A small group of military officers and scientists dwell in an underground bunker as the world above is overrun by zombies.
Day of the Dead is the third installment in the Living Dead series that includes a total of six films written and directed by George A. Romero. The complete list of films in the series is Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978), Day of the Dead (1985), Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2007), and Survival of the Dead (2009).
Long before we had movies and television shows like The Walking Dead, George A. Romero unleashed his love of zombies on the world. Day of the Dead tells the story of a group of military personnel and scientists staying in an underground bunker in Florida while the dead walk the earth above them. The group struggles to survive and look for a cure for the zombie outbreak, while also dealing with personality and power clashes among themselves. Sarah (Lori Cardille) is one of the scientists working with the military and she is the smartest, most headstrong character. The lead scientist Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty) is nicknamed Frankenstein because of his surgical dissections of zombies. He believes that the zombies can be taught how to behave. John (Terry Alexander) is the pilot and the only person who knows how to fly the helicopter that is their only hope for escaping the zombies. Captain Rhodes (Joseph Pilato) is in charge of the entire group and wants to destroy all the zombies by any means necessary, even if it means mercilessly killing any members of the group who try and stop him.
Award winning special make-up effects legend Tom Savini is responsible for the grotesquely realistic zombie effects in the film, giving Day of the Dead a level of stunning practical effects that it seems like a lot of modern horror films lack. These effects are most prominent in some of Dr. Frankenstein’s (Logan) zombie experiments.
He nicknames his most promising experiment so far Bub (Sherman Howard), and as the movie unfolds, Bub became my favorite character in the film. Dr. Frankenstein is convinced that he has taught Bub how to communicate and control his emotions. Captain Rhodes wants nothing to do with the experiments and spends most of the movie causing friction between members of the group. McDermott (Jarlath Conroy) thinks he can drink away the zombie apocalypse and I lost count of how many times he exclaims, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph” when something even slightly stressful occurs. A lot of the acting is over the top and the movie is full of cheesy 80’s music, but none of that prevents Day of the Dead from being a fun film.
Captain Rhodes is such a terrible leader and awful person that he eventually causes the members of the group to choose sides and begin attacking each other, and the story becomes soldiers versus scientists. Rhodes is so despicable that he even threatens to feed the scientists to the zombies that roam the underground caves if he doesn’t get what he wants. One member of the group, Miguel (Anthony Dileo Jr.) has been slowly becoming unhinged throughout the movie, and his actions will ultimately affect the fate of the entire group.
Much to the disgust of Rhodes, Dr. Frankenstein is quite pleased with his progress with Bub. Despite being a zombie, Bub is able to recognize things like a telephone, a toothbrush and a gun, and turns out to be far more intelligent than Rhodes thinks he is. Rhodes traps Sarah and McDermott in the caves with the ravenous zombies, but a member of the group tries to save them and a battle between humans and zombies ensues that will end with the survival of a select few members of the original group.
Over the years, zombies have invaded film and television by the hordes, but the late George A. Romero will always be known as the master of zombies. The acting is not Oscar worthy, but Day of the Dead is worth a watch just for Tom Savini’s special effects, the story and Bub. Bub is one of the most iconic zombies in the history of horror and you’ll be cheering for him by the end of this film.
Day of the Dead (1985) – 4 out of 5 Skulls