I've never been a really big fan of Day of the Dead. I loved Romero's first two entries in the Dead trilogy, and am more than ready to admit that this film stands head and shoulders above any of the director’s zombie output since, but there’s always been something about this third film that’s bugged me. In the time since its initial release, however, I have to admit that I’ve developed a newfound appreciation for Day of the Dead, but there are still a few things that keep this film from achieving the level of greatness of the first two films. It’s just not as inherently re-watchable as the first two films, and, while a year never goes by in which I don’t find myself revisiting Dawn of the Dead, I’ve not watch Day of the Dead since Anchor Bay released the film on Blu-ray way back in 2007!
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), who’s 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" (Howard), 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.
I’ve never completely disliked the film, but I’ve always been bothered by the whole Bub nonsense. While I still think it's a crap plot device, we’ve been so inundated with zombie entertainment over the past eight years that, with this viewing, I was surprised not to find Bub nearly as annoying as memory served. I guess that, in light of the recent “zombie all of the things” mentality of Hollywood, the thirty year old Bub actually turned out to be a breath of fresh undead air!
While Bub may have added a bit of cuddly comic relief to Day of the Dead, Tom Savini helped to counter the warm fuzzies with copious amounts of guts and gore. The effects are still 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!
Scream Factory brings Day of the Dead to Blu-ray as part of their vaunted Collector’s Edition series, but they do so in the shadow of two excellent Blu-ray releases before it, including U.K. company Arrow’s dynamite special edition release, as well as Anchor Bay’s quality 2007 offering. I’ve only the Anchor Bay version to compare to this Scream Factory release, but, right off the bat, I can tell you that, in terms of color, Scream Factory’s transfer sports warmer and more vibrant reds and pinks, resulting in blood and flesh tones. In terms of overall sharpness and clarity, I think it’s a bit of a wash, as neither version is a true standout, while the level of detail in both versions is also pretty much a draw. Sharp eyed viewers will also notice that Scream Factory presents the film in a 1.78:1 ratio as opposed to Anchor Bay’s 1.85:1 (which is the film’s native aspect ratio), resulting in an oh-so-slightly zoomed in look that may put off finicky purists but, were it not for my comparing it to the Anchor Bay disc, I wouldn’t have noticed it at all.
In terms of audio, while Anchor Bay’s release featured a forced 5.1 track, Scream Factory has opted to stick to the film’s mono mix, giving us a fine 2.0 DTS HD Master Audio mix that purists (like me) will appreciate. It’s not a sonic marvel by any means, but it suits the material quite nicely.
The real difference between Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray and Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition release lay in the extras, with the latter offering an absolute smorgasbord of quality goodies, not the least of which is an all-new, feature length retrospective entitled World's End: The Legacy of Day of the Dead (HD), which, at just under 90 minutes, offers a thorough and engrossing look at not just Day of the Dead, but Romero’s zombiverse as a whole, and, in my opinion, is reason enough for fans to buy this set. As a matter of fact, I prefer this to the feature presentation!
Other goodies include Underground: A Look at the Day of the Dead Mines (HD), a short featurette that returns to the mines in which the film was shot three decades ago!
The rest of the extras are carried over from Anchor Bay’s release, including a pair of commentary tracks; the first being a group effort that features George A. Romero, Tom Savini, production designer Cletus Anderson, and star Lori Cardille, with the second commentary track featuring writer/director Roger Avary, who, as a Romero buff, proves to be a storehouse of information about the series.
We also get a collection of behind-the-scenes material (HD) culled from the personal collection of FX guru, Tom Savini, a Wampum Mines Promotional Video (HD), and a collection of trailers, TV spots, and a stills gallery.
Overall, it’s a fairly significant haul of old and new goodies that really make a Blu-ray double-dip a much more palatable proposition!
While I still think Day of the Dead is the weakest of the series’ first three entries, it’s still heaps more enjoyable than Romero’s last three offerings, and Scream Factory’s Blu-ray presentation, while not an immense improvement over Anchor Bay’s release in terms of audio and video, offers so much by way of quality extras (especially the feature length retrospective) that fans would be remiss to deny themselves the upgrade. Definitely recommended!