After the success of the independent horror classic Dawn of the Dead, George A. Romero departed from the zombie genre and made two films: Knightriders and Creepshow. Creepshow is a fun film, taking a cue from the E.C. Comics (Tales From the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, etc.) and featuring a series of vignettes that host a long line of known and soon to be known actors (Leslie Nielson, Ted Danson, Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Ed Harris, and more). Knightriders is a different story altogether. While it’s enjoyable as a piece of cheesy fun, it’s a contemporary look at the Arthurian legends, complete with a round table. In this Romero blunder, Tom Savini stars as Morgan, who is basically Lancelot and Ed Harris takes the role of Arthur. However, this post is supposed to be about Day of the Dead and not Creepshow or Knightriders.
Following the failure of Knightriders and the success of Creepshow, Romero made Day of the Dead. Just like the last two films, a group of people are isolated and there is a black hero. However, unlike his last two films, the protagonist is a female scientist (Lori Cardille) who is trying to find a way to reverse the zombie phenomenon. The custodians of the scientific community living inside an underground Florida bunker (how is this possible in a state where you can’t dig very far without hitting water?) is composed of a group of soldiers, led by the dangerous Captain Rhodes (Joe Pilato). The soldiers are on the edge of mutiny and the lack of results from the scientific community, in addition to the funny, yet sometimes vile antics of a deranged doctor affectionately dubbed “Dr. Frankenstein,” (Richard Liberty). Eventually all hell breaks loose and the end culminates in a gorefest like the rest of Romero’s zombie films.
The effects for Day of the Dead are far more advanced than in Dawn and demonstrates Savini’s skills at their peak. Box Office Mojo states the film’s budget was $3.5 million and it grossed $5 million. Although not as profitable as Dawn, Day did make a few dollars but explains why it took about 20 years for Romero to make a sequel. In regards to storytelling, Day of the Dead isn’t as strong as his previous zombie films, but the story is still compelling and contains a good deal of social commentary and metaphor about our society. The film targets race relations, the endless bureaucracy in our society, and science as a modern religion. Dr. Frankenstein’s experiments say something about our belief that science will solve everything when in reality it’s probably responsible for a good deal of our woes. Even calling the mad scientist Frankenstein speaks volumes about what his character represents. It’s impossible to expect science to control behavior and even though Huxley thought it possible in Brave New World, there’s always a “savage.” Below is the trailer for Day of the Dead.
Day of the Dead (1985)
Romero’s follow-up to 1978s Dawn of the Dead is not of the same caliber. The effects by Tom Savini are better & the quality technically is higher budget, but the plotline is missing the same feel of the first two Dead movies. In the third of Romero’s zombie films, a group of scientists are living in an underground bunker trying to find a cure for the zombie holocaust. With them is a group of soldiers, serving as protection & assistance to the scientists. Since zombies inhabit the majority of the world now, the bunker breaks into rebellious factions; the soldiers are trying to create a dictatorship & the scientists fight back. There is a clash between the proletariat & the bourgeois, with Romero once again using zombie films to discuss social & political issues. Also included in Romero’s allegories is nature versus technology, ethics in biological research, & fascism. The soundtrack, performed by producer Rick Rubenstein’s brother, is not as entertaining as the Goblin/Library Cue soundtrack for Night of the Living dead or Dawn of the Dead; it comes across as dated now, relying heavily on ’80s synthesizers & cheap sounding instrumentals. The quality of gore is superior to Dawn, using blood that doesn’t look like paint & zombies that aren’t blue. Romero is still on-point when it comes to direction, employing a variety of interesting shots & getting the most out of the acting talent he’s accustomed to resorting to. This isn’t a slight against their acting, but there are many unknown’s in Romero’s films that are terrible. There are also many excellent unsung actors in his movies-Duane Jones from Night of the Living Dead being one or Ken Foree from Dawn being a solid character actor. In light of this, I would recommend Day of the Dead for the zombie film lover. It has all the element of a great zombie flick, but isn’t as good as Night or Dawn.