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George Romero’s zombie trilogy will always be a classic set of movies in the horror world. However, the final instalment was and is met with some reservation by fans of the first two movies in the series. Regardless of what movie you think is the best of the series, Anchor Bay has put together a wonderful package for this film and should be included in any collection of any fan of the zombie sub-genre.

Day of the Dead

It’s an intensely difficult task to come up with a reference point from which to review this film. Does one approach the review with the intent of comparing Day of the Dead to the first two instalments of the legendary “Dead Trilogy”? Or does one ignore the fact that this is the ending of a three part epic and review the film based solely on its own merits? Initially, one may be inclined to completely ignore George Romero’s first two masterpieces (Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead) when tackling this job. However in doing so, this approach would ignore the significance of Day’s characters and their plight in the grand scheme of the Dead universe and the plethora of social commentary therein.

Day of the Dead is an excellent film no matter how you look at it. What makes the film so successful (and so unsuccessful upon initial release) is that it explores the logical conclusion of the series. Night of the Living took viewers by surprise, introduced us too a group of strangers, some of whom we learned to love and others we learned to hate. Behind the thin veil of horror, Romero made a statement with his violent zombie film, but one that was not so bold as the one he would make in the wham-bam follow-up, Dawn of the Dead. A summary of the basic themes of Dawn come in a scene where a zombie dives into a fountain and grabs coins from the bottom. This scene is terrifying in its implications and it at once shows the zombie-like actions of consumers and the actual worthlessness of money in its physical form. If Romero had explored the cause of the rise of the zombies and explored their relationship to the primal activities and tendencies inherent in us all, where was he to go next?

Day of the Dead, in the most pure and simple of analysis, is reduced to a morality tale involving the idea that man is his own worst enemy. At the center of this story is Sarah (Lori Cardille), one of several civilian scientists, and a group of soldiers holed up in an underground bunker in Florida. The scientists take a blow early on in the film when they learn of the death of Major Cooper whom had apparently been more of sympathizer of the scientists than the other military personnel. The resentment on the part of the soldiers towards the scientist can now take full effect. This resentment is fueled by Cooper’s successor, Captain Rhodes (Joseph Pilato), who insists that the scientists’ studies are a waste of time and the zombies should be dealt with by force. However, Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty) has been making progress with Bub the Zombie and has taught the chained and bound zombie to remember some of his tendencies from his life. Dr. Logan’s continued (apparent) decline into insanity, the restlessness of the soldiers and the steadfastness of Sarah leads to a series of human mistakes that threaten to destroy what could be the last safe-house for humanity.

Where Dawn of the Dead expressed claustrophobia by showing us a familiar (and big) structure reduced to a prison-like stronghold where the safe areas become smaller and smaller, Day of the Dead includes real claustrophobia. These clashing personalities are stuck in an underground salt-mine and must balance their desire to live and survive the zombies, with the need to survive with each other. Because this movie (like the others in the series) is as much a human story as a zombie film, the performances of the actors are key. All involved here do an excellent job, from Lori Cardille as Sarah to Richard Liberty as Dr. Logan. The gore effects here are a vast improvement over Dawn of the Dead and are terrifically realistic. The zombies have much better makeup this time around and instead of hundreds of identical zombies with grey powdered faces, Tom Savini (a master of makeup and gore) gives the zombies personality by giving many of them very unique and elaborate makeup applications. One of the most disappointing aspects of this film is the weak score. While it does serve its purpose in some spots, overall it falls short of the memorable Goblin soundtrack of Dawn.

Mainly faulted for its need to veer vastly from its original script due to lack of funding, Day of the Dead never forgets its roots. Again, this film is nothing more than the natural, logical conclusion of Romero’s three part study of the human condition. While this film is much more “talky” than the others, it is up to the audience to really listen to what these characters are saying. Because it is arguably the most relevant of the films, really, it has to be commended. As a follow up to Dawn of the Dead, a non-stop violent shoot-em-up zombie action romp, though, Day of the Dead may have suffered from the Aliens 3 syndrome many years before Aliens 3 was released.

Day of the Dead

As one of the early titles in Anchor Bay’s new Divimax Series, this print stands out as a great of example of the care Anchor Bay puts into its releases. This transfer lacks most all grain, dust and scratches and is very crisp and clear. The picture is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and has excellent contrast, sharp colors, deep darks and good flesh tones. However, edge enhancement is present throughout and is, unfortunately, annoying at some points. Overall, though, this is a very good picture for and older, low budget film. Let us hope Anchor Bay can produce these crisp transfers without the edge enhancement in the future.

Included on this disc are Dolby Digital EX and 6.1 DTS-ES soundtracks. This 1985 film does not necessarily benefit from such advanced sound technology. The music is piped through all channels and the ultimately ineffective score is made to stand out several times. Sometimes the music is overbearing and the dialogue can begin to get lost. These tracks are overkill but do ensure the best mixes the movie has ever seen. There is also a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix available.

Day of the Dead

The extras begin on the first disc with a pair of commentaries. The first commentary is with Writer/Director George A. Romero, Special Make-up Effects Artist Tom Savini, Production Designer Cletus Anderson and Actress Lori Cardille. Despite all my hopes and dreams of a fantastically excellent commentary track, unfortunately, this is really terribly standard. While it remains interesting throughout and the chemistry of the group is obvious, they stray too far from the movie too many times. Almost all the useful information found here can be found in the first documentary on the second disc. The second commentary is a completely waste of time, really. This track is with filmmaker Roger Avery (Killing Zoë, The Rules of Attraction). He speaks as nothing more as a fan of the film and is rarely interesting beyond some few and far between observations he makes from a filmmaker’s point of view.

On the second disc, there is an excellent documentary called The Many Days of DAY OF THE DEAD. This 39 minute set of interviews and scenes from the movies is very well put together and always interesting. Almost everyone involved with the project sheds new light on the film. Unlike the recent documentary on Anchor Bay’s 25th Anniversary Edition of Halloween, we aren’t forced to sit through whole scenes from the film here. If there are scenes from the film, they are only used to highlight what the interviewee is saying.

Next up is a behind-the-scenes featurette that is just a series of movies with no narration. All of the footage involves Tom Savini’s make-up effects. This featurette is a real treat and different from your standard behind-the-scenes/marketing featurette. There is also an audio interview with Richard Liberty. Liberty died in 2000, but was able to add his thoughts and comments on Day of the Dead before his death via this interview. The interviewer is beyond annoying, but Liberty steals the show with his answers and stories.

There is an unclassifiable feature on this DVD. It is a promotional video used to market the Gateway Commerce Center which apparently has turned the Wampum Mine where the movie was filmed into a storage facility. The oddity of this feature is quaint and it is definitely worth a watch to get a good view of the movies locations. Rounding out the features are theatrical trailers, TV spots, production stills, behind-the-scenes photos, posters and advertising art, a gallery of memorabilia, a zombie make-up gallery, continuity stills gallery, and a George Romero bio. This is solid package.

Day of the Dead

The Divimax Series from Anchor Bay has put together an impressive picture and audio mix for a very good film. The extras in this package are also very good and give much information to anyone interested. The debate will always rage on as to whether this film or Dawn of the Dead is the better zombie film. However, taken as a capper to a fantastic trilogy, this film can hardly be faulted for trying to point out that it will be ourselves that destroy humanity and it will all happen on “the darkest day of horror the world has ever known”.