosphere. They change meaning from movie to movie and have no agenda of their own. By the time of Day we almost feel sorry for them and by Land (which I didn’t like a whole lot) they’re the protagonists.

      • craigjclark says:

        I’ve read Romero’s original script for Day of the Dead. (It’s out there online if one wants to track it down.) Suffice to say, it’s a lot more ambitious than the film he was eventually able to make — and a lot more downbeat.

        I’ve seen Night multiple times. I’ve seen Dawn twice. Day I watched once and haven’t felt the urge to go back to it. I also haven’t replaced any of them on DVD, which I should get around to some day. The “Ultimate Edition” of Dawn (with three different cuts of the film, multiple commentary tracks and a feature-length making-of documentary) was sorely tempting, though.