Day of the Dead (1985)

day_of_dead_poster_01The last of the original Dead trilogy, Day of the Dead once again picks up where the previous film left off. Humanity is now on the brink of extinction with a just a few hold outs left. Which is part of what really makes the original films so good. They have a sense of time, an order of events that tie them all together. Turning them into a more or less one cohesive narrative without having to rely on familiar faces or locals. Just a common theme, zombies.. and a sense of hopelessness, and the fact that we are still our biggest threat and not the hungry dead. While not my favorite in the series, Day does vie for the second, maybe third place. This is mostly due to the strength of the films antagonist Captain Henry Rhodes, who is one of my favorite all time characters I love to hate.

The world is now overrun with zombies, which now far outnumber people. Dr. Sarah Bowman (Lori Cardille), radio operator McDermott (Jarlath Conroy), helicopter pilot John (Terry Alexander), and Private Miguel (Anthony Dileo Jr.), who also happens to be Sarah’s boyfriend are out searching for other survivors. Though all they find is a city full of the walking dead. With no luck they return to the underground military bunker they call home. While away the base commander died, leaving his second in command, Captain Henry Rhodes (Joseph Pilato) in charge. Rhodes states his displeasure with Dr. Bowman, along with her superior Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty), who he and the other soldiers refer to as Frankenstein and his assistant Dr. Fisher (John Amplas) for lack of progress and the constant drain or resources they represent. After an accident that leaves two of his soldiers dead and Miguel maimed after being bitten and having his arm amputated the already tense situation worsens. But the things go straight off the rails when Dr. Bowman and McDermott come across a tape revealing how unhinged Dr. Logan has become while looking for medication for Miguel and witness Dr. Logan feed Bub (Sherman Howard), Logan’s pet zombie that seems docile and even remembers fragments of its past life and decided to take the helicopter before someone else does. Though they get interrupted by Captain Rhodes, who when he learns the rewards for training Bub was the remains of his soldiers kills Dr. Logan and Dr. Fisher. All while Miguel, who suicidal and not wanting to turn, lets the zombies into the base…

Much like the first film, where it wasn’t intentional and here it is very much so, race seems to be a big factor. Racism seems to often be at the forefront with Rhodes other soldiers pointing out Miguel is a Mexican when they feel he has caused the death of the other soldiers. Something that wasn’t his fault and after it had been suggested he be taken off active duty due to his erratic behavior. Though Rhodes is very stressed for manpower so his argument is just is valid.

Rhodes though, is my favorite character, a villain that I absolutely love to hate. I want to say the delivery is a bit over the top. But given the level mental stress the character has to be under, I can’t really say that I don’t understand where his character is coming from, putting the actions and delivery of the character into a far more believable scope.

Bub is another great character. I think I like the character because he’s in a way and extension of the zombies progression throughout the series so far. Where in Night, all the zombies were just mindless undead, in Dawn they showed a sense of memory returning to the Mall. For as the that film put, “this place was important them”. Bub shows fragments of who he was, enjoying music, saluting an officer, and after trying to shoot a gun that’s empty checks for a clip and looks upset when he see’s its empty. Though his character really shines after he free’s himself and so pleased with that fact goes to show Dr. Logan and when he finds his corpse runs the gamut of emotions from grief to anger, finally settling on vengeance.

Final thoughts, like the other entries in the series George A. Romero knocks it out the park by knowing that a zombie film isn’t about the zombies. It’s a character drama, with all the character exploration and revelations that need to come with it. I like that Day takes the same level of attention to character that Dawn had and expanded to the mindless undead. Showing that maybe they aren’t all the mindless. 8.5/10

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