Day of the Dead Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
Written and directed by George A. Romero
1985, Region A, 101 minutes, Not Rated
Blu-ray released on September 17th, 2013
Lori Cardille as Sarah
Joe Pilato as Rhodes
Terry Alexander as John
Richard Liberty as Logan
Anthony Dileo as Miguel
Jarlath Conroy as McDermott
G. Howard Klar as Steel
John Amplas as Fisher
Howard Sherman as Bub
Ralph Marrero as Rickles
Taso Stavrakis as Torrez
Greg Nicotero as Johnson
A scientific research team has been provided lab space in an underground military facility to search for a solution to a global zombie plague. The staff is protected by a small band of soldiers, frequently tasked with bringing in fresh specimens from the surrounding mining tunnels. The arrangements were rushed and tension is building between the two groups confined in a limited work space. As the situation drags on for an undetermined amount of time, everyone is pushed to their physical and emotional limits, with the lack of results crushing morale.
Sarah is a strong, resilient woman intent on taking as much time as necessary in order to find a cure. Captain Rhodes is her military counterpart and the last thing he wants is to spend more time in a giant limestone cave. His men are abrasive, misogynistic assholes and the power-mad Rhodes is even worse. Dr. Logan is the head scientist, working at behavior modification with a zombie he calls Bub, but his science is sloppy and Sarah fears this work will only upset the military men further. She has nowhere to go for comfort as Miguel, her soldier boyfriend, has passed his breaking point and is an unstable mess. She turns for solace to the two pacifists in the group and they encourage her to flee with them and enjoy what time they have left. The situation comes to a head following a series of tragic mistakes made out of sheer exhaustion. Rhodes assumes total control of the facility and zombies are suddenly the least of everyone's worries.
Writer/ director George A. Romero reinvented the zombie movie with his classic film Night of the Living Dead (1968). This was followed with the amped-up sequel Dawn of the Dead (1978), an unflinching masterpiece that cemented his reputation in the film community as a true master of horror. His long-gestating conclusion to the zombie trilogy, Day of the Dead (1985), featured an unexpectedly different tone from the thrills of the earlier adventure. The story Romero created instead was a startlingly bleak vision of the ugliness mankind is capable of inflicting upon one another. No matter how desperate the circumstances, people will find a way to tear each other down.
Audiences coming off the entertaining thrills of Dawn (which ended with a comical pie fight) were slapped in the face with this new depressing story that let the air out of the balloon. Instead of spending time with friendly characters in a shopping mall, viewers were shoved inside a large dark grave and forced to listen to strangers scream obscenities at the top of their lungs for two hours. Hopelessness is not a popular theme and the film suffered as a result. Viewers have warmed up to this piece over the passing decades and watching it as an adult allowed me to appreciate the complexity of Romero's observations. Day is still a difficult film to enjoy, but repeated screenings reveal a deeper sincerity than originally perceived. There is actually a strong promise of hope and the film contains an optimistic ending, unlike the original entry in the series.
The cast handles the daunting material quite well, especially lead actress Lori Cardille as Sarah. The character is effectively strong without being abrasive as the weaker men around her collapse under pressure. Cardille is careful not to overplay her role as the emotional center of the piece and is all the more likeable because of it. Somewhere on the opposite end of subtlety spectrum lands Joe Pilato's monstrous Captain Rhodes. The performance is an over-the-top tour-de-force, but somehow he manages to make it work. Rhodes is at his most dangerous when he is quiet and Pilato plays him as a wounded animal. The two actors have terrific chemistry and I am disappointed in myself for taking two decades to catch on.
Romero's characters may struggle to find their way, but the director has no such problems himself. His talent really shines in the sequences involving Bub, the emotional zombie (Howard Sherman, Dark Angel). Tom Savini's make-up effects are the real star of the picture and the artist was at the top of his game in 1985. Michael Gornick's cinematography is effectively dark and spooky; if his challenge of lighting the shopping mall in Dawn of the Dead wasn't difficult enough, his work here illuminating an underground mine is every bit as impressive.
Day of the Dead is a difficult picture to recommend on face value. Sure the gore is fantastic and some of the set pieces are unbelievably well staged, but it's just so grim. There is a lot not to like about this film and when I first saw it in theatres as a teenager, I focused on almost every negative aspect. Over the years the film has grown on me and I can appreciate the central themes of working together and appreciating life. I hope this new release reaches a wide audience and they will judge the film on its own merits and not push it into the shadow of Romero's other work.
Video and Audio:
Day of the Dead is presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and looks quite nice for its age and budget. The print is in fine shape and features strong colors with natural looking flesh tones and decent contrast levels. The picture has received a new high-definition transfer and is a marginal improvement over the earlier release from Anchor Bay.
The original mono mix is perfectly preserved in this DTS-HD MA 2.0 track that is plenty active, particularly in the third act. The surrounds get some love, but the majority of the action remains front-heavy and at times a little tinny, this is likely due to source element. English subtitles are provided.
Scream Factory enlists the genre-loving Red Shirt Pictures to create another fine set of supplements for this new release. Is it enough to toss aside the previous Anchor Bay edition? Not so fast, completists.
Kicking things off are a pair of audio commentaries, the first from members of the cast and crew including Romero, Savini, Cardille and production designer Cletus Anderson. The conversation is lively and filled with anecdotes from the shoot. The participants are clearly friends enjoying each other's company while watching an old favorite play on television. The second track is a fan commentary with director Roger Avery (Rules of Attraction). His enthusiasm and love for this film is infectious, but he does run out of steam before the end of the show.
The centerpiece on display here is the all-new World's End: The Legacy of Day of the Dead (85 minutes) documentary that traces the history of the production and the film’s lasting effects as this zombie classic approaches its 30th anniversary. An impressive wealth of material is culled from interviews with several participants from both sides of the camera in this feature-length retrospective. The new content is interspersed with ample behind-the-scenes footage and clips from the finished film. It has been a while since we have gotten a supplement this extensive and well-crafted and it is a most welcome addition.
Next up is a collection of behind-the-scenes footage (30 minutes) courtesy of Tom Savini. Anyone familiar with Savini's work and personality knows both lend themselves to candid documentation.
A promotional video (8 minutes) for the Wampum mine shooting location is a self-explanatory piece that is paired with a new featurette, Underground: A look into the Day of the Dead mines (7 minutes). Both pieces explore the underground facility and provide an interesting look at the filming conditions.
A collection of trailers, TV spots and other marketing material (including a pair of still galleries) rounds out the special features.
Quite an impressive assortment of goodies, but there are a few bits collectors will miss from earlier releases, including the original featurette Behind the scenes of Day of the Dead (20 minutes) that appeared on the initial DVD release. Also absent from the Anchor Bay Blu-ray are the final audio interview with actor Richard Liberty (15 minutes), The Many Days of the Dead (38 minutes) documentary and the trivia track, if that is important to you.
Fans may be getting jaded by the amount of work companies are putting into these releases, but ultimately the greedy gorehounds want everything collected into one ultimate edition-at least to be able to toss the earlier formats and free up some shelf space.