I have now completed the original Dead trilogy with Day of the Dead. My opinion is really mixed on this film because there are some things I really enjoyed about it and some things that kind of disappointed me with it.
Day of the Dead does take place well into the zombie epidemic and there are very few living persons still out and about; basically, people are in shelters or the dead walking the earth. Sarah and a team of scientists are in a shelter with a military team; along with seeking out survivors the scientists are doing research on the epidemic. However, while Sarah wants to find a cure Dr. Logan (a.k.a. – Frankenstein) wants to find a way to control them, and the soldiers merely want to flee. As such the soldiers and the scientists cannot get along and the already tense atmosphere in the shelter begins to rip itself apart until of course the zombies become an even bigger threat once again.
I think where my main issue with the film comes in is that the mere concept of Day of the Dead lends itself to so much possibilities with subtext about science vs. instinct, government vs. citizens, control and power, etc. and yet in Day of the Dead very little is done to explore this merely because it is the surface of the film – you already have a very obvious two groups of people each struggling for power over the situation and beyond the actual trappings of the story there is no way to delve deeper in that than what is shown. The soldiers are obviously bad and the scientists and citizens are obviously good. All the cards are on the table for you and you don’t even have to look at your hand to know what is in it.
It simply makes me sad because of the four Dead films I’ve seen three have very rich, era-transcending subtext and yet Day of the Dead lacks that same finesse. I’ve been told the subtext is about the Regan era military/government but that again strikes me as upsetting because that would mean the subtext isn’t capable of being understood by an audience in any era – at least not like racism, materialism and classism can be.
What I did love was the character of Sarah. George Romero had used a strong female central to the story in Dawn of the Dead but Sarah is pulled straight out of 80’s feminism right down to her tough as nails attitude that remains unafraid of the men in the film. The only time she backs down from a stand is when one of the characters threatens to shoot her, and even then she waits until it becomes obvious that this will actually happen and not be an empty threat.
I also loved that you had a scientist that has crossed the line from research to a twisted fascination with the zombies. His experiments are macabre and inhuman yet no one feels the need to stop him because they are still bewildered by the situation.
I am torn because on one level things like Sarah make Day of the Dead a candidate for my favorite Dead film, but the lack of subtext disappoint me so much that I appreciate Dawn of the Dead and Night of the Living Dead more. Possibly my opinion of this film is colored because I have already seen Land of the Dead and this film seems like a stepping stone to get into the story in Land of the Dead where society has begun to be reestablished. I adore the subtext in Land of the Dead, characters, plot and was gloriously entertained by that film. However, I don’t think Day of the Dead should be missed.
Director & Writer: George A. Romero
Sarah: Lori Cardille
John: Terry Alexander
Capt. Rhodes: Joseph Pilato
William: Jarlath Conroy
Miguel Salazar: Anthony Dileo Jr.
Logan: Richard Liberty
Sarah: Maybe if we tried working together we could ease some of the tensions. We're all pulling in different directions.
John: That's the trouble with the world, Sarah darlin'. People got different ideas concernin' what they want out of life.