Today’s David Moody’s turn.
Dave and I are taking a weekend off from our signing tour, but, well, I have missed our weekly bitchfest, so, to compensate, here’s his review of George Romero’s classic DAY OF THE DEAD.
It’s no secret that the version of Day of the Dead committed to film in 1985 bears little resemblance to George Romero’s original vision for the end of his ‘Dead’ trilogy (and you really should have left it a trilogy, George…). The planned grand finale of the series was restricted by cost and other constraints to become, conversely, the most claustrophobic of the three films. The original script can be found online if you do a little digging, and it’s interesting to read and then compare and contrast. The action originally took place on an island populated by a host of survivors, and you can’t help wondering if some of the elements jettisoned by Romero back in the 1980’s eventually wound up appearing in the disappointing Land of the Dead, the awful Diary of the Dead, and the so-bad-I-wish-I-could-unsee-it Survival of the Dead.
I guess that more than ten years after Dawn, Day of the Dead was the sequel no one expected, and critical reception upon its original release was harsh. But for this young (at the time!) horror fan, it was an astonishing film which redefined my expectations of what a zombie movie could – and should – be.
Opening with a couple of survivors landing a helicopter in a dead city to look for survivors (one of the only parts of the original script to make it to the final cut), Romero quickly and effortlessly re-establishes his dead world. It’s a fantastic opening which leaves the viewer in no doubt that the world has gone to hell and all hope is lost. The scene culminates with the appearance of the affectionately-named Dr Tongue: one of several of Tom Savini’s truly landmark zombie make-up creations. From the city we’re quickly transported to a military bunker where the survivors have been holed-up alongside a less than cooperative and severely depleted group of soldiers. Needless to say, the less than sturdy-looking fence around the bunker is surrounded by hordes of the living dead.
And that, in a nutshell, is the set up. But it’s what Romero does with the various elements of Day which elevate the film to the level of true zombie classic. We have the military and civilians clashing constantly about the cause of the apocalypse and what, if anything, they can do to continue to survive. We have the question of limited resources being steadily depleted whilst masses of zombies gather aboveground. We have a scientist of questionable sanity experimenting on the dead to find out what makes them ‘tick’ (in the process creating Bub – the first truly memorable zombie as character). We have people struggling with relationships and with loss and grief… people questioning if, not how they want to survive. And very importantly, we have HUGE numbers of zombies gathering in very, very close proximity to the living.
Day of the Dead is a bleak, nihilistic vision of the end of days, and its restricted scale and small cast actually help, not hinder, it.
Okay, so some of the minor characters (particularly on the military side) blur into each other, and the script’s a little clunky and the performances are occasionally weak, but the pluses more than outweigh the minuses. There are some truly memorable characters – Dr Logan, the aforementioned Bub, and the villainous Captain Rhodes to name but three – and as I’ve already said, Tom Savini contributes some outstanding special effects work (as anyone who’s witnessed Rhodes’ final scenes will surely agree… ‘Choke on ‘em…!’).
Should the shit ever really hit the fan, I imagine the world as a whole would experience bewilderment and terror, followed by sheer inescapable horror as the reality of Armageddon sets in, followed eventually by mankind’s final death rattle. If Night of the Living Dead portrayed the frightening confusion of the beginning of the end, and Dawn of the Dead civilisation’s downward spiral into a bloody oblivion, then Romero’s Day of the Dead is that death rattle: a final little fruitless burst of noise and effort before we’re silenced forever.
A phenomenal film which, along with its two predecessors, every zombie movie fan MUST see.
Visit David at his official website.
Catch up with both Dave and I at the next date on our tour: Waterstone’s Swindon, next Saturday 8th December.