"You want me to salute that walking bag of pus?"
When DAWN OF THE DEAD was first released, it was touted as being exactly ten years from the day of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD's release. It was also said that the next film, DAY OF THE DEAD, would be released in another decade. With the success of DAWN OF THE DEAD, George changed his tune and DAY OF THE DEAD was released only seven years later. Well, there's a large difference between marketing and art I guess.
There is also such a thing as striking while the "Iron is hot".
DAWN OF THE DEAD did an excellent job of blending humor with horror but DAY OF THE DEAD returns to its NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD roots, creating (as Sam Raimi might say) the ultimate in grueling horror. If there is one thing that Romero kept over from NIGHT and DAWN (considered by many fans to be the best of the series) it's the use of the helicopter as the mcguffin. As in DAWN, despite all else, the helicopter looms in the background as the key to salvation. The helicopter brings the promise of rescue, and only in the helicopter can we escape, can we rise - however temporarily - from the Horror below.
The helicopter delivers the rescuers. We need to get to the helicopter; we need to get back to the helicopter; he won't shoot me because I know how to fly the helicopter; we need to escape in the helicopter; This was the same general plan in DAWN and only hinted at in NIGHT.
But don't be fooled, the tempo of DAY OF THE DEAD is nothing like DAWN. In DAY OF THE DEAD, we have lost. This last small pocket of humanity may be all that remains of humans at all. No one responds to the radio, no one is found alive in the cities, and those who are left have even stopped worrying about propagating the species. Sara is the only woman, and as such has lost her value as anything more than another worker in the tiny hive.
This "hive" is an underground government storage facility located somewhere in Florida (an actual place!). All manner of food, books, and other bric-a-brac of modern culture is kept down here in the event of an all out nuclear war. Those last, pathetic remnants of humanity are expected to find these little pockets and thus restore civilization.
But the nuclear war never came. Instead something happened that no one ever seriously imagined. The dead walk the earth and feed on the living.
DAY OF THE DEAD begins, like DAWN, with a dream. A dream so horrible that Sara (Lori Cardille: TALES FROM THE DARK SIDE [TV]) wakes up to find herself in a helicopter, flying low over an abandoned city*. As she and her partner (Anthony Dileo Jr.) exit, the chopper pilot (Terry Alexander: THE HORROR SHOW) lets them know that he won't wait until the last minute. If they overshoot their alloted time to find survivors - a time based on the helicopter's fuel consumption - then they will find themselves walking back.
It is in this scene that we understand the complete route of humanity. A newspaper flaps against a post. The headline reads "THE DEAD WALK". Stop for just a moment and imagine actually seeing such a headline, for real. A world totally apart from what you have ever known. Imagine the terror of one day finding yourself in such a world.
Sara lives in such a place. She and what may be the last remnants of humanity are sequestered in this vast underground bunker, waiting for word from Washington D.C.
At the same time, they have a group of scientists led by Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty: THE CRAZIES), a man so intent on finding an answer to the problem, that he is slowly losing his mind as well as his focus on what the problem is in the first place. Richard Liberty did a masterful job of showing us a man whose mad curiosity keeps enthusiastically searching, even as his personality crumbles and his rationality implodes. The idea was to figure out what makes the dead walk and thus, find a way to make them stop.
That was the original idea anyway. But it appears that, after all this time, close living quarters, the insanity of going out to capture these creatures for study, and the inevitable deaths of the living that such forays occasionally bring, is taking its toll in the minds of all.
Tempers are naturally high and everyone is either high strung or concentrating very hard on keeping their grip.
This is the way the world ends, with a struggling pack of human animals, snapping madly at each other and trying to find the answer to their problems as the final dregs of humanity die off.
DAY OF THE DEAD is, as of this writing, the final chapter in the series. It is incredibly intense in both gore and story line and not for the average horror fan. However, if you would ever want to see how a series of Horror movies should be made, George Romero wrote the definitive book with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, DAWN OF THE DEAD, and DAY OF THE DEAD.
Five Shriek Girls all the way.
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