After waiting for what seems like forever, Scream Factory has finally unleashed their Collector’s Edition of George A. Romero’s Day Of The Dead. After having a joygasm from Anchor Bay’s old SE release ten years ago (yes, I’m one of those beloved “trolls” that Romero lovingly calls fans of this movie), I was stoked with the notion of seeing Romero’s underappreciated gem in high definition with a brand new transfer, complete with some new goodies. How good is it? Let’s chow down.
After the events of Dawn Of The Dead, zombies have pretty much overrun the US coast. Tensions are high between a scientific-military partnership formed to study and combat the disease. Sarah works alongside Dr. “Frankenstein” Logan and Dr. Fisher in hopes of curing the disease that causes the walking dead, while nutbar Captain Rhodes and his equally-deranged unit get closer to abandoning the group in their underground facility. Caught in the middle of the two groups are helicopter pilots John and McDermott, trying to stay out of the way. Tensions start to ramp up even more once it comes to light Dr. Logan’s work shifting towards zombie domestication and his prize specimen, Bub.
I admit that when I first saw Day Of The Dead all those years ago, I wasn’t immediately drawn to it as I was with Dawn Of The Dead. Then again, a lot of people were like that. Today though, I consider it one of Romero’s best efforts. It doesn’t surpass Dawn Of The Dead, but it’s still something that many people come back to, especially now. Whereas Dawn was a commentary on consumerism, Day is a commentary on humanity and values, and nowhere is this better represented in the conflict between the scientists and the army. It makes for a great story, even now.
Acting wise, the three major players are Richard Liberty, Joe Pilato and Sherman Howard. Liberty is amazing to see as Dr. Logan, putting love into the role and it shows, as Logan is completely immersed in the science of zombies as well as his pet project to domesticate them. Taking on the father role, it’s completely out of left field for him to be doing this with dead bodies, but it works! On the other side of the coin is Joe Pilato as Capt. Rhodes. Man, if there was ever an award for Biggest Dickhead in a Horror Film, he’d win it, hands down. It also helps that Rhodes is practically insane and played so over-the-top by Pilato. I love the stuff he spits out. Classic. Then there’s Bub. Before Fido, before Warm Bodies, there was this guy. Howard manages to convey a childlike personality and emotions without even speaking words. The scene with Bub and Dr. Logan interacting with each other is amazing to see.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a George Romero zombie movie without Tom Savini doing what he does best. And man, what’s here is bloody goodness. As mentioned in the documentaries (new and old) for the film, this is probably considered the height of Savini’s genius. Be it the Dr. Tongue zombie briefly seen at the start of the film, the exposed brainstem in Logan’s lab, the shovel gag and more, Savini wows and repulses with his craft. It’s especially unnerving when you find out about a certain scene where the guts used had, shall we say, “gone off”, and they were used anyways. It makes the scene more disturbing. Even today some of the effects still get me wincing. It’s all about that screaming that gets progressively higher as the guy’s head gets ripped off…
The film does have it’s flaws, some of which caused people to dismiss the film when it was released. First off, the film is bleak. It’s not the fun time that was had in Dawn Of The Dead, or the isolated incident in Night Of The Living Dead. It’s down in an underground mining facility while the rest of the world up above is crawling with zombies. It doesn’t make things any better when you boil the military characters down and you realize that they’re all one-note cutouts. Yeah, outside of our main protagonists, the antagonists aren’t given much in terms of development (save for Rhodes). The other thing is that the film feels smaller in scale when compared to Dawn. Mainly it’s due to the budget, but Romero still makes the best of it, which is still great.
While Day Of The Dead isn’t as revered as the previous film, it still holds up well, and delivers the entertainment and gore that we’ve come to know Romero’s zombie films. While it’s not flawless, there’s still more than enough here that the film is a worthy conclusion to Romero’s first trilogy. If you’re one of the people who years ago swore off Day after initially seeing it, you owe it to yourself to watch it again and see just how good it is.
Scream Factory presents Day Of The Dead in a brand new 1.78:1 1080p AVC transfer. Looking back, the old Anchor Bay transfer was good at the time, but was drab and lacked texture. Luckily, the new transfer improves on the old Anchor Bay disc immensely. Colours pop and there’s a healthy grain in the picture that had been wiped away in the old release. Unfortunately, there’s still not any improvement in fine details, but that’s more in line with the film’s low budget. But by far, this is the best that the film has ever looked on home video.
Some fans were displeased with Anchor Bay’s SE disc and it’s audio. Anchor Bay had used an alternate audio track, omitting some profanities and shortened a gunshot. It wasn’t noticeable for me, but some fans were miffed. Luckily, Scream Factory remedies it with a new DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono track, which retains all of the original sound effects and dialogue. John Harrison’s Caribbean-infused score comes through loud and clear, as do the moans and screams. Surrounds are adequate, given the monaural track, but overall matches the video in quality.
Fortunately, most of the extras from Anchor Bay’s SE disc have been ported over, starting with the two Audio Commentaries. The first features director George Romero, Tom Savini, actress Lori Cardille and production designer Cletus Anderson. The group spend their time catching up and talking about the fun times had on the set, what it was like working in the mines, the movie’s reception and other goodies. The second commentary has Roger Avary, a fan of Romero’s work. His enthusiasm is well-noted, but at times it feels like he struggles with things to say, and some of the anecdotes he uses fall flat. It’s like having a friend come over and talk about their favorite film while you’re watching it. Still an interesting track to listen to.
Also ported over is Behind The Scenes Footage from Tom Savini’s archives. This was shot on handheld, and features Savini working on effects and makeup, including applying Sherman Howard’s makeup for Bub, and the infamous rotten guts scene with Pilato. I love these types of extras, since it gives you insight into how stuff was pulled off, as well as the amount of skill and effort that goes into it all.
Rounding things up for the old extras are the Promotional Video for the Wampum Mine, the Photo Galleries and the collection of Trailers and TV Spots. The unfortunate part is what’s missing: the audio interview with Richard Liberty (the last interview he conducted before he passed away in 2000) and Anchor Bay’s own documentary, The Many Days Of Day Of The Dead. Fans should hold onto their old DVD sets for those extras.
Now for the new stuff, starting with a massive documentary by Scream Factory and Red Shirt Pictures Productions entitled The World’s End: The Legacy Of Day Of The Dead. Clocking in at over 85 minutes, this new documentary improves and expands upon the now decade-old documentary by Anchor Bay, and covers everything from the beginnings of the production, to casting, makeup effects, music and the film’s reception. New participants are abound, with Anthony Dileo Jr., Terry Alexander, Gary Howard Klar, John Amplas, Michael Gornick, John Harrison and others joining in. Unfortunately, Jarlath Conroy (who played McDermott) isn’t here, nor is Greg Nicotero. Neither is Chris Romero, for that matter (though I think for obvious reasons). Nevertheless, chock full of new stories as well as a few old ones, the documentary at times feels a tad long, but it’s still great to have all this in one place.
The other new extra is Underground: A Look at the Day Of The Dead Mines. Featuring Cult Magazine writer Ed Demko on location in the Wampum Mines (though it initially looked like he was standing in front of a green screen), talking about what’s changed in the almost thirty years since the filming took place. Also interviewed is “facility tech” Skip Docchio, who tells a funny story about watching the production when it was going on and getting singled out for his use of the radio. Not as interesting as the main documentary, but still interesting.
Lastly, Scream Factory has done it’s usual and given us brand cover art for the Blu-Ray, featuring the work of Nathan Thomas Milliner, which is also duplicated on the slipcover. The cover art is reversible, giving us the original onesheet for Day Of The Dead on the other side.
Overall, Scream Factory has done it again in terms of serving up a great package with some excellent extras. Definitely a must-have!