Friday, September 6, 2013

Day of the Dead (Scream Factory Blu-ray Review) -An Education in Zombie Proper

It’s strange what you remember about a movie. When I was a kid the USA network featured Day of the Dead. My dad promptly taped it off TV (since priced to own didn’t exist yet), and I used to watch it regularly. Sure it had gallons of gore cut out, but there was plenty left in and I had no idea what I was missing. I was pretty young to be watching Day of the Dead anyway. Frankenstein (not that Frankenstein) quickly became a hero of mine; a mad scientist to aspire to. That’s not what comes to mind first when I think about Romero’s Day of the Dead; it’s the damn calendar on the wall in the opening sequence. That would be the one placed on the blank slate, cinder block wall featuring a pumpkin patch with all the days crossed out. I remember that and the hands that immediately thrust through the wall attacking an unsuspecting female victim who we would later learn is our heroine. When I watched the Scream Factory release after sitting through over two hours of amazing bonus material, I still jumped at this scene even though I know it was coming. Hell, I just watched how it was done. Like I said, it’s the scene that I remember most about the movie. Not Bub. Not even the beautiful slimy, Tom Savini powerhouse gore (which of course I love). Scream Factory has done right by this Romero classic.


Not from the Scream Factory Disc

See the Pumpkin Calender? I want that.
Scream Factory has released the ultimate in Day of the Dead Blu-rays. Don’t believe me? Let’s start with the picture quality. You know what I’m going to say. It’s great. Sure the audio is only 2.0 DTS, but hey, it wasn’t in 5.1 to begin with and there’s no reason to assume it would have been better digitally mastered to an unfaithful presentation. So how good is the blood on the screen in hi-def? If you need a picture test, just go to the scene where Sarah Bowman visits with Frankenstein (Dr. Matthew Logan to you) for the first time to check his progress. When one of Logan’s test zombies escapes from his restraints, it spills the contents of its chest cavity on to the floor in one, loud gut splat. The gore falls out of your TV, off the screen and directly onto your living room floor. My reaction to this scene was as intense as Bowman’s, holding back vomit which is a rarity. I’m more than slightly embarrassed to admit that this scene had such a visceral effect on me. Credit to Tom Savini for a genius effect design. Credit to Scream Factory for giving us the picture quality to appreciate it. So the picture quality is damn good, but this disc contains something infinitely more intriguing and important than perhaps even the pivotal, zombie movie.

The making of feature, World’s End: The Legacy of Day of the Dead, complete with interviews with everyone you want to see interviewed in the movie save for Richard Liberty who passed on in 2000, is pure education in independent filmmaking. This is how Romero works the best. You’ll learn why you love zombie movies. Each cast or crew member is passionate about their own personal commentary on the production and impact of Day of the Dead. Each one wants this movie to be your favorite “Dead” movie (except Romero who keeps plugging Survival of the Dead). So what it’s like to shoot in a mine? See what it’s like to create more complex, full body appliances for a number of actors. See how the movie was cast and hear anecdotes about how each actor found an amazing opportunity in Day of the Dead.

There are multiple commentary tracks featuring; one features George A. Romero (the master), Tom Savini (you know who he is, right?), Lori Cardille (Sarah Bowman) and Cletus Anderson (production designer). The other commentary is from Roger Avary, the man behind Rules of Attraction and Killing Zoe and SUPER Romero fan. The behind the scenes footage from the Tom Savini is truly cool stuff. You get to see how some of the powerful effects are produced. The latex flows like Viper at a Street Trash convention. Beyond the still gallery and TV spot there’s also a promotion video for mines used in Day of the Dead as well as a feature about the mines themselves. It’s retro gold; sort of funny in a way. Especially since we know what went on down there.

The film itself is timeless. It’s the apocalypse, and it looks like the apocalypse you might see in many modern renditions of works that pull directly from Romero’s work. If you think the Walking Dead is brutal, maybe you haven’t watch Day of the Dead. What sets apart Day of the Dead from other zombie pictures is Romero’s unique blend of storytelling with social criticism built in to get you talking once the film is over. What happens when science meets military might with democracy firmly in the grave and no checks and balances? What is the struggle between man and man that, in the absence of social order, creates Brave New World like class structures? What makes an alpha dog? What’s the best way to handle the dead during a zombie invasion? The thoughts that are provoked by Day of the Dead, you don’t want to have right before bed time, but they’re important to have and to discuss.

Without Day of the Dead, zombie canon contains a hole. 28 Days Later can’t happen. Walking Dead can’t happen. You can site Dawn of the Dead as your favorite zombie film because it’s funny and accessible. It isn’t nearly as bleak as Day of the Dead and the characters are more loveable than those we find in Day of the Dead (sans Frankenstein and Bub of course who deserve hugs). Night of the Living Dead started it all, but it’s just the beginning. You don’t know what you truly have to fear from the end of times until you see Day of the Dead. You don’t know how bad it can get. Even in Romero’s subsequent pictures, you never get the same feeling of perma-dread that comes from a few hours spent with Day.

You can pick up the Scream Factory disc at DiabolikDVD or go to Scream Factory’s website, pre-order it and get the bad ass new artwork poster we have come to adore from S.F. releases. The movie streets September 17th. Just in time for October… you remember October… the calendar on the wall, in the mine… the wall with the hands that come through the it. My childhood nightmare comes alive on this gorgeous release. Pick it up while you still have a TV to watch it on.



  1. I agree, a thoroughly underrated movie in the Romero trilogy and a film that has that oppressive sense of dread. Also one of my all time favourite endings to a horror film :)

  2. Well written and thought provoking comments about the best zombie film ever made.Day of the Dead is a masterpiece! A fantastic review!