4 Mar 2010

Day Of The Dead: George Romero

"Show me a man or a woman alone and I'll show you a saint. Give me two and they'll fall in love. Give me three and they'll invent the charming thing we call 'society'. Give me four and they'll build a pyramid. Give me five and they'll make one an outcast. Give me six and they'll reinvent prejudice. Give me seven and in seven years they'll reinvent warfare. Man may have been made in the image of God, but human society was made in the image of His opposite number, and is always trying to get back home." - Stephen King, The Stand

George Romero is something of a God to horror movie nerds; even your humble reviewer has a red Day Of The Dead t-shirt he likes to dust off for special occasions (Halloween film festivals etc). Romero made his name and pretty much invented the modern zombie film with his seminal Night of The Living Dead in 1968 and ever since has occupied the loftiest of positions available to any filmmaker, particularly a horror filmmaker. Not only are his films successful, the critics seem to love them (most of them) too. Produced for a shockingly modest £114,000 budget, this tale of survivors clashing with zombies in rural Pennsylvania was initially dismissed with the sort of reviews reserved for the latest Saw film (“an unrelieved orgy of sadism” said Variety) yet in 1999 was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry as a film considered “historically, culturally or aesthetically significant” and revisionist critics have commended it as a thinly veiled critique of Vietnam and America’s domestic racism. Night would be the first of six films in Romero’s “…of the Dead” series, and this month the third instalment, Day of the Dead, makes its debut on Blu Ray DVD. The reason for this rather length preamble is that while Night is almost untouchable in the eyes of critics, and its first sequel, 1978’s Dawn of the Dead has an almost mythical status attached to it, Day is often dismissed as the weakest of the bunch. Not the case. This stunning new transfer reveals it to be arguably the boldest, bravest, and certainly the bloodiest of the series, and makes it well worth 100 minutes of your time.

Set after the events of Dawn, Day opens in a matter almost redolent of a Yeats poem (first bit of dialogue is “Nothing. Nothing at all”) and as it progresses things will only go from bad to worse. If Night is the beginning of the zombie crisis, and Dawn the effect of said crisis on contemporary society than Day is very much the aftermath as man and zombie attempt to live side by side, and the view it takes is sceptical to say the least, even downright nihilistic. As the group of 12 survivors (like Night and Dawn this is very much a one location film, only here a farmhouse or a shopping mall is now an underground bunker) increasingly face up to their grim situation and the possibility they may be the only humans left, we are subjected to terrible medical experiments on zombies and other examples of the very worst in human behaviour (if you think the scientific community comes across as bad wait until you get a load of the military.) Any film where the only genuinely sympathetic character is a zombie called Bub is not going to be for everyone. Additionally, this is a shockingly violent film. Just like the more famous Dawn, the plaudits here belong to special effects guru Tom Savini just as much as Romero (and he features prominently in the superb “Day of the Dead: Behind The Scenes” documentary which is just one of a number of wonderful special features included here, the highlight being a commentary track provided by the special effects team). Make no mistake, Day is a gory film, by far the goriest of Romero’s career, and in pristine high definition you might want to skip on the snacks when settling down to watch this. Having said that though, to dismiss it merely as mindless splatter would be to deny oneself a stunning movie experience. This is Romero’s masterpiece, a startling critique of human nature as according to his vision even in the midst of tragedy we are doomed to fight and argue amongst ourselves. This is a bleak and brutal work of art by a brilliant filmmaker, and deserves its place in any serious film fans library, or even the Library of Congress for that matter.

Matthew Kleebauer

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