(Originally posted on 3/7/04)
Day of the Dead, the final chapter of George A. Romero’s zombie trilogy (which also includes Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead), had fans demanding a piece of the director’s flesh when it was released in 1985. Fanboys wanted more tension and suspense, art film connoisseurs wanted more of the social commentary that lurked beneath the original installments’ rotting veneer, and everyone wanted a lot less yapping. The criticisms, nineteen years later, are still somewhat valid. Romero’s script, which concerns the last stand against zombie nation by a group of scientists and soldiers holed up in an underground military base, aims for claustrophobic creepiness. Yet a good portion of the film is dulled by endless arguments between the lab rats (who, led by Richard Liberty’s Dr. “Frankenstein” Logan, are experimenting on captured zombies) and the grunts (who want to shoot their way to freedom). Romero has never been much of a visual stylist, but Tom Savini knows his way around gory effects, and the zombies moan -- and maim -- disgustingly well. Yet even if Day of the Dead doesn’t significantly raise one’s heartbeat, the film’s frosty pessimism about mankind’s future does eventually get under your skin. Dr. Logan’s humane efforts to train Bub (Sherman Howard), a gentle zombie, speaks to humanity’s more noble aspirations, especially considering that -- unlike its predecessors, which portrayed the creatures as distinctly inhuman -- the film makes clear that the zombies are fundamentally human. Yet the doctor’s demise at the hands of lunatic Captain Rhodes (Joseph Pilato) exemplifies Romero’s nagging dismay over man’s selfishness, brutality and anger. Nominal hero Sarah (Lori Cardille) and her two comrades may eventually wind up lounging in the sun, but it’s a false ending, one that superficially speaks of hope but in fact exudes nothing but despair. Man’s hubris, not those pesky flesh-eaters, is the film’s ultimate villain.