Zombies rule the USA, except for a small group of scientists and military personnel who reside in an underground bunker in Florida. The scientists are using the undead in gruesome experiments; much to the chagrin of the military. Finally the military finds that their men have been used in the scientists' experiments, and banish the scientists to the caves that house the Living Dead. Unfortunately, the zombies from above ground have made their way into the bunker....
Directed by: George A. Romero
. Starring: Lori Cardille
, Terry Alexander
, Joseph Pilato
, Jarlath Conroy
, Anthony Dileo Jr.
, Richard Liberty
, Sherman Howard
, Gary Howard Klar
, Ralph Marrero
, John Amplas
, Phillip G. Kellams
, Taso N. Stavrakis
, Greg Nicotero
. Music by: John Harrison
In "Day of the Dead", the gore fest so loved by fans of the carnivorous "Night" and the skewering "Dawn" is used not so much for generic horror thrills, but is posed by creator Romero as a scenario concerning more deeply rooted issues regarding humanity than the more predominantly social elements underscored by the previous films. Presumably set some time after "Dawn", "Day" finds the zombie epidemic that began with unknown origins in the first film having grown to insurmountable proportions. Killing the dead is of almost no use at this point beyond saving time, our conceptions of which provide one of the themes "Day" is predominantly concerned with.
Considered disappointing by most upon its initial release and still viewed as the weakest chapter of Romero's trilogy (soon to be widened with the now upcoming Land of the Dead), "Day" requires a different viewing lens than its more renowned predecessors. In "Night" and "Dawn", hope for survival was one of the predominant links between the audience and the human protagonists. In "Day", the humans are down to what may be the last band of survivors, a motley crew of soldiers and scientists holed up in an underground storage facility, hoping to hold out long enough that some practical means of overcoming the zombie epidemic can be found.
In many ways, "Day" paints its characters with little more than contrasting strokes of black and white, and while the sometimes exaggerated presentation makes it nearly inarguable as to who will ultimately live and die, many viewers don't engage the performances properly within their context. If "Night" and "Dawn" were eagerly perceptive of racial issues and consumerism in the midst of an encroaching unknown, "Day" surpasses both of them in terms of its examination of the human condition and its disintegration in the absence of the protective stronghold of society. This seemingly nihilistic look at human values ultimately gives way to a more optimistic conclusion, and it is this striking perception that ultimately makes "Day"'s themes far more universal in nature. The dozen characters that remain at the start of the film bicker and fight often with little provocation, or at times even reason, but these conflicts aren't a distraction from "Day"'s core; they are absolutely essential to it.
Unfortunately, this aspect opens the door for the film's lone flaw; Joseph Pilato's turn as the tyrannical Captain Rhodes (as well as some of his faction's near-outlandishness) pushes the overall credibility of the performances to hazardous levels in contained moments. Fortunately, however, even the potential damage waged by this factor is largely countered by the film's subtly exaggerated, "Twilight Zone" texture, the triumphant qualities of which range from the cavernous underground look imbedded in the composition, the subtle winks Romero still manages to slips in for adherents, and more than anything else, the relationship between Dr. "Frankenstein" Logan (Richard Liberty) and a captured, ultimately docile zombie dubbed "Bub" (Sherman Howard). Respectively, their performances are delightfully (but subtly) cheeky and endearingly awkward; Howard conveys emotions and nuance through body motion with great effect. As it is, "Day" is inarguably the most ambitious of Romero's trilogy, and a flawed masterpiece at that.
In "Night", the flesh eaters were largely alienated from the humans warding them off; they were an inexplicable, distinct "other." "Dawn" loosened the boundaries, drawing a brilliant parallel between the stumbling zombies and the mindless consumerism fostered by the shopping mall the survivors holed themselves out in. "Day" takes the equation to the next logical step: "They (the zombies) are us," declares the doctor. A baser, less civilized version of ourselves, but the bitter irony of it ultimately lies in the obvious fact that the zombies' hunger for flesh isn't just dissimilar to the division of our own factions, but is a far less malicious attitude than those demonstrated by their live counterparts. Instinct drives the undead, not desire, and in Dr. Logan's teaching sessions with Bub, past memories are rekindled, and the progress that follows is akin to watching a child discovering the joys of life for the first time, through the re-introduction to basic daily objects, music, and the same kind of rewards system used to condition people in a typical social setting.
An attempt to look past the cynicism of the Reagan years is no more apparent in "Day" than through the spiritually motivated John (Terry Alexander). "Maybe we bein' punished," he says. "Maybe the creator wanted to show us we're getting to big for our britches, trying to figure his st out." Whereas "Dawn"'s characters found comfort in the paradise of society, "Day"'s characters long for the distractions that made up their former life. In denial of her own humanity's decomposition in midst of their situation, Sarah (Lori Cardille) looks with intimate longing at a photo calendar in the films haunting opening scene (ultimately also a poignant bookend for the film's hopeful conclusion). With not much left, time really does seem to be the only luxury these characters have left to savor.
Despite having far more on its mind than the average horror film (and make no mistake, the thematics are integral to the screenplay, rather than being pretentiously overplayed), "Day" still delivers the goods when he time comes. Savini's gore effects and make-up are ages ahead of the pasty look of the zombies in "Dawn" (which is not to say the cherry-red blood of that film wasn't effective in it's own manner). However, the film's real sense of tension comes from its epic sense of impending claustrophobia and involving use of framing. The aforementioned opening shot captures the enclosed, no-way-out mentality the characters have no choice but to deal with, while another early shot of the undead masses lurching through the barren streets of a debunked city is one of the most effortlessly haunting images in modern horror, and a continual reminder of Romero's skills as a genre filmmaker. "Day"'s resonating intimacy is perhaps the most long-lasting trait of this dark horse.
Review by nimrod_18037 from the Internet Movie Database.