I've never been a really big fan of Day of the Dead. I loved Romero's first two entries in the Dead trilogy, but there was something about this third film that bugged me, and has kept me away from it for the better part of a decade. Now, coming back to the film after such a long break between viewings, I have to admit I have a newfound appreciation for this one, but there's still a few things that keep this film from achieving the level of greatness of the first two.
A group of scientists and soldiers are holed up in an underground military base working on ways to stop the onslaught of the living dead that have overtaken the planet. The combination of casualties, lack of progress, and ol' fashioned cabin fever has worn on the nerves of everyone in the base, most notably, the trigger happy Rhodes (Pilato), whose found himself in command after a recent trip to gather specimens claimed the life of their leader. Rhodes wants results from the scientists, but they've little to offer, save for the secretive Dr. Logan (Liberty), whose reports of an impending breakthrough are all that's keeping Rhodes in check. When Logan's breakthrough is revealed in the guise of "Bub", a zombie who seems to react with somewhat human instinct after a bit of training, Rhodes is not happy. When it's revealed that Logan's been using Rhodes' fallen comrades as specimens, he's downright infuriated. Rhodes and his men force the scientists into the dead-filled underground caves at the outskirts of the base, unaware that the thousands of zombies above ground have found a way in.
As I mentioned before, it'd been quite some time since I'd last watched Day of the Dead, so I was surprised by how much my opinion of the film had changed upon this viewing. I never completely disliked the film, but I remember being bothered by the whole Bub nonsense, and that still hasn't changed. However, my memory sort of tricked me into thinking the bulk of the film dealt with Logan's work with Bub, and that's not the case at all. I still think it's a crap plot device, but it's not nearly as annoying as memory served, and I actually found myself chuckling at a couple of scenes. So, bottom line is Bub's not all bad, and since he seems to be the "icon" of this film, I guess his presence didn't bother others as much as it did me.
While Bub may have added a bit of cuddly comic relief to Day of the Dead, Romero enlisted Tom Savini to help counter warm fuzzies with copious amounts of guts and gore. The effects are quite spectacular, and, one in particular, rates as one of the most vicious bits of cinema I've ever witnessed. I've heard other critics call this an "ugly" film for this very reason, but I think it was just Romero's way of reacting to the state of violence in cinema at the time. It's probably a good thing they weren't exposed to the unrated cut back then!
Day of the Dead has been given the ultimate compliment by Anchor Bay, with an incredibly cool 2-disc set that's loaded to the gills with goodies. The film is presented in a widescreen anamorphic transfer, digitally remastered using the Divimax process, and looks absolutely stunning. This is a good thing, seeing that Divimax botched the Halloween 25th Anniversary Edition transfer, and shows that the process is every bit as effective as the better known Superbit treatment when done right. The audio is also superb, with a 6.1 DTS track, 5.1 DTS, stereo, and original mono options presented. I'm not on the cutting edge, so I had to settle for the 5.1, but it sounded fine to me!
Disc one features the film, as well as commentary tracks by Romero, Savini, production designer Cletus Anderson, and star Lori Cardille, as well as a commentary track by director Roger Avary. The group commentary is lively and informative, but Avary's is fantastic! He's an absolute Romero buff, and a storehouse of information about the series.
Disc two features a whole bunch of great stuff, including an all new documentary called The Many Days of DAY OF THE DEAD, a half-hour's worth of FX production footage entitled DAY OF THE DEAD-Behind the Scenes, an audio interview with the late Richard Liberty, trailers, television spots, stills, posters, and loads more.
I don't really comment on packaging too often unless it's something that really catches the eye, and Day of the Dead looks great. It's embossed gatefold cover features a wraparound "Bub" enclosure that seals the fold with velcro, and features extensive liner notes that are scribbled on "Dr. Logan's Notepad". It's one of the best packages yet, and shows just how much care went into the making of this wonderful set.
Day of the Dead is still the lesser of the three films, but it's very entertaining and Anchor Bay's deluxe treatment makes this one a must-own for horror fans.