The recent passing of horror legend George A. Romero has left a major hole in the hearts of many film fans. Without Night of the Living Dead, the zombie subgenre itself would not be what it is today—arguably, his works have had the most lasting effect on curating both the style and the "rules" of how films like these behave.
While Dawn of the Dead may be more well known to modern audiences than most of Romero's works, I wanted to look at the third entry in his Dead series, being Day of the Dead, which coincidentally celebrates an anniversary on this day. Released on July 19th, 1985, the film centres around a small remaining faction of human civilization in a world run rampant with the undead.
Set mainly in an underground base, a divide emerges between military personnel, scientists, and civilians over how best to combat the dangers that exist all around them. Every character group has their own best interests out for them alongside combating the greater enemy, but it's the former element that eventually leads to chaos and ruin as the narrative moves onward.
A brawn-versus-brains scenario, sure, but one that is intensely serious in its tone. Dawn of the Dead may have been a satire on American consumerism, but Day of the Dead sheds commentary to solely provide a menacing, brutal take on being around to see the world crumble, and the visceral emotion that comes with it. Yes, hordes of zombies exist all around, but the real danger to humanity ends up being itself when pushed up against a proverbial brick wall.
Of course, it's still a zombie film above all else, and here the makeup effects are vastly superior to what artist Tom Savini had to work with when making Dawn of the Dead. The special effects are definitely where Day of the Dead excels the most, and help to accentuate its dire sensibilities, going as far to earn a Saturn Award. And while gore may not be so ever-present in the film's first two acts, it comes out blazing throughout the climax and finale, making it an unforgettable film from the director all the same.
Here Romero, was forced to work with smaller constraints than intended with regards to budget, though propelled by ambition, opted to make the film in a tighter, leaner method for the opportunity to have the film go released without a rating. A dicey move, sure, but one that works to its favour once you see the action in question.
With great characters, a compelling premise, and fantastic effects work, it's a wonder why Day of the Dead doesn't get as much attention as its elder siblings. Granted, Night of the Living Dead is one of the most successful independent, let alone horror films, ever made, and Dawn of the Dead was successful enough to inspire a major 2004 remake (quite well received on its own), but it feels like Day of the Dead often gets the short end of the stick when discussing Romero's filmography. The man himself said that it's his most favorite work, according to a documentary on the film's DVD release by Anchor Bay. It holds up on its own in spades and makes for a rollicking, adventuresome late night flick, that in itself reformatted the common tropes and templates for zombie cinema of the late 80s, 90s, and 2000s. If you consider yourself a big fan of The Walking Dead, there is a lot from that to be owed from Day of the Dead, and if you're looking for a venue to get into Romero's films, this would be a fantastic place to start.