Day of the Dead ★★★★½

mosquitodragon’s COVIDEODROME-19
2 of 24: A film set mostly in one location.

Part of COVIDEODROME: A Quarantine Challenge

A lot has been written and said about the way Romero's original Dead trilogy satirises and critiques society, so I don't want to embark on yet another intellectual treatise. Besides being nowhere near as articulate or knowledgeable as the many who have already done so, it also feels like people don't really need to realise this about Romero any more - the secret is well and truly out.

But it is worth repeating that Day of the Dead, as well as being a thrillingly horrifying zombie flick that does all it needs to do in the entertainment department, is a hell of a smart movie. It's got a lot to say even within the confines of its narrative, and its characters have ample opportunity to give voice to that.

What happened to Romero's actors after they appeared in his early films? His idiosyncratic casting choices are well known, but the strength of the performances across the board in this film make you wonder why none of these guys really seemed to go on to much further success, in film at least. Perhaps they just don't fit the Hollywood mould enough - they don't look like models, they look like real people.

The extremely disturbing images of gore in Day of the Dead will prevent the film from ever being a mainstream household staple, but they never seem gratuitous to me. The special make-up effects stand up today as seeming of the highest possible quality - it's an outstanding work of cinematic illusionism.

But perhaps this movie's greatest legacy to the genre is its insightful leap that, in the case of a zombie apocalypse, the threat of the undead is nothing compared to the danger posed by those left alive. Danny Boyle and Alex Garland were clearly riffing on this movie in 28 Days Later (even to the extent of imitating the military angle), and then The Walking Dead turned it into the dominant paradigm - to the point where the zombies in that show almost became an irrelevance.

The tone is pretty bleak and, although it's not the most fun you'll ever have watching a zombie flick, the human story is compelling. And although this underground military base gets itchingly claustrophobic, the plot is propulsive enough to stop this feeling like too much of a drag.

Both intelligent and visceral, Day of the Dead nevertheless feels like a completely different beast from the reams of popular culture which it influenced - the imprint of Romero's directorial personality ensures that. If I was going to "educate" a horror newbie on the genre's most important and valuable films, this one would be right up there near the top of the required-watching list. I still find Night to be my personal favourite of the Dead series (I just don't think that atmosphere has ever been beaten), but I think I'd rate Day even higher than Dawn.

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