Following up on his 1968 modern classic Night of the Living Dead as well as 1978’s hugely successful Dawn of the Dead, George Romero would revisit his cinematic realm of the zombies for a third time with 1985’s Day of the Dead. Where Night provided the beginnings of the dead coming back to life and Dawn showed that, while the struggle was growing, there was still hope. By the time Day rolls around, though, nearly all hope is lost. Humans are vastly outnumbered by their reanimated counterparts and have resorted to living underground, where even then safety isn’t a guarantee. This is especially true where Romero is concerned as his Dead films have never shied away from painting humanity as the true problem. In Day of the Dead, the focus is almost exclusively on the humans, which at the time of its release led to it being met with mixed opinions. Personally, I feel that Day of the Dead is not only Romero’s finest outing in the land of the undead, but it’s also the all-around best zombie film ever made.
Taking the feeling of isolation that would no doubt exist in a world overrun with zombies, Romero ups that isolation even more by setting the film in an underground bunker with only so much space. There the remaining survivors, comprised of a science team and a few military men, are forced to deal with each others goals and differences of opinion. Sarah (Lori Cardille) is the sort of de facto leader for the scientists, as well as the film’s main protagonist. Though she seems to always be on the lookout for peaceful resolutions Sarah is also not above being standoffish and stubborn in order to achieve what’s best for the group. Her polar opposite is Capt. Rhodes (Joe Pilato), the brash head of the military unit holed up alongside the scientists. Rhodes is no-nonsense and always over the top in an effort to make things follow his plan of action.
Throwing a wrench into both sides is Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty), aka Frankenstein, and his numerous experiments on the undead. There’s dissections-a-plenty as Dr. Logan attempts to find out just what is causing the dead to keep on living in their own terrifying way, but Logan has other intentions in mind for his zombie specimens. This leads to the reveal of Bub (Howard Sherman), a captured zombie that Logan has almost made his pet, as he helps Bub relearn simple traits from his life before becoming the living dead. This aspect of the story could easily devolve into complete hokeyness, but Romero and the cast, particularly Sherman’s portrayal of Bub, elevate the material, lending it to having some of the film’s more powerful moments.
As much as Day is a showcase for Romero’s use of storytelling and metaphor, it is also a tour de force for the exceptional special effects skills of Tom Savini. At this point Savini had already made quite a name for himself within the movie effects world, and Day of the Dead is his masterpiece. It may sound silly to some, but there is an attention to detail and execution that is just mesmerizing and remains so to this day. Savini has one of the best “can do” attitudes I’ve ever seen and somehow always found a way to nail every gag.
This is Day of the Dead’s second region A Blu-ray release (the previous being the now out-of-print release from Anchor Bay back in 2007). Scream’s new collector’s edition release touts a “brand new” transfer on it’s slipcase packaging and, I must say, it is the sharpest the film has ever looked. First things first, though, the color palette is noticeably different. From VHS to DVD to the previous Blus, the film has nearly always had a muted color palate, almost as if a bluish filter was over the entire film. With Scream’s new 1080p MPEG 4 AVC encoded transfer, the entire film has a warmer, more natural look to it. I can already hear the purists sharpening their knives. I’ll freely admit that the previous darker hues added to the overall bleakness of the film, but I honestly didn’t mind this change. Skin tones are more natural and the gore (the blood in this nearly glows) is more present and fully displayed. Fine detail is present throughout, save for a few early outside scenes that come off a bit soft. A natural amount of grain is present throughout. Black levels are quite nice and true and rarely devolve into noise that plagues many films from that time period. It’s definitely going to be an issue for some, but I think any fan that gives this transfer a chance will be pleasantly surprised.
Another difference from the previous Anchor Bay release is the sound presentation. Instead of including a forced surround mix, Scream has chosen to go with the original mono mix via a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track and it’s all for the better. Those who have the AB release know that the “surround” mix was plagued with problems and in the end was quite shoddy. Here, Scream has presented a mostly balanced mix that manages to shine at all the right times. Dialogue is quite clear and finds a nice balance with the wonderful score that continues throughout. While this won’t be blowing away audiophiles by any means, it’s the most natural in service to the film and its original materials, which to me is far more important.
Beyond The Feature
Scream has ported a few extras from previous releases, notably two Audio Commentaries, one with Romero, Savini, actress Lori Cardille and production designer Cletus Anderson, as well as another featuring filmmaker Roger Avary. Both commentaries are quite serviceable, although Avary’s tends to be a little self-focused and has quite a few dead air moments.
The crowning jewel of this releases extras is the newly produced, full-length documentary World’s End: The Legacy of Day of the Dead. This documentary, coming in just shy of 90 minutes, is an absolute treasure for fans of Day of the Dead, but it’s also a worthwhile piece on Romero and his early zombie trilogy in general. The doc moves from the early behind the scenes to the actors to audience reaction and everything in between. A good chunk is dedicated to the incredible work Savini and his crew put into the film. As a long time Dead fan, this doc was refreshing and informative in a way that no other release has come close to covering.
The following is a complete list of all included special features:
- Commentary with director George A. Romero, Special Effects Make-up Artist Tom Savini, Actress Lori Cardille and Production Designer Cletus Anderson
- Commentary with Filmmaker Roger Avary
- World’s End: The Legacy of Day of the Dead (HD, 86 min)
- Underground: A Look At The Day of the Dead Mines (HD, 8 min)
- Behind The Scenes: Tom Savini Archives (SD, 31 min)
- Wampum Mine Promotional Video (SD, 9 min)
- Trailers and TV Spots (HD, 9 min)
- Still Galleries (HD, 42 min)
Day of the Dead isn’t just Romero’s crowning achievement within his cinematic realm of the dead, it’s a high water mark in zombie cinema and culture as a whole. Nearly 30 years since it’s initial release, Day of the Dead manages to be just as important and impactful as it was then, if not more so. The film’s tone of dread and hopelessness perfectly encapsulates a world overrun by the undead and the absolute madness that would ensue because of it. Savini and his crew’s work is the near pinnacle of practical effects work and it’s never looked quite so good as it does here. Though there may be some fan outcry due to some of the color differences, the transfer is hands down the best the film has ever looked while the soundscape reflects the original materials. Though the extras may seem a bit slim, the feature length documentary is more than enough to warrant that double, triple or quadruple dip many fans will be making with this release.
SCREAM’s Day of the Dead is hands down the best release the film has ever received and deserves its rightful place on any horror or cult fans shelves.
Shop for Day of the Dead: Collector’s Edition on Blu-ray for a discounted price at Amazon.com (September 17, 2013 release date).