Day of the Dead Blu-ray

Sunday, 14 March 2010 00:00

In “Day of the Dead”, George A Romero’s zombies are back for a third helping of brains. Following on from events in “Night of the Living Dead” (1968) and “Dawn of the Dead” (1978), humans are now confined to just a few pockets of resistance against the shuffling undead hordes.

An enormous underground military complex provides refuge for a dozen or so soldiers and scientists. Outside, the massing zombies are relentlessly pushing at the perimeter fencing; inside, a deadly power struggle ensues as disagreements rage over the best survival strategy. The military personnel simply want to shoot all of the zombies in the head; the scientists want to overcome the threat by working out a way of making the zombies submissive, either through surgery, drugs or appealing to their buried memories of their former existences.

Day of the Dead comes to Blu-rayAs relations between the two camps deteriorate, and with limited food, ammo and manpower, it will probably not be long before people get tired, sloppy or at each other’s throats – assuming the zombies do not get there first!

“Day” sees Romero return to a darker, nastier tone. “Dawn” was a relatively light-hearted, colourful romp in comparison to the bitter, claustrophobic “Night”. “Day” echoes the latter in terms of its human interaction, which is really the heart of the movie.

This group of survivors might have managed to survive the initial zombie outbreak, but their base human instincts (fear, hunger, greed) continually bite at the heels of the knowledge that their chances would be dramatically improved through co-operation. When they do work together, it is plain that neither side really appreciates the other. The scientists expect the soldiers to capture zombie test subjects, without realising what a fraught, dangerous endeavour it is. The undead may move slowly, but they are unpredictable, physically strong and have a massive numbers advantage (400,000/1!).

A few of the soldiers have already succumbed, making those left behind more and more resentful that they are putting their lives on the line for a cause they have no faith in, assuming they understand it in the first place. On the other hand, the soldiers cannot help waving their guns about and being complacently gung ho whenever the opportunity arises. When a power vacuum occurs, it is Captain Rhodes (Joe Pilato) who undemocratically steps into the breach. He is a self-proclaimed leader with zero tolerance towards the scientists and even less love for the undead. The scientists refuse to bow to the martial law he imposes, stoking the tension to breaking point.

The acting could easily have undermined the darkness of the drama, but thankfully it is pretty decent. Pilato is the star of the show, utterly convincing in his ability to fly off the handle at the drop of a hat; when he points his gun, you know he means business. The other soldiers are an entertaining mixture of bullies (Gary Klar’s Private Steel is a real bruiser) and cocky air-heads. The scientists are led by the level-headed Sarah (Lori Cardille) and the utterly crazy Logan (Richard Liberty). Logan risks bringing the whole camp down on itself by secretly experimenting on the zombified corpses of fallen soldiers. Not only that, but he carves them up and treats them like the basest of lab rats. Quite how he expects the remaining soldiers to take this is bewildering! Caught in the middle are philosophising pilot John (Terry Alexander) and engineer Billy (Jarlath Conroy – looking very much like an emaciated Rowan Atkinson).

The duo’s skills are prized by both the military and the scientists, and consequently they try to keep out of the infighting as best they can. They help to add a bit of variety to the otherwise black and white (or rather green and white) character groups.

It is just as well that the human drama is fairly captivating, because budgetary cuts clearly meant that some of the expensive action sequences had to be cut right back. There is a blatant lack of balance between action and dialogue. The movie opens strongly, with a few of the characters searching an apparently deserted, wind-swept street before having to flee in their helicopter as the undead suddenly lurch from every doorway around every corner. The bulk of the zombie excitement occurs at the end of the film as things reach a crescendo, albeit one that would have been more striking had there been some extra brain-chomping thrills to intersperse the lengthy scenes of human bickering.

Fortunately, the semi-sentient, iconic character of Bub (Sherman Howard) provides some welcome light relief amidst the tension. His slack-jawed, dim-witted struggle to comprehend Logan’s efforts to teach him raise many a chuckle. The moment an unloaded gun is placed in his hand, you know it will not end pleasantly. Romero took a risk introducing a character mid-way between a zombie and human, and thankfully it pays off grandly. He later tried the same tactic again in “Land of the Dead”, and on that occasion he pushed the concept too far - with dire consequences.

When the zombies do appear, they never disappoint. Tom Savini and his SFX crew have excelled themselves. Yes, there are the usual lightly-made-up, blue-faced extras in the background, but those lumbering creatures we see up close and personal sport fantastic makeup and have clearly been studying day and night at the school of undead movement. They really are quite unpleasant to look at with their rotten, gappy teeth, hanging jaws and stringy, hollow cheeks.

The effects when a human is attacked are equally accomplished and visceral, with limbs being chewed or torn off and copious guts slopping on the floor. At the back of your mind, you know the actor underneath the makeup is cleverly concealed, but that does not stop you wincing in horror, such is the incredible continuity of the gore. There are some impressive animatronic heads and corpses, too. The budget and scope may have been clipped but in this regard Romero plainly used the money he had very efficiently.

This new Blu-ray release does not open promisingly; the picture quality during the credits and first scene is noisy and lacking definition. Fortunately things do improve from that point on, though, and overall this format definitely has the edge over the DVD version.

The comprehensive package includes a whole host of extras, including four alternate sleeves, a poster, an exclusive 24-page comic “Day of the Dead: Desertion”, a collector’s booklet written by Calum Waddell, and two discs (one Blu-ray, one DVD). The Blu-ray disk has a couple of brand new extras: “Joe of the Dead” is a great new documentary featuring Joe Pilato (Captain Rhodes). It covers Joe’s recollections of making the movie, and also other aspects such as his views on subsequent zombie movies and spin-offs. Next up is “Travelogue 09 Tour”, which again features Joe, this time covering his experiences during a promotional convention tour of Ireland and Scotland. Some amusing clips and soundbites from these events and fans make it worth a look.

Lastly there is an special effects commentary track by the effects team (sadly excluding Tom Savini but still entertaining). The DVD extras disc has the main documentary about the movie (featuring Romero and Savini), along with various bits and pieces such as behind the scenes footage, photo and poster galleries, trailers and an audio interview with Richard Liberty (Logan). All the bases have definitely been covered!

“Day of the Dead” (certificate '18') is released by Arrow Video on Blu-ray on 29 March 2010, priced £24.99 or less from - the DVD version was released a few years ago. 


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Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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