When George Romero began making Day of the Dead in the mid-1980s, flesh-eating ghouls were a dime a dozen and the novelty was starting to wear with filmgoers and a burgeoning new market – home video.
While Euro-horrors Zombie Flesh Eaters and Nightmare City, Zombie Lake and the derisible Oasis of the Zombies were lumbering about, Re-Animator and Return of the Living Dead (my personal favourite) tried putting a comic spin on the aging formula.
So the pressure was on Romero to better these duds and to outdo his previous two zombie outings, both of which had deservedly acquired cult status: Night of the Living Dead, because of its groundbreaking status, and Dawn of the Dead, because it’s the ultimate zombie flick.
In Day of the Dead, zombies now outnumber humans 400,000 to one and, in the Florida Everglades a group of scientists and soldiers take refuge in a vast underground facility, where they attempt to study the disaster that has befallen mankind.
Here, the brutal Captain Rhodes (Joe Pilato) rules like a modern-day Stalin, while the mad Doctor Logan (Richard Liberty) conducts grisly vivisection experiments on zombie human subjects. One of those subjects is Bub (Howard Sherman), the unlikely hero of the film, who shows that zombies can be tamed – to an extent.
Brutal, grim and incredibly downbeat, Day of the Dead, died a death at the box-office on its release. And because of the intensely graphic violence (with Tom Savini at the helm), the film got an R in the US and an 18 certificate in the UK.
The depressing box-office receipts brought an end to Romero’s plans to continue the franchise until Land of the Dead some 20 years later. His zombies have since been unleashed twice more with Diary of the Dead in 2007, followed by his latest effort in 2009, Survival of the Dead, which gets its DVD release on 15 March.
25 years after its release, Day of the Dead is now regarded a sleeper classic. It may have spawned a god-awful remake (which went straight to DVD and has nothing to do with the original), but Romero’s nihilistic 1985 film deserves to be reappraised. Not only is it a product of its era (Reaganism and the threat of being wiped out by either nuclear war and AIDS), it’s also a testament to Tom Savini who creates some of his best ever work.
Restored to its full gory, with a new hi-def soundtrack, Day of the Dead gets a two-disc Blu-ray release from Arrow Video. The special features in this 25th anniversary release include a host of retrospective documentaries and ephemera, including a very special one-shot comic featuring the lovable Bub.
Released 29 March