This, the third instalment of George A. Romero's "Dead Trilogy", picks up sometime after the conclusion of "Dawn Of The Dead". The walking dead have now completely overrun the human population of the planet (by four-hundred-thousand to one we're told at one point). A small group of scientists are holed up in a missile silo and, aided by a ragged band of military personnel, are desperately working on understanding the mechanisms by which the catastrophe has occurred in order to develop a method of getting back on top of the situation. Unfortunately, there is not exactly a harmonious working relationship between the two groups; members of both are going more than a little crazy from the danger and stress of the situation. The unruly military men, lead by the unhinged Rhodes (Joe Pilate) are less and less willing to put their lives at risk in order to capture specimens for the obsessed scientist Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty), who's macabre experiments are aimed at conditioning the zombies into suppressing their flesh-eating instincts. When Rhodes discovers that Logan has been feeding the remains of his fallen comrades to his star zombie "pupil" Bub (Howard Sherman), they murder him, and leave the rest of the scientific team to the zombie hordes who populate the mines beneath the missile silo. But the zombie masses outside have already invaded the base and this last bastion of "civilisation" looks like being overrun...
With this film, Romero relates the final death-throws of society as we know it and then takes a long sober look at what of it, if anything, would be worth fighting to preserve. As is usual with Romero's films, it's not obvious which point of view the director himself favours: he simply presents the opinions most salient in contemporary culture at the time, and lets them butt up against each other in close confines (in the first film it was a barricaded farmhouse, the second a deserted shopping mall, and here it's an underground missile silo). Romero's only constant message throughout the whole trilogy seems to be the one expressed by the film's stoic helicopter pilot: "people have different ideas about what they want out of life" -- and it is this central idea that always means humans, at least in all of Romero's zombie features, can never pull together in the face of adversity until the odds against them are so overwhelming that it simply doesn't matter anymore!
These "different ideas" are represented by several key characters in the film. The main one being Sarah (Lori Cardille) who is played ostensibly as a strong female in the mould of Ripley from the Alien series (she looks a bit like Carrie Fisher circa "The Empire Strikes Back"); but it soon transpires that she is suppressing the terror that is already beginning to unhinge many of the other inhabitants of the base and occasionally makes it's self known by way of her horrific nightmares. She is part of the scientific team that are trying to find an answer to the zombie problem, and it is suggested that her motivation is the preservation of civilisation: if the zombies can be understood, then perhaps they can be controlled, and humans will eventually be able to rebuild society. The chief scientific investigator Dr. Logan, on the other hand, is more interested in knowledge for knowledge sake, regardless of it's usefulness. The rest of the characters, including the other scientists, all refer to him as Frankenstein, which succinctly encapsulates a common feeling to this, the purest form of the scientific spirit -- divorced as it is from any form of sentiment -- as well as the challenge to conventional morality this kind of research invariably generates. It's typical Romero irony that rather than create new life or anything of that sort, Logan's horrific and undignified treatment of his experimental subjects leads to the discovery that some kernel of humanity actually still exists in the zombie mind, locked away inside their most basic brain functions. Just to drive home the Frankenstein message though, Logan's star pupil "Bub" is made to look very much like Karloff's version of Frankenstein's monster with his pale green skin and shuffling gate; and the scene where a form of sentience begins to dawn on him reminds one of a similar one from "The Bride Of Frankenstein". The hostility Logan receives from the military personnal is easy to understand, seeing as he has been feeding their dead to his "pet" zombie -- but the most articulate opposition to the scientists comes from the Jamaican helicopter pilot who suggests that it is not worth trying to rebuild civilisation, and they should all just fly off to an island somewhere! The search for knowledge is a futile remnant of a failed society and the zombie plague a punishment for trying to understand too much of the creator's plan according to this world view. But the helicopter pilot seems to be one of the most sympathetic characters in the film, and it is his idea that wins the day when the base is eventually overrun with zombies.
"Day Of The Dead" has aged rather well since the mid-eighties; true — the synth score by John Harrison does veer disturbingly close to sounding like a Tears For Fears backing track on occasion, but mostly it recalls the more commercial moments from Goblin's revered soundtrack for "Dawn Of The Dead" which is no bad thing. The gore level is quite high, with some very memorable scenes of bloodletting curtesy of Tom Savini — the most extreme of which concerns a character getting torn in half by a mob of zombies! The one negative point is that sometimes the pacing is rather uncertain, with very long, talky, interludes interrupting the flow of the film. The end is not entirely satisfying — it still feels like we need a fourth film from Romero to bring his extended metaphor up to date. Hopefully, that wont be too far off now!
This region 0 DVD from Arrow contains a re-mastered widescreen transfer that looks a little too dark and is quite grainy but is otherwise ok -- it probably can't compete with last years Anchor Bay Divimax edition though. Extras include a behind the scenes featurette, biographies of Tom Savini and George Romero, a photogallery and trailers for "Night Of The Living Dead" and "Dawn Of The Dead".