A collective of scientists and military personnel are sequestered in an underground bunker barely clinging to hope as the dead walk the earth.
Day of the Dead (1985)
Written and Directed by George A. Romero
Starring Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, Joseph Pilato,
Jarlath Conroy, Antone DiLeo, Richard Liberty,
Howard Sherman, G. Howard Klar, Ralph Marrero,
John Amplas, Greg Nicotero, Taso Stavrakis
Sequel to 1978's Dawn of the Dead
The struggle for survival by the living against the near dominant presence of the dead is the stage George Romero sets for his third zombie movie. Shifts in tone are very apparent in the first three films. Night of the Living Dead is a classic monster movie and Dawn of the Dead has a more playful feel by comparison. Day of the Dead is the most bleak of the bunch up to this point. Romero is more cynical in his representation of the military/authority and their desperate need for order against the reality that the system has failed. Even his protagonists are at odds amongst themselves and unable to unify their goals.
Romero opens on a small crew surveying their surroundings and showing a deserted Florida town. Cars litter the streets and animals have started to take back the land along with the dead. A pile of money blows around the street sending a powerful message that the world we knew and what we placed value on is irrelevant in this new dynamic. A zombie lovingly known now as “Dr. Tongue” gets its own close-up along with the title card for the film. Our characters consist of a group of scientists, Sarah (Cardille), Fisher (Amplas, who was the titular character in Martin, another Romero flick), and Dr. Logan (Liberty, who has earned the nickname ‘Frankenstein’ from the military contingent. Their numbers consist of Steel (Klar), Rickles (Marrero), Johnson (Nicotero), Torrez (Stavrakis) and their new leader, Capt. Rhodes (Pilato, the biggest asshole in the entire movie and that’s saying something). The cast is rounded out by John (Alexander), a helicopter pilot and his hard-drinking electronics technician, McDermott (Conroy). These unlikely saviors of humanity are deep underground in a cave (which was actually a decommissioned salt mine in Pennsylvania) to allow Dr. Logan and his team the time they need in order to find a way to stop the spread of this plague. We’re not sure how long they’ve been doing this but it has been long enough for the lower ranked soldiers to totally lose their military bearing and standards. They’re even growing weed near the helipad! The tension between the group led by Rhodes and the scientists along with John and McDermott is at an all-time high. Rhodes delivers an ultimatum: get him results or he and his men are leaving. He does not say how long they have either, just give him some sign of progress and has one of the best lines in the movie: “I’m running this monkey farm and I wanna know what the fuck you’re doing with my time!” Joe Pilato’s performance is so memorable and one of the best cinematic assholes as he fights for some semblance of order in a world where that word is meaningless. As in the two previous films, the dead eventually overrun where the living are hiding and the chaos that ensues sees SFX legend Tom Savini really go for broke. His work in this flick is so great and most of the effects still hold up. They are more realistic compared to the almost comic book appearance of those in Dawn of the Dead.
If Romero never made another zombie movie after this, it would have been a fitting end to a trilogy that started a subgenre and continued through three distinct decades of American history. What started in a small farmhouse in Pennsylvania consumed the planet through the eyes of a talented storyteller and filmmaker in George Romero.