There’s a reason films like George Romero’s Day of the Dead are known as cult classics. Whether it’s the crazy special effects, the campy acting or the oddly timeless minor characters, Romero’s films have struck such an undead chord that even Bub the zombie, who only has three words of non-grunting dialogue, has his own fans. To fans of Bub and his Day of the Dead brethren, today’s Blu-ray Disc release of Day of the Dead is virtually a high-def holiday. But while Bub has never looked as good as he does on this presentation, the rest of the BD package leaves a little bit to be desired.
Preparing a plot summary for Day of the Dead reads like a formula for most zombie flicks: a ragtag crew of humans is essentially trapped inside a compound while the raging undead seek ways inside to snack on their braaaaaaiiiiinnnnnnns. Day of the Dead puts a bit of a wrinkle in that formula through its opposition of scientists versus soldiers, which actually provides most of the film’s conflict, and its presentation of “Bub” as an intelligent and teachable zombie. For the most part, though, the film follows the predictable path of most humans dying, zombies being killed in uncountable ways and one philosophical musing aloud why the Creator cursed humanity with this plague of undead.
The video transfer of Day of the Dead is admirable, with the AVC playback suffering only from an occasional flicker in either very bright or high-contrast scenes. On the whole, the movie also has a bit of softness to it, leaving a visual impression that viewers are watching an episode of The A-Team on TV. The exception here comes in the most creative bonus feature, Film Fast Facts, which is a clone of VH1’s Popup Video in which small pieces of trivia about the actors, film or set appear every four or so throughout the entire length of the movie. Each “zombie-fied” dialogue box is crisp and bright with sharp text, leaving no doubt it was produced specifically for this Blu-ray release.
Playback quality takes a more noticeable hit with the rest of the bonus features, all of which are displayed in 480p. The first of two featurettes, The Many Days of Day of the Dead (38:41), is a making-of video in the traditional sense, with George Romero and various special-effects and production staff discussing not only the original concept for Day of the Dead (a $6 million film taking place in two key locations), but also the challenges of creating and marketing an unrated film. The featurette logically mixes recent interview footage with original clips and photographs, which likely explains the 480p vs. 1080p playback (aiming for image consistency), thereby leaving the majority of archival footage for the second featurette. Called Day of the Dead: Behind the Scenes (30:51), this featurette is comprised quite literally of raw makeup and special-effects footage, complete with background noise and the total lack of a narrator. While makeup buffs will enjoy watching actors making the undead transition, it’s frankly a bit boring to watch the same basic process over and over with no narration. This Handicam-like footage could have really benefited from simply being edited down and incorporated into a five-minute chapter in the Many Days featurette.
An Audio Interview with Richard Liberty (15:45) is next on the bonus feature list, and this element also shows its age. To be fair, Liberty has long since passed away, so nobody could go back and do an on-camera interview with the man who played the movie’s Frankenstein-like scientist. Instead, a 15-minute audio interview is played while a single photo of him appears on screen. The entire time. It’s a bit spooky to look at a single photo that long, and it seems like they producers could have at the very least concocted a montage slideshow with various photos (or even video) of Liberty in action. Instead, viewers are left to gaze on a single image while an old interview plays back in AM-radio, War-of-the-Worlds-original-broadcast quality, with wind whistling in the background to top it all off.
As disappointing as the Audio Interview may be, the Gateway Commerce Center Promo video (8:12) almost makes up for it with its sheer hilarity. Honestly, I don’t know what’s funnier: that George Romero included this marketing video for the underground warehouse location where Day of the Dead was filmed, or the fact that this narrated marketing video exists in the first place. Actually, neither of those is the funniest part about this tenant-enticing piece; it’s the fact that its production value screams 1980s, yet he video ends with “or visit us online at….” I didn’t realize people were still capable of making videos this bad. Seriously, the three original Day of the Dead Movie Trailers (5:10 total) and TV Spots (1:36) that are also included on the Blu-ray Disc are of a better quality than this promo video.
Still, the fans most likely to pick up Day of the Dead on Blu-ray Disc will find it very easy to overlook those bonus-feature shortcomings for the very reason that, well, it’s Day of the Dead. The cult classic has never looked as good as it does on this release, and although the gore, cursing and over-the-top melodrama will prove too much for most consumers, that’s just par for the course with George Romero’s classics. Day of the Dead is back, and it’s back with a vengeance. If you can remember to take out your braaaaaaiiiiinnnnnnn for a few hours while you re-live this film, you’ll have a blast.
– Jonas Allen