Day of the Dead (UK - DVD R2)
Paul Greenwood takes a look at Arrow's release of the third in the 'Dead' trilogy...
George Romero owns the zombie movie. It's as simple as that. He didn't invent it—they've been getting made since the '30s—but, with Night of the Living Dead in 1968, he sure as hell re-invented it, taking violence and gore to unprecedented levels and ushering in the tidal wave of American and Italian zombie and cannibal flicks that infested the '70s. Dawn followed Night and Day followed Dawn, to complete his trilogy of masterpieces and he's spent the last twenty years trying to live up to them.
Although it seems to be set directly after the events of Dawn of the Dead, we follow a completely different set of characters in Day. With the zombie hordes ruling the streets, a bunch of scientists and army personnel have found refuge in an underground bunker, only venturing out by helicopter to see if there are any more signs of life. The doctor (Liberty) has been conducting extensive experiments with zombie corpses in an attempt to understand their workings and maybe come up with a cure. But the camp leader (Pilato) has no time for such things, the only good zombie for him being one with its brainpan well and truly mangled. With tempers rising, it's only a matter of time until the mutant masses find their way in.
Everyone has their favourite from Romero's Dead trilogy (tetralogy now if you include Land) and for me it's probably still Dawn. Day is great, no doubt about it, but it's not quite the complete package its predecessor was. For the first hour or so it's surprisingly talky, as we follow the tensions and conflicts between the civilians and the soldiers. Some of these scenes can get a little repetitive, but it gives us enough time to establish character and follow the doctor as he tries to teach and communicate with his undead subject, Bub (Sherman), in some of the film's most interesting scenes.
But then comes the fun stuff. Tom Savini's groundbreaking make up and effects work is now the stuff of legend, from exploding heads and chunks of flesh being ripped from bodies, to oozing entrails and machete cleavings. For the last half hour, Romero really lets him rip loose, with some truly jaw-dropping cannibal action that just doesn't look as if it could be achieved without CGI. It's this as much as anything that is responsible for the lasting reputation of all of these films and makes Day of the Dead and essential purchase for horror fans.
The print is remarkably clean and has held up pretty well over the years. You couldn't exactly call it pin-sharp, but detail and clarity is good and there are no major issues with artefacts or blemishes. Colours are very well reproduced, from the grey pallor of the zombies to the outrageous red of Savini's blood and bowels. Darker scenes such as those in the cave system provide lots of good shadow detail and strong blacks, with very little noticeable grain and maybe just a hint of smearing.
This is possibly where the first disappointment kicks in, with the sound quality definitely a little on the tepid side. Available audio options are Dolby Digital 5.1 and a reasonably nifty 2.0 Surround track, but neither of them are going to test your system to its limits. Some early gunfire doesn't make very good use of the 5.1 capability, with the rears only really getting some running feet and a bit of music, while the fronts get the gunshots but don't manage to present them with any great force. Later in the film, a bullet will whiz behind your ears from time to time, but other than that it would need to go down as a missed opportunity, and leaves the surround track as probably the preferable option, given that dialogue seems to have greater depth and authority this way.
The extras kick off with a commentary featuring the special effects guys, Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger, Everett Burrell and Mike Deak. It's tricky to keep track of who is speaking, but they never shut up for a second and are full of mostly interesting stuff. They can spend a little too much time telling us who did what as most of the time is spent with recollections of the shoot and how they achieved some of the gags, but there are loads of good anecdotes and they're clearly enjoying themselves, as evidenced by their clinking glasses.
‘The Many Days of the Dead’ is a solid thirty nine minute making of that includes interviews with just about everyone involved in the film, in particular Romero and Savini, but most of the actors also pitch in with their recollections of the shoot and its aftermath, making this a very worthwhile addition. The biggest titbit is that the original script was much longer and bigger in terms of action and budget, but the backers refused to put up the $6m needed when the film would have to have been released unrated—the script cuts reduced the budget to $3m and they were back on. Howard Sherman recounts his filming experiences as Bub and there's a mention for the hundreds of people who turned up to be extras for a dollar a day.
‘Behind the Scenes’ is a much rougher twenty minute piece made at the same time as the film that offers loads of great footage of filming, focussing heavily on the extras and the makeup.
There's also an ‘Original Press Photo Gallery’, a Romero biography and filmography, the original theatrical trailer and trailers for Night and Dawn.
Trying to keep tabs on the myriad releases of Romero's films on DVD is a bit like trying to keep hordes of marauding zombies out of your house—just when you think you've got them all, along comes another one wanting a piece of you. This release of Day of the Dead probably isn't as strong as the Anchor Bay Divimax edition, which has an extra commentary and some other bits and pieces, but it's still a fantastic presentation of an outstanding film and well worth picking up.
Review by Paul Greenwood
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 27th March 2006
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround
Extras: Commentary, Documentaries, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: George A Romero
Cast: Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, Joseph Pilato, Jarlath Conroy, Richard Liberty, Howard Sherman
Genre: Action and Horror
Length: 101 minutes
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