Day Of The Dead (Collector’s Edition)
Released by: Shout! Factory
Released on: September 17, 2013.
Director: George A. Romero
Cast: Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, Joseph Pilato, Richard Liberty
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George Romero's third zombie film, 1985's Day Of The Dead, may not be regarded in the same light as perennial favorites Night Of The Living Dead and Dawn Of The Dead but it's definitely got its fan base, and there are plenty of us around who consider it to be a better picture than the two that came before it. When the film begins, the living dead have more or less taken over. The cities are empty and what's left of mankind, at least in the small geographic area that the film focuses on, have gone underground. Literally.
A group of survivors, made up of civilian scientist types such as Sarah (Lori Cardille), Logan (Richard Liberty) and John (Terry Alexander) and military types alike, live their lives as best they can while a scientist experiments on a captured zombie named Bub (Howard Sherman), who might actually be showing signs of intelligence. The scientists begin to lose faith in the military, led by Captain Rhodes (Joe Pilato), who in turn begins to wonder what they scientists are actually up to, and tensions rise while the hordes of zombies above ground begin to encroach around them.
Touted as ‘The Darkest Day Of Horror The World Has Ever Known.' Romero's third go round in the world of the living dead is a grim and depressing film, which in many ways makes it more believable than the two that came before it. His knack for working social commentary and politics into his storytelling works very well here, as the commentary is considerably more subtle than it was in Dawn, and spends less time playing with themes of race relations than Night, instead focusing on the relationship between the military and scientific communities.
Romero once again gives us an interesting female character that is able to show strength and intelligence in a male dominated world. Lori Cardille makes for a sympathetic and likeable Sarah, doing her best to stay calm under dire circumstances while Pilato's Rhodes slowly starts to go more and more off his rocker. The bunker makes for a great setting for Romero's apocalyptic storyline to play out against, as the location (he shot the film in an unused mine) really helps build some tense and claustrophobic atmosphere. One top of that, the gore effects here are not only more plentiful than what he and his crew had created before but also considerably more realistic. The zombie make up is also improved over Dawn Of The Dead's ‘blue faced' shuffling hordes, somehow managing to make the zombies seem like a more realistic threat in this film.
The film isn't perfect - the subplot with Bub isn't exploited as fully as it could have been and while the interaction between he and Dr. Logan is interesting, it doesn't wind up adding all that much to the central plot. It almost seems like there should have been more done with these two characters, but generally the plot stays on target and while the cover can often seem the most important part of the picture (it really is considerably stronger than the two prior films), Day Of The Dead ends the first run of Romero's zombie films on an appropriately dark, bleak and dreary note. It's well acted, it's very well edited and Romero's background in industrial film making seems to have somehow managed to let him get the most out of his sets and ideas here. It's a film that is much easier to take seriously than Dawn Of The Dead and one which improves upon some of Night Of The Living Dead's rough edges to create a legitimate horror film, one which sticks with you and manages to make you think while at the same time getting under your skin.
Scream Factory presents Day Of The Dead in a new AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.78.1 widescreen. If you’ve seen this movie before, you know it isn’t the most colorful film ever made. It’s heavy on grey and black and brown (which makes sense given that most of it takes place underground) so you can’t really expect the colors to pop the way that they might on another movie. With that said, brighter hues, when used, do look good – the greens of a plant leaf or the red blood in the various gore scenes all stand out. Some shots look a bit softer than others but this would seem to stem back to the way that the movie was shot. Skin tones look like skin tones and detail is better than it has been on previous releases. The transfer shows no evidence of overzealous edge enhancement nor do there appear to be any noise reduction issues. Film grain is evident throughout playback and aside from some minor specks here and there, the picture is pretty clean and free of damage.
The only audio option on the disc is a DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track, in English, with optional subtitles provided in English only. The audio sounds a little thin in spots, when voices get loud you might pick up on some mild distortion, but overall the mix is clean. Effects sound good considering the age and origins of the movie, they’re not going to knock you to the back of the room but they get the job done. The score is balanced nicely and while some may lament the absence of a surround remix, you can’t really fault Shout! Factory for sticking to the original Mono. This feels true to the movie.
The extras on the disc are plentiful, beginning with an audio commentary track courtesy of Writer/Director George A. Romero, Special Make-Up Effects Artist Tom Savini, Production Designer Cletus Anderson and Actress Lori Cardille. This is a pretty comprehensive talk that covers the making of the movie from both in front of and behind the camera. It covers shooting locations, problems that arose during production, effects work, scripting the movie and pretty much everything else you could think of. The disc also contains a second audio commentary from filmmaker/Pulp Fiction scribe, Roger Avary, an obvious fan of the film. He delivers his thoughts as the movie plays out, offering some scene specific information on the history of the movie and offering up his take on what makes the movie work as well as it does. Both of these tracks previously appeared on the Anchor Bay DVD and Blu-ray releases but they’re good tracks and their inclusion here is important.
Complimenting that nicely is an excellent ninety minute long feature length documentary entitled World’s End: The Legacy Of Day Of The Dead. This is comprised primarily of interviews with pretty much everyone involved in the movie who is still around – from George Romero to cast members Lori Cardille, Joseph Pilato, John Amplas, Gary Klar, Terry Alexander, Anthony DiLeo, Howard Sherman, Debra Gordon, Mark Tierno and Phillip Kellam to crew members like Tom Savini, Pasquale Buba, Michael Gornick, John Harrison, Bruce Alan Miller, Dean Gates, John Vulich and Everett Burrell. With so many people involved in the making of the movie interviewed here, we wind up with what is basically the definitive ‘making of’ piece for Day Of The Dead. Sure, it does cover some of the same ground as the commentary track, by default it sort of has to, but it really is a well put together and ridiculously thorough piece. The cast discuss their characters, working with Romero, and their thoughts on the movie, Romero himself talks up the specifics of making the picture and where he was going with this project. Savini, of course, covers the effects as do a few of the other technical types involved and there’s some great discussion of what it was like shooting in the mine location and some of the difficulties that entailed. This really is a ‘warts and all’ discussion of the movie, an honest talk about what went into putting together one of the finest movies to tackle the subject of zombies that covers both the good and the bad. This featurette alone will be reason enough for most fans to want to own this release.
Underground: A look At The Day Of The Dead Mines is a seven minute segment in which a mine technician named Skip Docchio offers up some history of the location before our tour guide, Ed Demko of Cult Magazine, shows us around. Location featurette fans will appreciate this and its always interesting to see something as identifiable as this in its natural context. Also carried over from the Anchor Bay release is Behind The Scenes: 31 Minutes Of Production Footage From Special Make-Up Effects Artist Tom Savini. This is just what it sounds like – footage that Savini shot on set during the production. There’s a fair bit of emphasis here on the effects work, which makes sense given Savini’s involvement, but it’s cool to see. The fifteen minute Audio Interview With Actor Richard Liberty that graced past releases is found here as well. He passed away shortly after the interview was conducted but here he talks about his experiences working the movie, the film’s director and his co-stars.
Rounding out the extras is the eight minute vintage Wampum Mine Promotional Video originally created as a business development tool for the mine used as the movie’s primary location, some generous still galleries (Behind The Scenes, Locations, Posters And Lobby Cards and Miscellaneous), four theatrical trailers, three TV spots, animated menus and chapter selection. This release also features reversible cover art with the new illustrated cover on one side and the theatrical poster on the opposite side. The keep fits inside a slipcover featuring the illustrated artwork on the front.
The Final Word:
Day Of The Dead is bleak, it’s uncompromising and it’s almost relentlessly grim – these qualities make it the most intense of Romero’s original ‘Dead Trilogy’ and it stands as one of the best zombie movies ever made. Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray release improves on the past release from Anchor Bay by offering up a better transfer and a great selection of extras. All in all, a very strong release from a movie that is completely deserving of it.
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