I don’t think I’ve ever really given George A. Romero’s Day Of The Dead a fair shot. I’m not quite sure why. Back in my VHS-renting days at my local Family Video, I remember watching both versions of Night, Dawn and Day. Eventually I got one of the cheapo copies of the original movie on DVD and became a huge fan of Dawn to the point where I got that four disc DVD set several years back. But what about Day? Why had I only ever watched that movie once?
One reason might go back to a snafu at a video store in college. I went to school at Ohio Wesleyan in the small town of Delaware. There’s a nice main street that has (had?) a guitar store, a record store, several restaurants and a lot of other little places to check out. While walking around my freshman year, I saw a privately owned video store that was going out of business and therefore selling off its stock. I walked through and picked up a quartet of movies: Mom, Leprechaun In Space, Hot Potato and Day Of The Dead. The first three were just curiosities, but I was excited to own this Romero film. When I got back to my dorm, though, I slid the tape out of the cover and realized it was actually Dawn. I wound up falling even harder in love with that movie, to the point where I would have it on while studying or working on a paper and even fell asleep to it several times.
It’s funny to think of how my favorite horror movie list might look these days had I had easier access to Day. And, thanks to my buddy Rob passing me the recently released Scream Factory Collector’s Edition Blu-ray of Day Of The Dead, now I do. Romero’s third zombie film was originally going to be a giant, big-budget, explosion-filled action film, but instead he decided to split up his deal to also make Knightriders and Creepshow. In the excellent documentary included on the disc, Romero says he loves the finished version because he distilled the original script into a smaller, more claustrophobic script that focused on a group of scientists and soldiers in an underground research facility trying to figure out what’s going on with the risen dead.
One of the things I love so much about Dawn is that includes a little bit of everything, but not to the detriment of anything. Day, however, is a much more focused, angry film that focuses on the tensions rising not only from these people living in a world where one of the basic realities of life has been abolished, but also the ones that come from their shared task which includes wrangling zombies for research purposes. It’s not like these survivors are holed up and focused mainly on living like they were in Dawn, they’re constantly staring death in the face, which means they can’t ignore it no matter how many RVs you set up with tropical decorations. There’s a lot of emotion in the works here and it’s amazingly well conveyed by the assembled cast.
And, man, Tom Savini and his crew absolutely murdered the effects in this film. The gore gags are fantastic — made all the more realistic thanks to the use of actual pigs’ blood and entrails — and the zombie make-up and appliances are just insanely good looking. As much as I love Dawn, I like how the zombies in Day look less neon-y. And, of course, the best of the bunch is Bub, the zombie we see learning (or remembering) how to use some common household items. This is a theme Romero wanted to include more of in this film that gets picked up on in Land Of The Dead and probably the next to films Diary Of The Dead and Survival Of The Dead, which I haven’t seen yet. It such a cool theme that I never really thought about before, but why wouldn’t zombies begin to evolve after a fashion the longer they’re around, especially as they become the dominant life form.
If you’re a fan of Day Of The Dead or haven’t ever seen it, I highly recommend checking out the Scream Factory offering. The movie looks fantastic and I had a good time going through a few of the special features. The documentary has just about everyone involved with the film talking about what it was like to make the movie. Since I came to horror so long after this movie came out, I didn’t realize how reviled it was when it debuted in theaters. I’m glad to hear that it’s gone on an upswing in fan popularity over the years because it really is a complex film that says a lot about society without being ham-fisted and still including some of the all time best special effects of all time. What are you waiting for? Go watch it already!