Some months after the zombie outbreak, an underground science base has been established with hopes of developing a solution to the epidemic. Tensions fray between the scientists, civilians and military personnel living there, not helped by the lead scientist, Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty) attempting to “train” a chained up zombie he has named Bub (Sherman Howard).
As with the previous two films in the franchise, this takes a similar premise – a disparate group of people attempting to survive in a confined location after a zombie outbreak – and just leaves them to it. Here though the stakes are raised somewhat by both the number of people – there are twelve surviving there as we enter the film, with several already having been killed – and also the kinds of people they are. Of the twelve, three are scientists – Dr. Sarah Bowman (Lori Cardille), Dr. Ted Fisher (John Amplas) and the aforementioned Dr. Logan. Two are civilians – the Jamaican helicopter pilot John (Terry Alexander) and Irish radio operator Bill (Jarlath Conroy). The other seven are military, led by newly appointed and perpetually angry Captain Rhodes (Joseph Pilato), and including the brutish bigot Pvt. Steele (Gary Howard Klar), his giggling sidekick Pvt. Rickles (Ralph Marrero) and frenzied Pvt. Miguel (Anthony Dileo Jr.), who is sleeping with Sarah, much to the others’ distress. With Miguel and the two civilians allying with the scientists, it presents a six-against-six dynamic when heads butt as to what course of action should be taken, and given the amount of weaponry and zombies in close proximity this leads to some pretty tense altercations.
Whilst Dawn of the Dead is easily the most entertaining of this franchise, I think Day of the Dead might be the most interesting due to the directions it takes and the ideas it looks at. In the past the zombies have shown an aptitude for using weaponry – in Night a zombie is able to pick up a rock to smash Ben’s car headlight – and in Dawn the whole reason the zombies have flocked to the mall is due to some subconscious desire to head towards something familiar – but this is the first instance of Romero proposing the notion of what is happening inside the head of the zombie, and whether there is any form of intellect there that could be harnessed and trained for the betterment of all. Yes it’s done in some horrifically gory ways in terms of Logan’s experiments – a corpse with all its internal organs removed still craves food, another with its entire head disassembled still shows brain activity – but the effects are fun and well implemented, and the front-loaded gore is nothing compared to some of the deaths that inevitably come towards the end of this kind of film.
Whilst there’s significantly less here action-wise than in Dawn, there’s still plenty to hold your attention, and any scene with Bub the zombie is endlessly fascinating, especially when Logan attempts to teach him how to use a walkman and a gun. Some of the characters are drawn a bit thin, especially the military men, and there’s not a great deal of actual character development for pretty much everyone – they all end up thinking roughly the same as when they started out – but still, I enjoy the ideas this film has. I could have done with a little less gore – one character has their head ripped off via fingers in their eye sockets, which didn’t work for me at all, thank you very much – and there’s an entire montage of zombies eating people that genuinely made me feel a little ill, but if anything that’s a testament to the gruesome quality of the effects.
As to whether this is the best of the franchise, that’s hard to say, because they each go in different directions. I put it on an equal par with Dawn, with that one being more entertaining, but this one dealing with more interesting issues. Either way, they – and Night – are both must-watches even if you’re not a big zombie fan.
Choose Film 8/10