Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer Shocks 1985: Day of the Dead

With its oppressive atmosphere and often abrasive characters, Day of the Dead is a hard movie to love - as opposed to the rollicking Dawn of the Dead (1978) or the classic chills of Night of the Living Dead (1968). Day is, by design, a harsh, difficult to approach movie.

In the summer of '85, it sure didn't have what fans were looking for in the final chapter in the Dead trilogy. For myself, walking out of a screening of it that summer, I must've looked more than a little dazed. Day was one gnarly zombie flick. Savini's FX had never been better or ghastlier. To me, it's the pinnacle of splatter in the '80s. Add to that the volatile atmosphere and murderous tensions within the film's underground caverns and you've got a pretty grim picture.

Looking at it today, it's still grim - time hasn't softened the movie at all - but in an odd way it seems more and more like comfort food to me. The old-school ingenuity of Savini's effects, the scenery-chewing performances of Joe Pilato (Captain Rhodes) and Richard Liberty (Dr. Logan), the endearing Howard Sherman as Bub, Terry Alexander's wonderfully cheesy Jamaican accent, and John Harrison's synthesizer score - all of it instantly takes me back to that summer of '85.

To read my full Summer Shocks review of Day of the Dead, click here.


Jose Cruz said...

Great choice, Jeff! When I initially saw Day of the Dead I actually enjoyed it more than my viewing of Dawn. You're certainly right in pointing out the claustrophobic atmosphere in the film. What better setting to have for a motley crew of survivors stuck in a world gone mad?

Jeff Allard said...

Yeah, to have those characters reduced to living in caves (and for the most part, hating each other) really made the point that the party was over. Dawn made it look like there were still good times to be had in a world overrun with zombies but Day painted a much more dire picture.

I don't think it embodied the '80s the way NoTLD did the '60s and Dawn the '70s but I think it's dead-on to the way the world has gone since - completely downhill.

Will Errickson said...

Watching DAY for the first time was one of the most grueling movie experiences I've ever had! It was the movie that made me love truly serious and disturbingly dark horror films when I saw it as a teenager. Everything seemed so hopeless for the characters and, indeed, humanity in general. Brilliant stuff.

Jeff Allard said...

...One has to wonder where Romero's career would've gone afterwards had Day been a hit. He's made some good films since then but Day feels like the last time he was 100% in the game.

Unknown said...

I always wondered how much of LAND OF THE DEAD was what Romero wanted DAY OF THE DEAD to be but couldn't realized it due to budget limitations? I always liked DAY OF THE DEAD even though it tends to get overlooked because of the iconic status of NIGHT and DAWN. It certainly features some of Tom Savini's best makeup work. Incredible stuff. I wonder if people back in the way were put off by the scenery-chewing antics of Rhodes and Dr. Frankenstein?

I also wanted to add that I just bestowed the Versatile Blogger Award for all the great work you do on your blog:

Jeff Allard said...

Thanks for the honor, J.D. - it's much appreciated! As for the overacting in Day, I guarantee that was a source of a lot of criticism. But I do think that those performances are inseperable from its appeal now.