Day of the Dead (1985)
day of the dead | george a. romero | lori cardille | terry alexander | joseph pilato | sequel | thriller | united states | zombies | zombie | night of the living dead | jarlath conroy | anthony dileo jr. | richard liberty | sherman howard | gary howard klar | military
Film: Day of the Dead
Director: George A. Romero
Writer: George A. Romero
Starring: Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander and Joseph Pilato
This film is another one that was a staple of my childhood even though it really took for me to get older to fully appreciate it. This one was in a steady rotation for me along with its predecessor and my favorite horror film of all time, Dawn of the Dead. I’ll try not to gush too much here. The synopsis is a small group of military officers and scientists dwell in an underground bunker as the world above is overrun by zombies.
We begin with a woman sitting in a blank, white walled room. She is Sarah (Lori Cardille). Across from her is an October calendar. We see that it is Halloween according to it. This is a dream sequence where she’s actually in a helicopter flown by John (Terry Alexander). His co-pilot and their communications guy is McDermott (Jarlath Conroy). There’s also a soldier of Miguel (Anthony Dileo Jr.).
Their goal is to try to find other survivors. When McDermott can’t raise anyone, Sarah recommends setting down to use the megaphone. Her thoughts is that this is the biggest city close to them and they need to do whatever they can to make sure before giving up. John isn’t happy, but he sets them down nonetheless. Sarah and Miguel get out, but all they do is attract the undead. Defeated, they return to their base.
Their base of operations is actually an underground bunker. Sarah scolds everyone that they need to stay underground during the day, as they agitate the zombies that can see them. We also learn that the military officer in charge has died while they were out.
As they get back down below, we meet two soldiers. The loudmouth Steel (Gary Howard Klar) and with him is Rickles (Ralph Marrero). They’re on their way to collect some more specimens for ‘Dr. Frankenstein’. They want Miguel to join, but Sarah steps in to tells them that he needs to rest as he is about to break. They tell her that he is coming as they don’t have enough manpower to spare him. Sarah looks to John or McDermott to go instead, but they don’t say anything. She states she will go, but Miguel doesn’t want to look bad so he does as well.
We see they have a corral of zombies. They are coming to get two new ones for the doctor in charge. They all have collars on and they use a pole with a hook to maneuver them. Miguel, but he drops the pole and Rickles is almost bit. Steel takes this out on him, even though Sarah prevented it.
We then meet the military man who is now in charge, Rhodes (Joseph Pilato). He is not as nice as his predecessor and thinks the scientists are wasting their time and resources. He calls for a meeting later that day. Sarah already bumps heads with him, but she knows can’t rock the boat too much. There are some of scientists and soldiers down here, but the one in charge is Logan (Richard Liberty). His new line of experiments is that there is a way to prevent them from wanting to eat them, but Sarah points out that it takes too many resources and few can perform it. His other is that they can be trained. He is doing some shady practices in his lab that could all of them in danger though as the soldiers are dangerously close to taking over this operation completely.
That’s where I want to leave my recap for this movie and I should point out, by everything this movie does, it should be my favorite. I love the dark outlook this movie has for it. The world has ended, it is post the apocalypse and we’re seeing one of the last places that are still going here. The soldiers are close to breaking and without a chain of command to prevent them, we see what they would do.
This would be were I want to start my analysis. The soldiers really have all of the power. They have the training and the weaponry to really run things here. The problem though is that Rhodes isn’t smart. He can be out talked by Logan who is just smarter than him. There is still some hope left, even if he doesn’t want to show it. They just need something to keep them at bay. Rhodes is really on edge though and he has Steel and Rickles there to help him with his coup if need be.
The scientists seem to be doing what they can though. They don’t have proper resources so some of their experiments are tainted. When Sarah or Ted Fisher (John Amplas) try to relay this, Rhodes doesn’t want to hear it. What is scary here though is that we’re legitimately seeing this in the real world now. If you don’t have strong leadership, things fall apart. Rhodes is vicious, but he’s a bad leader. He’s a soldier you want when things are bad, just not leading you.
There are also the characters of John and McDermott. John really puts it best when he’s talking to Sarah in their place. He doesn’t see the point of what they’re doing. They have all of the records and history down there, but what does it matter? The world has ended and the humans are saving this stuff that if they can fix it, the world can be restored. Why would we want to restore the world to what it was though? This outbreak is showing that it didn’t work. This is an interesting look at what we’re going through now as I’m a firm believer if humanity doesn’t adapt, we could be in trouble for sure. John is a bit more nihilistic than me though, thinking that we should just live out our days in enjoyment. What I’m doing writing this review would be pointless in his eyes, even though I enjoy doing it and gives me a purpose, no matter how small or insignificant it is.
I feel that next should be the acting of the movie. It is really a bunch of people you won’t see elsewhere, but I think they’re really good. Cardille plays this strong, woman character that is holding things together the best that she can. We see she’s stressed though and can’t keep it up forever. Alexander is really good as well along with Conroy. They bring their own comedy for me for sure. Pilato does this jerk, military guy so well and I like how well he plays off the others, especially Klar and Marrero as his henchmen. Dileo I think does a great job at someone who is exhausted and close to cracking. With what happens with him is great. Liberty does an amazing job as well as Logan. I love later in the movie where we see that he’s broken mentally, but doing well to hide it. Finally there’s Howard as Bub, the zombie that is being trained. He plays this so well and even showing emotion. The rest of the soldiers and zombies rounded this out for what was needed for sure.
Next would be the effects of the movie. This is some of Tom Savini’s best work for sure. The issues he had with the zombies are fixed here. They’re still blue, but they should be. That is what would happen with the skin without blood flow. There are so many distinct looking ones. The blood and gore we get is good as well. This is just a master class in what you can do with practical effects and the cinematography is well done also.
Finally would be soundtrack. This isn’t as iconic for me as Dawn’s score, but I love what Modern Man did for the music. John Harrison really did something amazing that only fits the movie that we get, but also one of my favorite scores of all time if I’m going to be perfectly honest. It is one that I own and listen to regularly for sure.
Now with that said, even though I prefer Dawn, this is the best film in the series. It just is a bleak look at the world that has ended and dealing with the idea of fixing it or just starting over. The acting is really good and even though this is a zombie movie, it is more about the characters trying to survive. The social commentary is there and I love it. The effects are also on point and the soundtrack/score fit for exactly what was needed. This as I said though is bleak, so keep that in mind before seeing this. There are some gory effects, so if that’s an issue, I’d avoid this. An interesting movie to watch during a pandemic in my opinion, but regardless, this is an all-time classic in my opinion.
My Rating: 10 out of 10