Day of the Dead (1985 film)
|Day of the Dead|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||George A. Romero|
|Produced by||Richard P. Rubinstein|
|Written by||George A. Romero|
|Music by||John Harrison
|Studio||Dead Films Inc.
Laurel Entertainment Inc.
|Distributed by||United Film Distribution Company|
|Release date(s)||July 19, 1985|
|Running time||100 min.|
Day of the Dead is a 1985 American horror film written and directed by George A. Romero and the third film in Romero's Dead Series, being preceded by Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Dawn of the Dead (1978).
Romero describes the film as a "tragedy about how a lack of human communication causes chaos and collapse even in this small little pie slice of society". This film features Sherman Howard in an early appearance as Bub, and make-up artist Gregory Nicotero playing Pvt. Johnson and assisting Tom Savini with the make-up effects.
Some time after the events of Dawn of the Dead, zombies have overrun the entire world. The remaining fragments of the U.S. government and military hide out in fortified enclaves, attempting to find both survivors and a solution to the zombie outbreak. Survivors Sarah, John, McDermott, and Miguel arrive in Fort Myers, Florida, encounter a large horde of the undead, and escape to an underground Army base in the Everglades, where a small group of scientists search for a way to stop or reverse the re-animation process, assisted by a skeleton crew of soldiers. Dr. Logan, the lead scientist – also known as "Frankenstein" due to his experiments – believes that zombies can be trained to become docile, and accordingly has amassed a collection of test subjects, over the objection of base-commander Captain Rhodes. The tension between soldiers and scientists is worsened by dwindling supplies, loss of communication with other survivors, and a lack of progress in research. During a zombie wrangling mission, one of the soldiers is killed after a zombie escapes its harness; whereupon Miguel attempts to kill the creature, but is bitten on the arm, which Sarah amputates to stop the spreading infection. Rhodes then calls off the experiment and demands all specimens to be destroyed.
Dr. Logan, meanwhile, continues his research, being especially proud of "Bub", a docile zombie who remembers some parts of his past life. Sarah is mortified when she learns that Logan has been using the bodies of dead soldiers as food to condition and reward zombies for positive behavior, and devises a plan to escape the complex with John, Miguel, and McDermott. Their plans are thwarted by Capt. Rhodes, who kills Logan; locks Sarah and McDermott inside the zombie corral; murders Dr. Fisher, a fellow scientist; and attempts to force John, their helicopter pilot, to fly them away from the complex, which he refuses.
Bub, having escaped his chain, finds the corpse of Dr. Logan, and in a display of human emotion, becomes enraged, while Miguel, in attempting suicide, allows the zombies to enter the complex and is devoured by the horde in the process. While Pvt Steele and Pvt Rickles investigate, John overcomes Rhodes and Torrez, steals their weapons, and goes to find Sarah and McDermott, after being left for dead by Captain Rhodes, Pvt Torrez has his voice box ripped out, while Pvt Rickles is brutally ripped apart by the horde as well, Pvt Steele has an admirable last stand but gets bit and is killed by his own hand. Rhodes attempts to escape, but is shot by Bub and violently torn inhalf by the undead and forced to watch them eat his guts while dying. John reunites with Sarah and McDermott and they escape to the surface. Sarah boards the helicopter, only to be attacked by a zombie inside; but wakes to find that the final undead attack on the three was a dream and that they are now living on a tropical island without infection.
- Lori Cardille as Dr. Sarah Bowman
- Joseph Pilato as Captain Robert Rhodes
- Terry Alexander as John
- Jarlath Conroy as William "Bill" McDermott
- Anthony Dileo Jr. as Pvt. Miguel Salazar
- Richard Liberty as Dr. Matthew "Frankenstein" Logan
- Sherman Howard as Bub the Zombie
- Gary Howard Klar as Pvt. Steele
- Ralph Marrero as Pvt. Rickles
- John Amplas as Dr. Ted Fisher
- Phillip G. Kellams as Pvt. Miller
- Taso N. Stavrakis as Pvt. Torrez
- Gregory Nicotero as Pvt. Johnson
Romero originally intended the film to be "the Gone with the Wind of zombie films". Following budget disputes and the artistic need to release the film unrated, the budget of the film was cut in half, dropping from $7 million to a scant $3.5 million. This forced Romero to scale back his story, rewriting the script and adjusting his original vision to fit the smaller budget.
Filming took place in the fall of 1984 at locations in Pennsylvania and Florida. All above-ground scenes were filmed at several locations around Florida, where Romero was living at the time. The opening scene was filmed in Fort Myers, Florida. Underground scenes were filmed in a former mine shaft located near Wampum, Pennsylvania, converted into a long-term storage facility for important documents. Though the mine maintained a constant temperature of about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, its high humidity played havoc with the crew's equipment and props. Mechanical and electrical failures were a constant problem throughout filming, and caused several of special effects leader Tom Savini's props to fail during the filming. Despite these failures, Savini was nominated and won the 1985 Saturn Award for best makeup effects. The remote location also complicated the transportation of crew members and equipment. Cast and crew would often sleep in the mine overnight to avoid the time-consuming travel to and from the shooting location. "Zombie" extras were recruited from among the citizens of Pittsburgh, with preference given to those who had worked on previous Romero films. Extras were paid $1.00 for their services, and given a hat that read "I was a Zombie in Day of the Dead".
The film was given a very limited release. This is chronicled in the documentary "The Many Days of Day of the Dead" on the two-disc Anchor Bay special edition DVD of the film. Some of the original concepts and characters remain, but the film differs greatly from Romero's original script, as stated by actress Lori Cardille:
He could've made me this sexy little twit bouncing around with a gun:- much more the sexual element. But he made her intelligent and strong. In fact, whenever I would try and make her a little more emotional, he would not allow me to do that.
Joseph Pilato was cast as Rhodes, the film's antagonist. As stated by Pilato "He pretty much just gave it to me. I don't know if he auditioned other people, but it was very quick. I came in and it was like, "You got it!." Pilato had acted in two prior films directed by Romero, the first being Pilato's debut Dawn of the Dead and the second being Knightriders, in between those films he played his first lead role in a film entitled Effects. In an interview Pilato was asked if Romero "had him in mind", Pilato stated that one of the reasons why he got the role was because of the budget being scaled down from 7 to 3.5 million.
Release and reception 
Subsequent to its theatrical release, the film has grossed over 30 million dollars worldwide. Day of the Dead would earn most of its gross revenue when the film was released internationally on VHS format, and later DVD and Blu-ray. This is in contrast to the film's poor box-office reception when it was released in domestic cinema.
Based on 29 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, Day of the Dead had a high approval rating, with 21 critics rating it "fresh" and only 6 rating it "rotten." Overall, it received an 80 percent approval rating. Even so, that rating is the lowest of the initial 3 films in Romero's Dead series with Night of the Living Dead having a 96 percent approval rating and Dawn of the Dead with a 94 percent approval rating.
Day of the Dead was given a limited release on July 3, 1985 and a wide release on July 19, 1985. It opened to generally mixed reviews, with some critics complaining that the film was too depressing and slow. Roger Ebert, who reacted favorably to other films of Romero's Dead Series, gave Day of the Dead one and a half stars. BBC reviewer Almar Haflidason stated "It benefits from a far larger budget than its predecessors, but suffers from a story as malnourished as the zombies that are chewing it up," Haflidason would go on to give the film three out of five stars. As noted by the New York Times reviewer Janet Maslin "Yes, there are enough spilled guts and severed limbs to satisfy the bloodthirstiest fan. But these moments tend to be clustered together, and a lot of the film is devoted to windy argument." Allmovie reviewer Keith Phipps stated that: "The last, to date at least, of George Romero's living dead films is in many respects the least interesting, although it's not for a lack of ambition." Variety wrote that the film was the most unsatisfying of the original three films and that "The acting here is generally unimpressive and in the case of Sarah's romantic partner, Miguel (Antone DiLeo Jr), unintentionally risible."
The film grossed $5.8 million domestically. It fared much better internationally, grossing $28.2 million outside of the United States. Day of the Dead's total gross is a little over $34 million. The film is also noted for its special effects work, notably Tom Savini's make-up, he was honored with his second Saturn Award in 1985 for Best Make-Up, the first time being with Dawn of the Dead in 1980. Romero himself cites Day of the Dead as his personal favorite of his original trilogy of zombie films. On May 9, 2012 headlines the 12 Hour Film Festival Hudson Horror Show V.
Home video 
The film was released on DVD on November 24, 1998 in the United States and on March 5, 2001 in the United Kingdom. Both the theatrical and an unrated director's cut were released as a special editions containing identical bonus features, the DVD was released in the United Kingdom in a region 2 DVD. The Blu-ray version of Day of the Dead was released October 2, 2007. This edition includes many special features, including two audio commentary tracks with writer-director George A. Romero, Tom Savini, production designer Cletus Anderson, and lead actress Lori Cardille. There is also a second commentary with fellow filmmaker and self-proclaimed Romero fan, Roger Avary. It also includes two documentaries, the first one is entitled The Many Days of 'Day of the Dead', which focuses on the original script and the budget, it also included information about shooting in the Gateway Commerce Center. What is also mentioned is the casting details. The second documentary entitled Day of the Dead: Behind the Scenes, focuses mostly on make-up effects. On March 29, 2010 Arrow Video released a 25th Anniversary Edition on Blu-ray exclusive to the UK.
Popular culture 
Near the end of Resident Evil, the protagonist Alice walks outside of her quarantine into a ravaged city street jammed with traffic. The camera pans past a newspaper blowing in the wind stating "The Dead Walk!", a direct homage to George Romero's work on Day of the Dead. Another homage is one episode of Stroker & Hoop featured the characters battling zombies using guns made by Double-Wide. They turn out to fire only sunlight, which he claims is because of zombies' vulnerability to sunlight, hinted at by the film being called Night of the Dead and not Day of the Dead. Coroner Rick yells at him "That was the sequel!"
The song "M1 A1", from the self-titled 2001 Gorillaz album samples the pulsing synthesizers and cries of "Hello! Is anyone there?" from the opening of the film. The song "Hip Albatross", also by Gorillaz, features a clip of Terry Alexander's dialogue. Furthermore, the artwork for the song "November has Come" off of the Gorillaz' 2005 album Demon Days has a picture of a calendar pinned to a brick wall set to the month of October with all the dates marked off in red Xs (reminiscent of the opening scene in Day of the Dead).
The song "Battlefield", from the This Is My Battlefield 2004 Panzer AG album samples Captain Rhodes asking Sarah in reference to Miguel's zombie bite: "You think he wants to walk around after he's dead? You think he want to be one of these things?"
The Ministry song "Burning Inside" (from the album The Mind Is a Terrible Thing To Taste) features an audio sample of the military station's warning horn and a few notes of composer John Harrison's synthesized score.
The song "Confessions Of A Knife (theme part 2)," from the album Confessions of a Knife... 1990 by My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult samples dialogue between Sarah and Captain Rhodes: Captain Rhodes: "I'll have you shot." Sarah: "Are you out of your mind?" Captain Rhodes: "No, ma'am. Are you?" Along with dialogue from private Steele and laughter from private Rickles that repeats later throughout the song. Steele: "Bang! You're dead!" followed by Rickles' laughter.
The song "The Only Good God Is A Dead God," from the album Psychological Warfare Technology Systems (1989/1992) by Terror Against Terror samples Captain Rhodes' final screams "Choke on them... choke on them," with the sounds of the zombies eating him.
America punk band The Misfits recorded a about the film entitled "Day of The Dead" from their album American Psycho.'
The soundtrack was released on LP and cassette in the same year as the film (1985) by Saturn Records; it contained 6 tracks, all of which was composed and performed by John Harrison. The vocals came from Sputzy Sparacino who is the lead singer of Modern Man and Delilah on the tracks "If Tomorrow Comes" and "The World Inside Your Eyes". The album was re-issued in 2002 by Numenorean Records as a limited edition CD. The new edition was limited to 3000 copies and contained the original album plus five additional tracks from the music and effects reel (the only surviving recording of the film score). It also included a 12 page booklet with information from Harrison and Romero regarding the score.
Sequels and remake 
A half prequel, half sequel was released in 2005, entitled Day of the Dead 2: Contagium. Although it is, by definition, an official sequel as Taurus Entertainment Company hold the rights to the original film, no one from the original Day of the Dead had any involvement in the film.
A loose remake of the film, Day of the Dead, was released straight to DVD on April 8, 2008. Little of the original plot exists, with only a few basic elements remaining; notably the underground army base near the end of the movie, and some of the characters names. This marks the second time that Ving Rhames makes an appearance in a remake of a George A. Romero zombie film, following Dawn of the Dead.
Stef Hutchinson wrote the 24-page comic Day of the Dead: Desertion, which was exclusively released to celebrate the movie's 25th anniversary and shows the origins of Bub, before becoming a Zombie.
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