Zombies. They’re almost part of the flesh-eating furniture now aren’t they. Although they don’t have as much myth and legend around them as some of our other monsters (vampires, werewolves etc), they have become just as popular over recent years.
As you probably know, the main man responsible for this growth is George Romero, who kicked things off with Night of the Living Dead in 1968, followed by Dawn of the Dead in 1978 and then Day of the Dead in 1985.
Day of the Dead leads nicely on from the first two. The world has been overrun by the undead and humans are few and far between. In a remote research facility in the Florida everglades are 12 or so survivors, made up of soldiers, scientists and a couple of other useful people. They’re relatively safe from the flesh-eaters in this high security facility where they are working to find a cure to the zombie problem. Unfortunately though, things inside the camp are getting strained and unpredictable as resources are running low, and people keep dying for various reasons.
Our main character is Sarah (Lori Cardille), a strong willed woman (arguably the first in her class in the horror genre) who is keen to find a scientific answer to the epidemic. It’s not easy for her though, caught in between a mad scientist, dubbed Frankenstein who seems to get distracted easily, and Captain Rhodes and his band of unpredictable army goons who are looking for any excuse to shoot things.
Maintaining balance in such a situation isn’t easy and soon Sarah finds herself torn between her work, her love (for a soldier named Miguel) and the potential to escape with two guys – John and William – who pilot the only helicopter.
The film has a few layers to it which is why it’s a favourite with film buffs. Race and sex divisions in society, the cold war and even vivisection are all things that you could mention should you want to write an essay about it.
But on a simpler level, it’s a damn good zombie movie.
First off, it begins with the zombie problem already in full swing, something that hadn’t really been done at the time. Although free of the immediate threat of being eaten, the survivors are still prisoners, buried alive in the underground facility and waiting for what seems to be an inevitable gory end.
Although a little zany at times, the performances are pretty excellent, the cast portraying various levels of stress, desperation and even insanity, from the mad scientist to the paranoid barking army captain.
And at the heart of it, a heroine with morals, a level head, and a couple of friends who want to encourage her to do exactly what we at home would do – run away!
On top of all that, you get some really cool effects (courtesy of SFX legend, Steven Kirshoff) with loads of people being pulled apart and eaten alive. Some of the zombies don’t look great, but there are a few that make up for it all with absolute hideousness.
Plus, a peculiar retro soundtrack which is a bit random and great fun. No 80’s horror movie is complete without a random soundtrack.
By todays standards the film doesn’t seem groundbreaking. But you must remember that this was the foundation upon which all the others were built. And not just zombie movies either. Sarah could easily have been inspiration for Ripley in the Alien films for instance.
This film is an essential part of any horror lovers repertoire and deserves pride of place on the bookshelf alongside The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween.
If you haven’t seen it, do so immediately. If you have, maybe it’s about time that you saw it again.
The Day of the Dead 25th Anniversary edition is released on 29th March and includes special features such as: Four sleeve art options; double-sided fold-out poster; ‘For Every Dawn There Is A Day’ collector’s booklet; ‘Day Of The Dead: Desertion’ – an all new exclusive 24-page collector’s comic featuring new Bub storyline.