Considered by some to be a must-watch of the zombie apocalypse genre, Day of the Dead is a fine example of how horror could be intelligent storytelling. If you don’t mind the talking.
Cannibalistic zombies run amok across the world. Within an army base in the Everglades, Dr. Matthew Logan experiments with captive zombies, which he believes could be trained to be docile. As supplies in the base start to dwindle, tension rises between the scientists and the military personnel protecting the base. To secure the continued support of Captain Henry Rhodes after the latter took over the base, Logan shows to him his proudest creation, Bud. This is a docile zombie seemingly able to recall fragments of his previous life and engage in basic human activities.
Day of the Dead didn’t fare too well during its big screen release. Audiences entered cinemas expecting an upgrade of the gleeful gorefest found in the previous two episodes. They did get what they want. But only after an hour of intense human drama, some parts of which worthy for Shakespearean stage. As defence or explanation, director George A. Romero then revealed how budget cuts forced him to scale down his vision for the movie. His statement seems to say he couldn’t throw in as much gore as he wanted. Or, he could have meant, I could have been even more verbose, you know …
Much as I wish to portray myself as preferring a rant over a rumble, I have to say I agree with general reaction when watching this a few years ago. By no means am I implying the script or effects were lacklustre, both were exemplary, possibly among the finest in the history of horror. The problem here, for me, is how we have been inundated with zombie apocalypse stories in movies, TV and games in recent years. The genre simply no longer holds any freshness, made worse by the fact that the “modern” sprinting zombie is honestly way scarier than Romero’s somewhat adorable lumbering ones. Now, I do realise such a statement is unfair in many ways. It’s akin to saying War of the Worlds is amateurish compared to Star Trek. Thus, please allow me to rephrase my reaction to Day of the Dead as follows.
Watch this if you’re a true horror fan. If you’re interested in the development of the genre as a potent storytelling medium.
Watch this to get a feel of the incredible devotion and creativity of producers in days when CGI was but a myth.
Skip this if you’re solely interested in splatter. Or just fast forward to the second half.
Skip this if you’re uninterested in the human aspects of horror stories. You’re going to be bored silly by all the talking.
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