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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

31 Days of Scream-O-Ween! - Day of the Dead

By David Massey

 


Though they’ve lost their fear factor for me, zombie films are my favorite junk food; I just can’t get enough of them and ‘Day of the Dead’ is the peanut-butter-filled Twinkie of the lot. Romero’s original Living Dead trilogy set the standard for American zombie movies and this is the walking dead equivalent to ‘Return of the Jedi’. Scream Factory has presented the film in its most vivid form to date.

 


 Day of the Dead

The Film:

 In ‘Day of the Dead’, there’s the veneer of a story focusing on a group of government assigned scientists and military personnel posted in an isolated underground mine-come-research facility sometime after the zombie apocalypse. The film follows a collection of characters who are undeniably more interesting than the throw-away ‘meat’ posing as human beings in most modern horror movies. We could go on and on about the Romero(ian) social commentaries & satirical subtexts about government conspiracy and the breakdown of civility in contemporary America but, let’s face it, the bread-and-butter here is that ‘Day of the Dead’ is the film that finally makes a zombie the protagonist!

 The real hero here is Howard Sherman’s ‘Bub’. The most emotive and 3-dimensional character in any of Romero’s films. In a performance that genuinely rivals Karloff’s ‘Monster’, he has to be one of the greatest (and most underappreciated) characters of 1980’s cinema.

 Also unique to ‘Day’ – and rare to genre films of the time – is a strong female lead. The story is largely told from the perspective of Sarah, played by Lori Cardille, and Romero admits that placing a heroine front and center was a bit of a self-imposed penance for years of writing jelly-armed damsels in distress (a la ‘Barbara’). Sarah is no ‘Ellen Ripley’ and there’s never an epic hero-moment for her but she’s more than passing and has some great moments at the beginning of the film.

 ‘Day’ is also the most Lovecraftian of Romero’s films with mad scientists who manage to come off as the least insane of the bunch and, with ‘Bub’, we get the zombie epiphany that there really is more going on inside those decaying skulls than we ever hoped or feared; zombies have memories of life.

 

 

The Disc:

 The image here is clean (save the dirty camera gates mostly present at the beginning of the film) with an almost comic book-like saturation of colors. Even with poor lighting throughout many of the scenes (the crew said they simply didn’t have the budget to light such a huge space) the blacks were rich and I saw very little charactering or ghosting.

 The Blu-ray cover art, conceived by Nathan Thomas Millner, is extremely collectable, putting ‘Bub’ front and center doing what no zombie should: pointing a gun! It is epic and, as haunting as the original poster was, makes Bub a hero and not a just mummy. You are given the option to reverse the cover and there’s a nifty, old-school type-face poster on the opposite side.

 The location is one of the things that makes this film so memorable; it’s what terrified me the most as a kid.  You couldn’t dream up, construct, or ‘CG’ a set as impressive as this facility and the disc comes with a genuine corporate video tour of the Wampum Limestone Mine-turned-Subsurface Warehouse along with a documentary about the location consisting mostly of some guy pointing to out-of-focus objects over his shoulder. I take it they couldn’t get permission to show any of the actual locations but it’s an oddly personal feature and worth a watch.

 Tom Savini fans will go nuts for the Behind-the-Scenes Footage both on set and in the make-up room showing latex application, gore, gore, gore, and prosthetic head-bowling. The raw footage successfully turned my stomach looking even more gruesome through the pock-marked eye of a video camera. This is arguably Tom Savini’s most epic work and well worth a look.

 Surprisingly, of the 2 commentaries available on the disc, Roger Avary’s (in his own words, ‘just some dude who loves these movies’) is far more compelling than the alternative with Romero & Savini. For their input, check out the new documentary, ‘World’s End’. It’s a juicy look back with almost all of the surviving cast and crew – Romero touches on his original vision for the film which Tom Savini compares to Indian Jones in Florida with Zombies. Lots of cool stuff here.

 

The Features:
  • Audio Commentary with Writer/Director George A. Romero, Special Make-up Effects Artist Tom Savini, Production Designer Cletus Anderson, and Actress Lori Cardille
  • Audio Commentary with Filmmaker Roger Avery
  • Documentary ‘World’s End: The Legacy of Day of the Dead’ – New Material
  • Behind-The-Scenes Footage from Tom Savini’s Archives
  • Wampum Mine Promotional Video
  • Documentary ‘Underground: A Look Into the Day of the Dead Mines’
  • Theatrical Trailers
  • TV Spots
  • Photo Galleries

 

The Specs:
  • New High-Definition Film Transfer
  • 1080p Hi-Def widescreen 1.78:1
  • DTS-HD Master Audio Mono
  • English-only Audio & Subtitles
  • Original Release: 1985
  • Runtime: 101 Minutes
  • Rated R


Final Grades:

Story: B / It’s more of a character study than a plot-driven film but a great scenario.

Presentation quality: A / The color here is fantastic.

Scare factor: A / More for the location than the zombies but there is some great tension.

Gore Factor: A+ / This is the apex of the pre-CG gore flicks.

Repeat view-ability: A / This stuff never gets old.
 
 
Add Day of the Dead to your collection, click HERE!
 
Check out yesterday's Scream Factory review, The Funhouse!

 

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