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Blu-Ray Review: “Day Of The Dead”

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  • Release Date: 9/17/2013
  • Running Time: 101 minutes
  • Written By: George A. Romero
  • 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, Greg Nicotero, John Amplas, Taso N. Stavrakis, Phillip G. Kellams

Blu-Ray Review: “Day Of The Dead”

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Seventeen years after one of the most influential and scariest movies of all time, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, George A. Romero returned to his “Dead” series with its third installment, DAY OF THE DEAD (1985). Whereas NIGHT introduced the world to zombies and DAWN took the apocalypse one step further, DAY OF THE DEAD tackles the future and puts the spotlight on a small batch of survivors, the soldiers and the scientists, looking for others who’ve outlived the zombie pestilence, and trying like hell not to kill each other. They fail, and miserably so.

DAY OF THE DEAD, while rough around the edges and far more brash (with its language and casual racial slurs) than you could get away with nowadays, is THE precursor to THE WALKING DEAD, showcasing a world AFTER the zombie apocalypse, and how the true terror is really ourselves. The film’s hero is Lori Cardille’s Sarah, one of cinema’s first and best tough gal leads, a glimpse of what Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor would become in T2. She is the only female in a testosterone-ridden crew, surrounded by over-dramatic and threatening buffoons (who of course represent the military), led by always angry, must be ‘roiding, Captain Rhodes (DAWN OF THE DEAD and PULP FICTION’s Joseph Pilato).

The film opens with Sarah in a helicopter searching for survivors with Jamaican pilot John (HILL STREET BLUES’ Terry Alexander), McDermott (LAW & ORDER’s Jarlath Conroy), and the man on the brink, Miguel (Anthony DiLeo Jr., bringing an entirely different energy to the film than anyone else, and thriving). They set down in a seemingly abandoned Florida town, as Miguel calls out on a megaphone, “Anyone there?” repeatedly until hordes of fantastic, horrific zombies trundle toward them. Throughout, Tom Savini provides some of the best work of his career, impressive considering the massive undertaking, creating mobs of the living dead and buckets upon buckets of gore and rotting flesh. Savini’s DAY OF THE DEAD zombies are the cinematic fathers of everything else that came after it, clearly inspiring Greg Nicotero (THE WALKING DEAD), who had a bit role in DAY.

From there, it’s all claustrophobic mania at camp, in an underground missile silo, a masterstroke of a set found by George A. Romero and company. Everyone’s stir crazy or given up, except Logan (THE CRAZIES and THE FINAL COUNTDOWN’s Richard Liberty), who is affectionately referred to as Dr. Frankenstein as he gleefully experiments on the biters, trying to tame and train them. We give special attention to the docile and intelligent walker named Bub (LAW & ORDER, and DALLAS’ Sherman Howard), who’s good with a razor (and a gun). The scientists and soldiers feud bubbles over, and before you know it, it’s zombie mayhem everywhere.

DAY OF THE DEAD has previously been released to Blu-Ray, but Scream Factory’s newest set packs on some heavy new extras.

The main prize is the new documentary WORLD’S END: THE LEGACY OF DAY OF THE DEAD, which has practically everyone involved in the movie in it, including writer-director George A. Romero, makeup SFX man Tom Savini, stars Cardille, Alexander, Pilato, Howard, Klar, DeLio, and brilliant composer John Harrison (who does not turn out to be Khan). The 80-minute (!!) doc talks about how DAY OF THE DEAD was the end of an era, the last film with Romero and friends making small movies in Pittsburgh, which it was until Romero picked things back up 20 years later with LAND OF THE DEAD. The documentary is jam-packed with experiences on the set and the evolution of the script/film. The movie came out of a distrust of institutions and government at the time (what’s new?), tackling what Romero noted as a “loss of community,” and a disintegration of values. The legendary director compares the tension and bickering between the soldiers and scientists to Congress today.

The original script was more like LAND OF THE DEAD, and was bigger, featuring more scenes in Florida. Due to budgetary constraints, the film had to be tightened and made smaller, but Romero argues that he still made the film he wanted to make, and the movie may have been better for it.

We learn how Romero found and chose Cardille, who was the daughter of one of the biggest local supporters of NOLD. Cardille actually wanted to go grittier and even more tough than what Sarah turned out to be, but was clearly proud to be one of the first woman to carry a horror film and actually take charge, rather than being the customary damsel in distress.

You’ll get even more fascinating stories from the lively commentary that accompanies the film, featuring Romero, Savini, production designer Cletus Anderson, and actress Lori Cardille (who talks about handsy zombies grabbing at her breasts in the opening scene).

The other highlight is the lengthy and impressive Behind-the-Scenes featurette, cobbling together Tom Savini’s very own footage from making the film, giving us glimpses of his makeup work, the application process for Bub and many other zombies, and how the crew went about filming several pivotal scenes (Rhodes being ripped apart, the classic opening nightmare scene, and the head roll at the end). It’s fascinating stuff, and will delight hardcore fans of DAY OF THE DEAD, and of Tom Savini. It’s not to be missed.

The other stuff is definitely overshadowed by the previous extras, and simply not as exciting. I’m never one for still galleries, but there’s around 40 minutes of stills on the collection to peruse, with a ton of behind-the-scenes shots, including many of the best and goriest scenes, shots of the sets, a ton of posters, library cards (it’s undeniably fun to look at foreign one-sheets), and other miscellaneous art from the film. They also include the production notes from the film, with bios on the cast and crew penned back in the day, a pretty nifty time capsule.

The trailers and TV spots are fun (as always), with classic taglines like, “Out of night, beyond the dawn, comes the darkest day of terror the world has ever known.” People complain about trailers being too revealing nowadays, but I was shocked by some of the scenes and moments that were featured on these. My favorite was the trailer that featured a zombie among a crowd in a theater watching the film, chomping away on popcorn, startling the guests nearby.

There’s a featurette entitled UNDERGROUND: A LOOK AT THE DAY OF THE DEAD MINES, which features super-fan Ed Demko taking a tour of the mines with facility tech Skip, who worked in the caves for 32 years, talking about the experiences on the set and showing where many of the classic scenes took place. Much of it features a laughably blurry background, so you can really only see Ed talking about the caves and not actually see WHAT he’s referring to. Skip seems like a delightful fellow, and tears up when he says goodbye to the caves.Unfortunately, this hardly captures one’s attention.

Lastly, there’s an ad about the Gateway Commerce Center, hoping to sell and convert the Wampum Hills Mine into a subterranean warehouse. It’s a kick, but loses its luster after a minute. If you watch all 8 minutes, more power to you.

Zombies are one of the most popular horror entities today, but without George A. Romero, none of it would’ve happened. Scream Factory’s newest collection is a wonderful testament to that, and is well worth it for fans of one of the truest Monster Kids.

To order the Blu-Ray set, check out Amazon or Shout! Factory.

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