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Overall Rating

Awesome: 21.7%
Worth A Look: 23.58%
Average: 20.75%
Pretty Bad24.53%
Total Crap: 9.43%

5 reviews, 76 user ratings

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Day of the Dead (1985)
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Of obvious interest, but not what it could've been."
3 stars

When George A. Romero delivered "Day of the Dead," the final film in a trilogy (at least until "Land of the Dead" twenty years later) begun with the classic "Night of the Living Dead" and continued in the beloved "Dawn of the Dead," many fans greeted it with disappointment and even disdain. True, Tom Savini's gore effects were more elaborate than anything he'd done before, but as a story it just seemed like a collection of scenes about people yelling at each other.

Some fans also mourned the Day of the Dead that never was -- the original script that Romero couldn't film for budgetary reasons. That script is an entertaining read, far different from what was filmed -- the idea of training and domesticating zombies is much more fully developed, for example -- and extremely action-oriented. The movie Romero made is a lot more claustrophobic and contained, out of necessity, and probably more in keeping with the limited backdrops of NOTLD (an abandoned house) and Dawn (an empty shopping mall).

Romero fell back on the standard conflict between the military and science. As in Howard Hawks' The Thing from Another World, the scientists want to study the creatures -- flesh-eating zombies -- while the military men just want to shoot them in the head and be done with it. Brains vs. brawn. The soldiers, commanded by the snarling Captain Rhodes (Joe Pilato), resentfully do the dangerous shitwork of capturing zombies to be used in experiments. The scientists, headed by Sarah (Lori Cardille, playing a composite of two characters from the original script) and the loopy Dr. Logan (the late Richard Liberty), know they need to produce some impressive results soon or Rhodes and his men will take off and leave the test-tube jockeys for zombie snacks. In between are John (Terry Alexander), a helicopter pilot, and Bill (Jarlath Conroy, looking like an emaciated Rowan Atkinson), a communications techie; they don't believe in the scientists' research but don't trust the crude soldiers either.

In the original concept, Rhodes wasn't just a bellowing control freak -- he was a sadist and a madman, acting under orders from a corrupt politician in comfortable hiding. And some of Rhodes' soldiers were actually zombies, trained to shoot or reload depending on an electronic signal; the zombies wore color-coded vests according to how advanced their "re-education" was. In the movie, Rhodes is pretty much just an asshole, though a dangerous one, willing to shoot anyone who disobeys an order. His men -- except the snivelling, neurotic Miguel (Antone Dileo), who's sleeping with Sarah -- are loutish, bearded beer-belly types who love nothing more than spraying Sarah with lewd comments. (Amusingly, one of the more obnoxious soldiers, played by Ralph Marrero, is a dead ringer for Stanley Kubrick.) One wishes that Romero had drawn the military men with a bit more subtlety, so that we could relate to their resentment at having to risk their asses rounding up zombies for some half-ass experiments. Instead they're more or less all written (and acted) on the cartoonish level of that SWAT guy at the beginning of Dawn who growls "Shoot all their Puerto Rican and n---- asses."

Still, the friction between the characters, while sometimes tiresome, is realistic. Nobody in the movie is quite likable -- at best, some are less dislikable than others, usually those on the scientists' side, though Dr. Logan is eventually revealed to be cracking under the strain as much as Rhodes is. The most annoying character is also the least dangerous (for most of the movie, anyway) -- Miguel, a shaky composite of a guerrilla forager in the original script (who died early on) and a sympathetic soldier named Toby Tyler. Supposedly Sarah's Hispanic lover (he's referred to as "the spic" more than once), Miguel, as played by Antone Dileo, reads as neither Latino nor heterosexual, and his scenes with Sarah feel pointless. It's brave of Romero to give us such an unstable and useless character, but we think less of Sarah for being attached to him, and besides, we've been here before in the rather more complexly written dynamic between Gaylen Ross and David Emge in Dawn. We do see a different side of Sarah when she's able to hang out with John and Bill (friends or more than that? the movie never says) in their Caribbean-decorated hideaway; she relaxes and lets her guard down. The movie is maybe too taut for its own good; in Dawn, in the scenes that didn't advance the plot -- when the four survivors went shopping, goofed around in the mall, had romantic dinners -- we were able to glimpse something of what they were before the zombie apocalypse, and that's what we miss here.

As a zombie film, it needs to be said, Day does deliver. Howard Sherman's performance as Bub, the domesticated "teacher's pet" zombie nurtured by Dr. Logan, adds pathos and humanity to the proceedings. We certainly get a sense of what he used to be like when he was human -- indeed, he's often more human than the humans. And special-effects master Tom Savini goes all out with the money scenes of zombies on the rampage, including the celebrated fate of Captain Rhodes (who gets the best final words in horror-film history). Day is entertaining, if frustrating. The frustration comes out in the film; it feels frustrated, embittered, made by a man who's fed up with the business side of the movie industry. And that bitterness shows up in every Romero film since, from Monkey Shines to The Dark Half to Bruiser.

I think part of the reason many Romero fans reacted against Day so strongly is that it showed the writing on the wall. Romero's films up to that point -- even the bleak Martin -- vibrated with a kind of personal glee, and long stretches of Dawn of the Dead are actually comedic. Day of the Dead shows Romero at a low personal ebb -- forced to cut down his vision to appease the guys with the money (shit, couldn't Stephen King have kicked in a couple of mil to help out his friend?). With that in mind, you understand why the soldiers in the film are depicted as hostile thugs; if you read the scientists as film artists and the soldiers as the money guys -- who breathe down your neck demanding "results" -- the movie becomes a rather personal expression of Romero's anger and depression.

And it sort of deforms the arc of the trilogy; rather than casting its net wider, as originally planned, it shrinks and freeze-dries into an underappreciated director's growl of impotent contempt. For Romero fans, it's a sad sight.

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originally posted: 09/19/06 22:51:17
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User Comments

10/16/21 morris campbell not bad best i remember 3 stars
8/16/11 Chris F A bit slow but not bad overall 4 stars
6/21/11 art watch european zombie flick's like the drive-in's used to show,instead! 1 stars
11/06/10 Josie Cotton is a goddess Acting could have been better, but Romero's overall vision won me over. Also, great gore! 4 stars
1/02/10 art WHITE ZOMBIE from 1932,is the only true zombie flick,I DIG BUB THE ZOMBIE! 1 stars
12/26/09 Chad Dillon Cooper A good movie with great fx. 5 stars
10/21/09 Jason Best movie ever made. Shakespearian quallity dialogs 5 stars
10/05/09 art BUB THE ZOMBIE WAS A REAL "CHARMER" 1 stars
4/23/09 FrankNFurter What's scarier-human nature or the zombies? A profound vision on the dark side of humanity. 4 stars
2/01/09 lo& I think this movie is very underrated,great characters,good dialogue. 4 stars
12/19/08 Craig D. No, action movie fan, Resident Evil is "a boring, routine zombie movie." Day is great. 4 stars
6/08/08 action movie fan great gore from tom savaini but little else-a boring routine zombie movie 2 stars
5/31/08 Peter Romero at his best, pre-modern sucky self. 5 stars
9/28/07 Paul kersey brilliant 5 stars
9/28/07 Paul kersey Awesome movie 5 stars
9/28/07 Paul kersey Awesome movie 5 stars
10/25/06 Drew G Needed a lot more zombie action... 2 stars
9/22/06 Lisa Craven Doesn't even come close to Night of the Living Dead, average gorefest 3 stars
9/21/06 Pritchett Not bad, not great, had a lot to live up to after "Dawn" - original script is better. 3 stars
8/25/06 havthat I liked this one the least of Romero's, but Bub's "humanity" was an interesting twist. 4 stars
8/09/06 Dragon The Artist A gorey, medieocre splat of entrails, thats a notch higher than popcorn flick status!!!! 4 stars
7/17/06 mark the best of the Dead movies-takes a little patience on the viewer, however 5 stars
10/27/05 chris a brilliant film although not as good as dawn 4 stars
9/29/05 Evan This is the Alien³ of the series. 3 stars
8/19/05 Gaston Nowhere near as good as NIGHT or DAWN, obviously, but has a few merits...and that FINALE!!! 3 stars
8/06/05 Pierre Zombie masterpiece! 5 stars
7/26/05 Kankasaur 1 part film-gore + 4 parts Al Gore. Skip the speechifying if you're no Romero zombie 2 stars
7/17/05 Brandy Harrington great gore cant not make up for the retarded story and awful acting. 1 stars
7/08/05 Burt Ward as bad as Jaws: The Revenge 1 stars
6/26/05 DennyRoss Very clostrophobic - guess that was the point. Still I liked this one but I didn't love it 4 stars
4/25/05 Indrid Cold An odd, boring story. But the death scenes at the end are worth the price of admission. 4 stars
4/16/05 Kainsdisciples better than dawn gotta love bob 4 stars
2/09/05 New England Patriots = Dynasty holy hell, what a piece of shit this was. AWFUL acting...AWFUL. 1 stars
1/29/05 ralph a true movie expert 32 yrs old not as good as dawn but still a must see if you are into gore 3 stars
1/10/05 Lucas Stenz WOW! Best horror film of the 1980s 5 stars
8/19/04 Random Fuck C'mon Romero, you could've done better than that!!! 2 stars
7/04/04 Samuel damn fine film. great ending to a great trilogy! 5 stars
6/13/04 Craig Good if you have a zombie fetish like me. 3 stars
6/08/04 Ryan Clark The least of Romero 4 stars
5/01/04 dead next door i like this one better than dawn. 5 stars
4/22/04 y2mckay Bad acting, meandering script, not enough gore, Romero Lite 2 stars
4/22/04 Jack Sommersby Great gore at the end can't compensate for abrasive characters and awful acting. 2 stars
4/18/04 Zach Cussing is ok, but not 50 million times that you just start shaking your head 3 stars
4/03/04 Lord Durvok 2 Good head-pulled-off fun! 4 stars
3/28/04 Gray to slow+depressing+not a obvious moral in it 3 stars
3/20/04 truth good fx but movie sucks, even worse than Dawn, boring and pointless,NOTLD still the best 1 1 stars
12/12/03 Heather great film!! 4 stars
11/27/03 John only for die hard Romero fans - an unworthy conclusion to a great trilogy 2 stars
11/02/03 American Slasher Goddess Too talky, but it's halfway decent. 3 stars
10/04/03 g-man it has it's problems, but for me it was the most gripping entry, and my personal fave. 4 stars
9/22/03 Samuel Justus A great ending to a great trilogy! 5 stars
8/13/03 Carrier In my opinion its the best of the three. Worth a look. 5 stars
4/30/03 The Talking Elbow Bub the zombie kicked ASS 5 stars
4/19/03 Jon "Thumb the Toad" Lyrik All and all, it's an underwhelming film, but it's good things keep it on it's toes enough. 3 stars
3/02/03 y2mckay A pale follow-up to the previous classics, but still worth dusting off once in a while. 3 stars
12/29/02 Jack Sommersby Pointless, worthless crap. Bub the Zombie is a keeper, though. 2 stars
11/21/02 murat I don't care what what you say,this movie sucks .I wish romero couldn't have done it. 1 stars
5/22/02 Charles Tatum You cannot look away 4 stars
4/29/02 Eric Great zombie film has an intelligent story, excellent gore, and a superbly gripping finale. 5 stars
4/29/02 Phoenix A total bore. 1 stars
3/20/02 Aborted Gently Romero tries, but comes up short. 4 stars
1/16/02 Peter Herman this one has the darkest atmosphere of all three 5 stars
10/13/01 British Bulldog I really enjoyed this film, great special effects and characters. 5 stars
9/13/01 Elgyn I think this is every bit as good as "Dawn". 5 stars
8/06/01 E-Funk Ooh...I have a hard time making it through the first 5 HOURS of this film! Awesome Effects 4 stars
7/19/01 Ted Villavicencio a good zombie flick but far from Romero's greatest 3 stars
6/27/01 ric Definitely underrated. The last 20 minutes feature the BEST zombie action ever. 5 stars
5/03/01 Gracy Lionheart Perhaps if it was filmed the way Romero originally wanted it might have been better 3 stars
3/11/01 ryhan adams I found myself rooting for the bad guys ho should have been the good guys. Go Mr. Rhodes 4 stars
8/17/00 Rich Corle A Great film that is extremely underrated 5 stars
7/10/00 Bob Wombat Compared to Dawn of the Dead, this one was shite. 3 stars
5/26/00 Aaron Best zombie film ever!!! 5 stars
12/18/99 SID I commend Romero for the story he tried to tell, but I just didn't care about thecharacters 3 stars
9/08/99 little jerry Serious,powerful & extremely impressive.Budget cuts forced Romero to make this masterpiece. 5 stars
7/18/99 Eric Despite extreme gore, Day is one of the best horror films ever made.Surprisingly touching. 5 stars
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  02-Jul-1985 (NC-17)

  02-Feb-1986 (18)

  02-Feb-1986 (R)

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