Director George A. Romero’s “Day of the Dead,” the 1985 shocker which wrapped his original “Dead” trilogy, predates the AMC series by more than two decades. Its vision of a world where human survivors battle each other, not a swarm of zombies, captures the existential pull of the AMC drama.
We are our worst enemy, not an army of flesh-chomping zombies.
Romero’s view of humanity doesn’t just fall in the “glass is half empty” department. His glass is dripping with poisonous sewage as well. That gives “Day” more bite than expected, especially since the film is considered the weakest of the trilogy.
That’s a shame. It’s still the director’s best work in ages, a far cry from attempts to revisit his own genre with “Land of the Dead,” “Diary of the Dead” and “Survival of the Dead.”
And, with the dawn of ISIS, the character of Bub the Zombie offers fresh insights into dealing with an intractable foe.
The dead have inherited the earth, leaving a small group of soldiers and scientists hunkered down in an underground lab. The lab coat types are trying to study the zombies, hoping to learn something, anything to give them an edge against the flesh eaters.
The soldiers, led by Rhodes (Joe Pilato), have little use for that book learnin’ approach. They just want to survive, and snaring samples for Dr. Logan (an over the top Richard Liberty) risks his men’s lives.
Dr. Logan thinks he’s found something with Bub (Sherman Howard), a zombie who responds to beautiful music and other stimuli. Does Bub offer a chance for survival, or is it foolish to suggest one civilized zombie can impact millions who simply want to snack on us?
A simple salute from Bub packs more socio-political punch than most directors can assemble in 90 minutes.
It’s hard not to compare Bub with the monsters who behead innocents in the Middle East, a connection that would probably tickle Romero. He fills his zombie films with social subtext, from the mall-ification of America in “Dawn of the Dead” to the racial echoes found in “Night of the Living Dead.”
With this “Day,” Romero is working with a more subtle palette. It’s still fascinating to see how different versions of survival can lead to bloodshed.
Lori Cardille is terrific as the only woman of the group, a natural leader who isn’t afraid of showing a vulnerable side. Terry Alexander wants us to write off his character, a live for today type, early on. Alexander’s work just won’t allow it, as we get to know him and how deeply he cares for his fellow humans.
“Day of the Dead” actually skimps on the main course, the zombie attacks, but the final ten minutes rights that wrong thanks to Tom Savini’s superlative FX work.
Like the best zombie movies, though, “Day of the Dead” has far more on its mind than a hunger for brains.
DID YOU KNOW: George A. Romero got his first directorial gig courtesy of Fred Rogers, the man behind “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”