The Cult Class Collection

Day of the Dead (1985)

Starring: Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, Richard Liberty, Howard Sherman

Directed by: George A Romero

Rating: 1 2 3 and a half

George A Romero's Day of the Dead

'Hello!' resourceful hard nut heroine Sarah calls down a deserted Florida street lined with drooping palm trees and abandoned cars. 'Is there anybody there?'

Ain't nobody here but us zombies.

Like its predecessor, Dawn of the Dead, George A Romero's Day of the Dead goes straight for the jugular, plunging us straight into a non-too distant future when the earth belongs to the zombies, and human beings are reduced to an embattled, threatened minority.

Dr 'Frankenstein' Logan fails to find a cure for zombie-ism in Day of the Dead

Hiding out in a World War Two bunker is an isolated community of survivors, a handful of scientists and soldiers surrounded by hundreds of thousands of baying zombies. But this isn't just a battle between the living and the dead: it's military force vs scientific hubris, army bullyboys vs the eggheads - and the complete lack of cooperation between the two sides is creating a simmering cocktail of fear, tyranny and discontent that's just waiting to blow up. The soldiers are supposed to be helping the scientists discover a cure for the terrible undead plague. But whilst they lose men left right and centre, the boffins appear to be making little headway. And when the army discover that top scientist Dr 'Frankenstein' Logan (Richard Liberty) is feeding dead soldiers to the 'specimen' zombies he's experimenting on, it's all the excuse they need to start shooting.

Stuck in the middle is serious scientist Sarah. Logical, practical and clear-thinking, she alone sees the necessity of burying individual differences to work together for a common goal. The only person willing to take responsibility for anything (well, she is the only woman on site), she's constantly smashing her head against the glass ceiling of misogyny and 'f*ck you Jack I'm all right'-ism of the crass army corps and the head in the clouds intellectual craziness of Dr Logan, who dreams of 'domesticating' and 'socialising' the undead hordes.

As Logan points out, our veneer of civilisation is all that separates us from the beasts in the wild, who, like the hapless zombies, operate by instinct alone, the atavistic urge to attack their motivating force. Yet in Day of the Dead, the brutality and inhumanity we see all comes courtesy of the human beings. Surprise surprise, we quickly discover that the trigger happy soldiers are no better than beasts. Rather more unexpected, though, is the ambiguous figure of Logan: in his blood-soaked butcher's overalls and gory latex gloves, he's part gentle father figure, part Cronenbergian/Reanimator surgeon, prepared to go to any lengths to further his hideous experiments. With both sides so thoroughly unpleasant, who are we supposed to root for? The zombie hordes?

Bub the pet zombie in George A Romero's Day of the Dead

Actually, until the final, truly nightmarish scenes, we barely see them. Instead we have Bub, Logan's pet zombie, a truly tragic figure, more like a brain-damaged adult than a monster. If you're going to root for anyone, I suggest you root for him. Oh, and watch out for his final moment of triumph - it's possibly one of the most brilliantly conceived horror scenes I've ever witnessed.

Then again, there's always bossy, self-righteous Sarah, dodgy Irish radio technician Bill (who looks like a harassed Mr Bean) or wise, laid back, voodoo dude John, who deliberately makes the decision not to act like an animal, and in so doing raises himself from the level of 'token black man' to become the de facto hero. But personally, I prefer Bub.

Filmed when the Cold War was still looking fairly frosty, Day of the Dead has a lot to say about the fragile nature of human civilisation and the very thin line that divides us from our enemies. Dark, uncompromising and forthright, this is a thought provoking film that makes its point forcefully -with a thick coating of blood and guts, of course. Hooray! Just a shame we had to wait twenty years for Land of the Dead...

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