In 1985 Romero was back with the third installment of his zombie movies: Day of the Dead.
With 17 years between part one and part three some stylistic changes crept in across the three movies. In some ways Day actually satisfied our curiosity which had been building since the original Night of the Living Dead but as a whole it’s a further step down the ladder from Dawn of the Dead.
It basically has a plot so thin it has to be held up with gore and a few answers to how zombies work.
The poster is actually pretty nicely made and smacks of the sorts of book covers and graphic design popular at the time. Just like in the poster for Dawn, the word dead seems to be creeping towards us though now in shadow. This shadow, spelling out dead even though it’s upside down is a nice little piece of typographical play.
The zombie here again seems a bit otherworldly, not a true zombie as we see in the movies but a stony, expressionless face. What emotion does it confer? A sort of smug awareness that it is in control of the situation yet it doesn’t have emotions or care that it is in control.
This is clearly a film that depends on the first two for it’s following. By the time Day of the Dead came out zombie movies were a main stay of movie culture. It was 1985 and Michael Jackson’s Thriller was still getting loads of play two years after it’s release. Hell it’s been decades and it still gets play in clubs. With Day of the Dead it seemed that Romero would be wrapping up his zombie series with what promised to be “the darkest day of horror the world had ever known.” Though it was speculated that there could follow a sunset of the Dead or a Twilight of the Dead.
Unfortunately we got Twilight but not the dead. Well, not the way we wanted anyway.
This is the funny thing about this movie though. It starts off telling us it’s the third part in the story but none of the movies have much connection. The first takes us through the outbreak and the initial response; the second from the panic to the siege. But the third is just a survival story. It’s about a group of army misfits and a mad scientist with daddy issues hiding out in Florida.
There actually isn’t a progression in the story in the larger sense that humanity is fighting back. We have no sense if things are getting better or worse. If any overarching story can be gleaned it’s that there is no happy ending, no progress will be made and the world really did end when the dead rose up way back in Night of the Living Dead. Everything after that is just scrounging in the scraps of human society. THAT I can get behind but over the course of the movies I’d like to get beyond the survivors hiding out in a bunker. In each movie the bunkers get bigger and stronger but that’s about it. Tell a different story!
Unlike the story, the zombies are making progress and getting smarter without any signs of wear and tear.
One odd thing about this movie is that it continues the theme that the zombies are getting smarter. I kind of have a problem with that.
A lot of stories seem to suggest that zombies rot very slowly for some reason. Now let’s get scientific for a second. Have you ever been to florida? Have you ever stayed out in the sun for very long? How do you think you would feel after a day or two, even in the shade, without food or water? The zombies eat people but don’t seem to drink anything. Perhaps they do and it just hasn’t been shown. But really think about that.
Over time your body weight would drop, your muscles would deteriorate and you would become disoriented. I’m talking about a matter of days or hours. You would be in terrible condition after only a few days or a week IF you made it that long. Yet the zombies never seem to fall apart or rot. Their clothes do, yet they just keep on trucking. They are made of the same stuff we are so those components should be effected by the atmosphere, temperature and wear and tear. Are they healing? Does that keep cuts and scrapes from getting worse? Their skin should be coming off from being baked and all the liquid should be oozing out of them.
Yet the zombies actually seem to get better over time. This movie continued the idea from the first movie that zombies could use tools, to the second movie, that the recently turned could access some memory, to the idea that they could actually be trained and taught.
If the zombies are rotting, why aren’t their brains getting worse? Why aren’t they dropping off in huge numbers during summer when it’s humid and hot and wet and it’s just the right time for them to turn to mush like real bodies would?
This movie, much more than the others relies heavily on gore to keep the audience entertained. I’m not against loads of gore in a movie if it is used for a purpose. In this case though it seemed like it was only there to prop up the paper thin plot. The surviving military and scientific teams are all at odds and one oddball mad scientist (really? really? a mad scientist? Come on!) is using the corpses for experiments to try and figure out what’s bringing them back. He manages to create some pretty ghastly things in his little lab and answers a few questions. Unfortunately he is so badly portrayed and unrealistically scripted that it’s impossible to really feel any connection to the character or get behind him even when we think he might be right.
Yeah I like Bub as much as the next guy but he’s annoying. He’s the one zombie the doc didn’t chop up but used for psychological tests to see if zombies can be trained for some sort of purpose. I know he’s an iconic zombie in the lore and his face scared the bejesus out of me when I was 12, but I’m not 12 any more and he just seems sort of lame now.
Honestly, it’s hard even writing about this movie it was so bad.