George A. Romero was a genius. If you’re reading this article, there’s no denying that his vast influence on the genre he helped revolutionize touched you in some way. Films such as Martin, Creepshow, and the underrated Stephen King adaptation, The Dark Half, are great examples of the masterful director’s work. Romero, however, was most on top of his craft throughout the first three films of his zombie series- Night, Dawn, and the equally terrific, albeit underappreciated, Day of the Dead.
Released to the public 32 years ago today, Day of the Dead found itself receiving more of a mixed critical reception than its predecessors, which unfortunately led to disappointing box office returns. In my semi-professional opinion, however, Day is every bit as great as the films that came before it, and I’m here to talk about why.
George A. Romero himself perfectly described 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 couldn’t be more true. In Day of the Dead, we see civilization with its back against a shrinking wall as the zombies have overrun the world. Fragments of the U.S. government and military that have thus-far survived are hiding out in fortified bases and colonies, desperately searching for a solution to the nightmarish apocalypse.
The horror of Day of the Dead is claustrophobic, provoking a sense of suffocating dread as human personalities collide in a time of high tension. George A. Romero crafted a bleak film that frequently painted humanity at its worst, which allows the viewer to root for the zombies and applaud when they claim the lives of those who deserve that horrific fate.
Romero also gives us a hero in the form of Bub, a docile zombie who remembers some of his past life and engages in human behavior such as listening to music, aiming a pistol, and saluting Captain Rhodes (Joseph Pilato). While the film has humans that we want to see survive, however few there are, Bub remains the highlight as he’s painted with the innocence of humanity that is harshly lacking in other characters. The performance by Sherman Howard in the role of Bub is consistently noted as one of horrors greatest, and it’s definitely a favorite of mine.
Greg Nicotero, who’s featured as Private Johnson in the film, assisted Tom Savini with the special make-up effects throughout Day of the Dead. While the first two zombie flicks by George A. Romero had plenty of fear-provoking carnage, the masterwork by Nicotero and Savini proves especially brutal, and in large part, still holds up today.
Day of the Dead Trivia:
- George A. Romero makes a small cameo near the film’s end as a zombie pushing a cart.
- Pilato also has a role in Dawn of the Dead as a renegade officer at the police docks.
- The book Logan gives to Bub is Salem’s Lot by Stephen King.
- During the scene in which Rhodes is torn apart, the look of horror on Joseph Pilato’s face is hardly acting. The animal entrails used for the scene were stored in a fridge that was accidentally unplugged over a hot weekend, which created a pungent rotting smell. Since the budget of the film was low, production went ahead with the same rotten animal guts. Actors who portrayed zombies in the scene were given cotton balls and other items to plug their noses with, but Pilato was forced to suffer through the stench without vomiting. The disgusted look on his face as his character is being killed is actually very real.
- On the Day of the Dead commentary, Tom Savini mentions that the newspaper titled “The Dead Walk!” featured at the beginning of the film is the same newspaper shown in Resident Evil.
We’re deeply saddened by the loss of George A. Romero. The legendary man forever changed the horror genre, and his presence in turn will always remain prevalent.
What’s your favorite film in the Dead series? Will you be watching Day of the Dead today to celebrate the anniversary? As always, drop your thoughts in the comments and on social media!