Day of the Dead (1985)

dotd3So the zombie apocalypse came and went and guess what? We lost. Miserably. After the world has been consumed by the cannibalistic walking dead by the hordes, there are really only a few dozen living humans on the planet. And they’re struggling to maintain the lingering shreds of sanity they still possess. Once upon a time, a long time ago, “Day of the Dead” was considered the lesser of the Dead trilogy from director George A. Romero, and it’s quite shocking considering “Day of the Dead” is a masterpiece. In fact it’s every bit as good as its predecessors “Night” and “Dawn” with just as much thought provoking material as the former titles.

While “Night” zeroed in on the first outbreak, and “Dawn” on humanity battling the outbreak, “Day” is us after the war has ended. Basically, only a few people are now living in an underground military bunker after almost all of their unit had suffered death from the walking dead. Romero now chooses to focus on the madness of loneliness and cabin fever with his story that’s noticeably scaled down from the previous movies. Romero dabbles in to the psychology of living in a world overrun by the walking dead, and it makes for a particularly gut wrenching film. The remaining group of survivors fly out to deserted locales in the city desperately hoping to find signs of life only to be greeted by hordes of undead corpses, and when they retreat back to their bunker they’re met with wanderers who wait outside the gates desperately trying to get in.

What Romero features is the group of scientists battling with the remaining soldiers all of whom are losing their minds day by day and are fighting for power in the bunker as resources and supplies dwindle. Romero makes the most of the limited scenery providing an atmosphere that’s often claustrophobic and utterly confining. Romero focuses on the trauma inherent with confrontations with the dead featuring harrowing dream sequences, and showing how the only way sleep is possible is through self-medication. Romero breaks down his formula for the walking dead bringing to mind theories about how to control the invasion as one of the doctors nicknamed Frankenstein, is convinced the walking dead can be domesticated and taught to act like pets.

This is often at the cost of the team mates forced to wander in to the caves crowded by the dead and wrangle them in for experimentation. Romero offers the possibility that the dead can in fact be taught to be docile as he introduces the first protagonist zombie Bub, who has been conditioned to be a peaceful and loyal pet, but much of what Romero introduces to the viewer in the way of theories and potential for salvation is left utterly unfulfilled as he offers the notion that no matter what strides we may take in the apocalypse, our own humanity will stifle any progress.

Romero is able to garner some great performance as Lori Cardille is very sympathetic as the only sane individual Sarah, while Joe Pilato chews the scenery as the power hungry Rhodes, while Sherman Howard is utterly brilliant as the domesticated zombie Bub who expresses emotion and layers of complexity under excellent make-up and prosthetics. Though it is different from its forefathers, “Day” is a masterful look at the last shreds of humanity, and how easily it fades in the fog of darkness and evil. One of the most uneasy and unnerving horror movies ever created, “Day of the Dead” is a masterpiece of the zombie sub-genre with brilliant performances, an excellent story, and a climax that excels in chaos and carnage.

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