The third film in George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” (1968) series is “Day of the Dead“. While it is the third film in the original trilogy, fans of Romero will know that he did make more zombie films later in his career. This 1985 film raises the stakes in that the zombie Apocalypse that has engulfed the world has all boot wiped out small pockets of civilization. Humanity is on its knees and for all involved there does not appear to be any future scenario where the living may walk away as victors in a war that has been raging since Romero’s first installment in 1968.
Brief Summary: A military installation in Florida is trying to hold firm despite the onslaught of the zombies. Trouble is not far away though as scientist who are sharing the installation with the small pocket of military personnel have been pushing the experiments further than anyone dare imagine.
Detailed Summary: Outnumbering the living 400,00 to 1, zombies are everywhere. Scientists are trying their hardest to find a solution to the global issue, and in one military facility in Florida, they live underground under the protection of a handful of soldiers. To conduct experiments the scientists keep a stash of zombies locked up under the base, there is a feeling that perhaps the zombies can be trained or made docile. When military personnel discover that their deceased colleagues are also part of the experiments they are far from happy, but what pushes the soldiers over the edge of anger is lax routines that allows zombies to break further and further into the secure zone. The scientists are stopped from continuing their experiments, the zombies break in and break out, and chaos ensues – it’s a pity really because a zombie that was affectionately nicknamed ‘Bub’ actually displays some human emotions. Will anybody survive?
Film Stuff: The runtime on this film is 100 minutes and with a budget of up to $4 million this film is a much bigger proposition than where Romero’s first film came from. Like those though this film was written by the Romero as well as directed, unfortunately though this film was hit with issues that affected the writing, the script, the budget and all sorts of things that forced him to change the image he initially had for the film. The film was still shot in Pennsylvania though, where the series began. Additionally, it was also shot in and around Florida too, using Fort Myers as its centre. The way it worked out, the underground scenes were done in Pennsylvania and overground scenes in Florida. Tom Savini returned in special effects for this film, which earned him his second Saturn Award for best make-up, but the conditions in the caves that were used underground hampered his equipment and props.
Casting: This film has more survivors at the start of the film than the previous films have. This includes Dr Sarah Bowman (Lori Cardille), Cpt Henry Rhodes (Joseph Pilato), John the helicopter pilot (Terry Alexander), Bill McDermott the radio guy (Jarlath Conroy), Dr “Frankenstein” Logan (Richard Liberty), and of course “Bub” the zombie (Sherman Howard). They all do a decent job without exciting or causing much of a connection. Pilato and Liberty both do good as pantomime villains to the piece (even if Dr Frankenstein though he was innocent and righteous), and Cardille, Alexander and Conroy are convincing enough as the people with a moral conscience who decide that enough is enough. While the script was well-written enough, I did not really feel any lasting connection to the main cast. They came across as stereotypical of their profession and a bit bland at times. With the other films I was able to form more of a connection, in this I was left just watching and not feeling their fears and concerns.
Howard is ok as “Bub”, but I felt that at times this was a flawed character. The semi-domesticated zombie only really served as an occasional comedic character, and occasional threat. Yes, he is a zombie and therefor probably should be flawed, but by humanising him it just made him a bit of let down for me.
I must mention that Romero made an uncredited cameo in the film as a zombie with a scarf. He had previously appeared in a film in the series, but he was portrayed as alive in his previous cameo. Obviously that character died and made his way to Florida 😀
Wrap up: I did enjoy this film, but honestly not as much as the previous two films. There was greater attention to effects with buckets more blood and gore, but beyond that the film did not feel as well constructed. Perhaps this is down to the restraints that Romero faced and the budget that diminished from what he had planned. There was not as much social or political commentary as the previous two, which really made them feel as scary as the threat of the flesh-eating hordes contained in them.
There is still a sense of claustrophobia in this film, but it did not feel as confining as it did previously. I kind of felt that he surviving humans had doomed themselves from the off by being in a base which had underground parts – at least in the open countryside or a mall you have scope to escape, not when you are underground though. Perhaps this was a statement that missed; the dead do not live underground in caskets anymore, so maybe the humans should?
At times this felt more of a soap opera with shouty people falling out with each other, what action-based scenes there were felt scattered randomly, rather than a smooth flow because of a well-crafted plot. While Romero stated in interviews that this was his favourite of the 3 zombie films, he made between 1968 and 1985 I tend to be of the opinion that was the weakest of the three. It is good, but it is not great. It certainly has the best effects, but it lacks a little more story. Maybe my disappointment is what actually makes the film a success, the main theme is futility and no hope after all. Humanity is the ultimate protagonist on display, and it is demonstrating through the scientists and the military, how quickly it is to destroy its own self, man’s inhumanity to man.
While I enjoyed this film favour the first two, despite that fact I still own a copy – it’s still better than a lot of the zombie films that the 90’s and 00’s gave us.