Thursday, 14 March 2013

Review - Day of the Dead (1985 - Dir. George A. Romero)

So we come to the last in the Living Dead Trilogy (before Land of the Dead came along) of Night, Dawn and Day.
This is a very different beast to the other two films. Originally written to be more of an epic, Romero had to scale things back to bring it in on a budget of $3m. Most of the action happens in an underground bunker and is fairly bleak.

After the social commentaries of the first two films, Day of the Dead deals with how three different groups deal with the zombies. Sarah (Lori Cardille) is a scientist from Team White Coat, working as part of a team to find a cure to the zombie threat. Supporting them (yeah, right) in their task are the military, led by Captain Rhodes (Joe Pilato) - head of Team Fascist - and a laid back chopper pilot John (Terry Alexander) - Team Cool's leader. Okay, they don't have team names, but you get the idea.

By far the most entertaining group is Team Fascist. Rhodes is suitably deranged and is generally a big racist. He is one of the top screen villains and delivers many legendary lines (if you don't know any of his pearlers, I'll let you discover them for yourself) but a far more grubby, disturbing character comes in the form of Rickles (the sadly deceased Ralph Marrero). He is one of the most unpleasant characters ever committed to screen. It's a shame he doesn't get more lines.

Now I know that loads of people love Bub, the cheeky little domesticated zombie, and yes, it is impressive acting by  Howard Sherman, but I'm just not that keen. The way I see it is that if you make zombies more human, able to use tools, talk etc., then they become progressively less scary (as Land of the Dead proved, but that's another review). You may as well have a completely human mob. Actually they are pretty frightening.

After the strong black leads in Night and Dawn, it is interesting to see Romero take a different approach. John is so separate from the rest of the group initially and willing to fight that he's quite a hard character to like. Eventually, he comes into his own in the final descent through Bavaesque caverns and shows his true hero qualities. His survival scheme is also probably the best idea that any of the characters have in the whole film. 

Day of the Dead seems to be where the zombie effects changed from Tom Savini slapping on grey make-up as quick as he could to a professionally run team applying proper prosthetics. The effects still hold up fairly well today, although some of the animatronics look like they are controlled by a puppeteer of Rod Hull's skill. Eyebrows waggles and mouths gape, giving away the effect far too easily.

So the big question: which is better Dawn or Day? It's all down to personal choice of course but my vote goes to Dawn. I think that Day is just as much a comic book as Dawn, it's just that the former is more of an adult graphic novel (a comic in other words). I've never been entirely convinced by Richard Liberty's performance as Logan. He borders on overacting at so many points. Despite any gripes it's still a great film. I wonder how Land of the Dead will fare in the next review...

(Average rating for the season so far = 6.1 )

If you like this you could also try:
Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Two Evil Eyes.


  1. Evil Keith....

    Not only do you give props to my favorite Romero zombie mention the wonderful Ralph Marrero.

    I knew Ralph quite well...we were both involved with a group called Latino Playwrights in NYC in the 80's. When Day premiered in NYC, I went with him to the theater and celebrated with him afterwards. We had weekly poker nights, and I can't tell how what a wonderful guy he was.

    I left NYC in 1987 and went back to Bradford PA to run my Dad's musc store, but we were still in touch. He dropped by Bradford on his way to Albuquerque to visit In October of 1991, before he started filming a movie. That was the last time I saw him, as he had his accident about a month later.

    Thanks for remembering my friend. I truly appreciate the props, and I know that Ralph is getting a great laugh up there in zombie heaven.

    1. Thanks for one the best comments I've received. I loved reading about your friendship with Ralph.

      I reread my comments about him playing one of the most unpleasant characters committed to screen. It must only be horror fans who would take that as a compliment and it was definitely meant as one. He is easily one of my favourite things about this film.

      I really hope he is up that getting a laugh about his performance still being talked about nearly 30 years after it was filmed.

      Thanks again for a great comment. Cheered me up no end.

  2. Trust me, your comments on Ralph were absolutely taken as a compliment, and I know that he would have considered them an honor...

    Ralph, shall we say, had a protruding forehead...he was much shorter than I was, so Frankenstein would not have been a good nickname...He always joked about it, and then told me the story of his first meeting with Tom Savini....

    Tom took one look at him, and said "Forehead pull"..and that's exactly how he dies in the film. Ralph was so proud of that!

    Anyway, back to work!! Keep up with the great posts, there are a few of us that actually read them! And if you get a chance, come by our blog.

    1. Thanks for that and that's the first time that I'd heard the "Forehead pull" story. It's not very often that I hear new stories about favourite films so thanks again.

  3. Happy to read you can endorse this one! I've seen first two parts of Dead series, and particularly liked Dawn, so shall give Day a try this upcoming Halloween.

    That image in your review of the hands reaching out reminds me of a scene in Repulsion (1965)

    1. I think Dawn is possibly the stronger film, but I know of people who think Day is better. Well worth watching though Chris.

      Repulsion is one of those films that's on my to watch list and I just never get round to it. I'll have to make a concerted effort...