Day of the Dead ★★★★★

I don't think I've seen the first two Dead films since I was a late teenager, so I'll hold off on making this a definitive statement, but for the moment, DAY may be my favorite of the initial trilogy. More than the others, it epitomizes the popular reading of Romero's zombie films, that of the true danger being not the undead horde but the cracking sociality and sanity of the remaining humans. If NIGHT can be oversimplified into a Vietnam and Civil Rights comment and DAWN can somewhat more accurately be boiled down to a spoof on consumer culture (though that still short-changes it), DAY focuses on things that cannot be boiled down to one or two ideas. It dabbles in scientific ethics, empathy and the various issues and rifts that can tear apart a group under duress.

For all the fantastic zombie effects, I found that the most bracing scenes were the ones of the white soldiers grousing about the lone woman among them dating a Hispanic, and I feared her having to sleep around these men far more unsettling than her facing zombies. The racism and misogyny that regularly comes to a head as the survivors attempt to rationalize who among them deserves to live most foregrounds group dynamics in a sickening way, and what's even scarier is how Romero lets you empathize at least the core of the soldiers' point, if not the grotesque prism through which they refract it. The medical experiments that place them in danger and also turn them into test animals themselves (if not outright chum) hardly seem worth their lives, and it's hard to feel bad for one doctor who pisses them off just a bit too much. It's obvious who you root for in this movie, yet there are no real heroes, only those a bit more hospitable in their attempt to stay alive than others.