Day of the Dead (1985) [Collector's Edition]

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2013-09-18 02:25

Day of the Dead (1985)
Studio: Scream Factory
Release date: September 17th, 2013

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

The movie:

Back when we launched OTH, I can recall debating whether or not Day of the Dead should be designated an unsung treasure or enshrined in our Hall of Fame, which perhaps speaks to just how far its reputation has come in five years. At the time, the tide was turning (or had perhaps just turned) in its favor, as it often felt like the also-ran of the (then) trilogy of Romeroís Dead series. Now, thereís little doubt that it stands sturdily alongside Night and Dawn, even if it is the most alienating of Romeroís zombie films.

For one thing, Day of the Dead is remarkably bleak, especially within the context of the 80s; where some pop culture and nostalgia have crystalized that era as an essentially harmless, neon-clad decade of admirable excess, Romero sensed something sinister resting in the hangover from the 70s. The shadow of Vietnam especially loomed large, which likely explains his decision to turn his satirical fangs towards the American military-industrial complex here. In typical Romero fashion, itís pretty unsubtle stuff: here you have a military force that refuses to relent even in the face of certain doom. That its representative (Joseph Pilatoís Captain Rhodes) is a reprehensible sociopath highlights the folly and undercuts whatever nobility the endeavor might entail.

In the tradition, the military squares off against science, and Day of the Dead follows suit; however, neither side is especially sympathetic, as the latter is headed by an eccentric madman who has taken to experimenting on the undead. In fact, one might argue that one of Dr. ďFrankensteinĒ Loganís (Richard Liberty) guinea pigs, Bub (Sherman Howard), is the most sympathetic and likable character in the bunch. Sure, there are some casualties (such as Lori Cardilleís Sarah Bowman) caught in the middle that are comparatively sane and level-headed, but even theyíre reduced to eking out a meaningless existence at the end.

Living out the rest of your days on a tropical island secluded from the zombie apocalypse feels like a victory until you consider that crossing those days off of a calendar is a fruitless attempt to bring a non-existent order to a chaos thatís still prevalentóno one actually accomplishes much in Day of the Dead, a film that captures Romero at his most pessimistic. Even Dawn ended on a bombastic, action-movie note that suggested hope might lay ahead in the future once Fran and Peter flew off to parts unknown (an act that pointedly occurs after the latter contemplates but refuses to commit suicide).

Underneath the doom and gloom rests a nasty horror film that operates even without its historical context; again, the film just feels downright grim, as Tom Saviniís masterful effects work feel like punishments to the human flesh. Rhodesís disembowelment (which has since inspired countless imitators) is symptomatic of Romeroís disdain for humanityósure, it might be disgusting, but itís a sequence that almost begs viewers to revel in the craftsmanship rather than feel any sort of empathy. Instead, thereís only an unnerving detachmentóno one should mourn the characters in Day of the Dead, especially since they can hardly be considered to be alive in the first place.

The disc:

To cement the filmís legacy, Scream Factory has graced it with another stellar Collectorís Edition release that stands as an upgrade to Anchor Bayís 2007 effort. For starters, the newly remastered transfer is an improvement, particularly in terms of detail; secondly, the disc only features the filmís original mono mix, but itís presented in lossless quality and doesnít suffer from the minor editing issues from Anchor Bayís surround mixes. Iíve said this a lot lately in regards to Scream Factory releases, but it again stands true: Day of the Dead has never looked or sounded better on home video.

And if that werenít enough, itís never been treated to such a wealth of special features. Scream ports over most of the stuff from Anchor Bayís release, including the neat ad for the Wampum Mines and all of the filmís promo material (trailers, TV spots, photo galleries, etc.). Both commentaries return: one features filmmaker Roger Avary, while the other joins Romero, Savini, Cardille, and production designer Cletus Anderson). Saviniís vintage behind-the-scenes footage is also back here.

The only major omission is ďThe Many Days of Day of the Dead,Ē which his easy to swallow considering Scream has produced its own retrospective documentary thatís almost as long as the film itself. Itís a fascinating look that tackles not only Day of the Dead but also its legacy within the context of Romeroís work. Everyone from Romero himself to just about anyone who appeared in or worked on the film is featured for new interviews and anecdotes; fans have no doubt grown accustomed to Screamís fine work on these retrospectives, but this may be its best effort yet. Itís even tacked on another featurette that takes viewers back to the mines as they stand today.

Considering Anchor Bayís already lavish treatment, Iím not sure if Day of the Dead really jumped out as a title that begged for an upgrade, but Scream has quelled such doubts. The feature-length documentary alone is worthwhile, and the improved presentation makes it even easier to take a second bite.
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