FEATURE: Shocktober - Day of the Dead

Over the course of October, I shall be watching one horror movie a day and reviewing it right here for your reading pleasure. I haven't seen any of the films I'll be watching before and you can find the full list here

We've had zombies in their original voodoo form (sort of), we've had the quick, infected zombies (who aren't zombies in the strictest sense) and now we arrive at two films from the absolute daddy of the zombie genre, George A. Romero. Day of the Dead, released in 1985, follows a team of scientists attempting to study the zombies to find a way to either reverse the process or somehow make them docile and rehabilitate them into society. They're accompanied by a team of soldiers assigned to protect them, but tensions soon arise between the different ideologies and it's not long before all hell breaks loose.

Following the sublime Night of the Living Dead and the brilliant Dawn of the Dead is no mean feat and sadly, Day can't quite match up. Romero described the film as a "tragedy about how a lack of human communication causes chaos and collapse even in this small little pie slice of society" and it largely works effectively as such. It just doesn't feel quite as on point as other entries in the series. The lack of communication thread seems to be translated into a lot of shouting matches between the two teams, which feels somewhat realistic given the fraught situation, but a little repetitive on film. Some of the acting is overwrought at best and outright irritating at worst, which means Day is on rocky grounds to begin with.

Here, the zombies largely take a backseat to the ongoing machinations of the human population, interjecting only when the plot requires them to do so. In other films in the Dead series, they've represented more whether it was the racial politics or Cold War atmosphere in Night or the rampant consumerism in Dawn. There's vague links made in Day that the zombies are what we become when we lose all humanity and that communication breaks down, but it's not as solid an idea to grip on to and isn't presented as such. When the humans eventually start to turn on each other, the zombies are just there to clear up the mess rather than act as a reflection to what's going on.

Where the film is at its strongest is the sly bits of humour that so often creep into the action. Bub the zombie listening to music for the first time was a particular highlight and it's in the little moments like that that the film distinguishes itself. Richard Liberty's performance as 'Frankenstein', the doctor experimenting on the zombies, is the strongest in there, a gentle old man character with a not-so hidden darker and more hubristic side. Day must also be commended for the role of Dr Sarah Bowman, played by Lori Cardille, who isn't relegated to a damsel at any point in the film and clashes brilliantly with the brash masculinity around her.

As expected of a Romero flick, there are some wonderfully effective and gory moments that build into that sense of humour. A man's vocal chords being ripped and his scream getting increasingly higher pitched is a great touch and there's enough splatter and falling entrails to keep gore fans happy. The zombies themselves don't really register all that much aside from Bub, the zombie who is slowly learning to be human again. It's a great performance from Sherman Howard that manages to be both sympathetic and humourous at the same time.

Whilst I've criticised it a fair amount here, Day of the Dead is still an entertaining watch, even if it does feel a little flat. Tomorrow, I review Land of the Dead and I think Day suffers from me watching them so close together, because Land is a far richer thematic and entertaining viewing experience.

- Becky

You can check out the full list of Shocktober reviews so far here.

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