Day of the Dead(1985)
DIR: George A. Romero
Starring: Sarah Cardille, Terry Alexander, Joe Pilato, Richard Liberty, Jarleth Conroy, Antone DiLeo, Jr., Howard Sherman
Warnings: This review has been marked adult because of the amount of grue in the screen caps - not 70's era grue either - this stuff is really well done, by which I mean nauseating. If you have a special sensitivity to guts, you may want to not click the link (Wait, that's me! Why the hell do I watch these things - it only gives me zombie nightmares! Damn you Romero/Savini combo!)
Also - review is cap laden, and ergo dial ups may want to avoid clicking the link.
Spoilers, naturally, apply. I know I sometimes forget to include that, but it's always so.
Let's see - anything else... I don't think so, click away with your bad self.
Scene 01: A woman is sitting in an empty room, against a cement block wall. Her knees and drawn up and she has her head hanging, her arms resting on her knees. She suddenly lifts her head, gazing across the length of the room. Her focus is on the only object in the whole room - a calendar with a photo of a pumpkin harvest in the field. She looks wistful at it.
As she walks toward it, seemingly in a semi-daze, we see that the calendar is full of red X-marks crossing out the days. She smiles ever so slightly to herself, as she raises her hand. Her fingertips stroke over the pumpkin-photo and we see that there are people in the photo, pumpkin picking.
With a start (I jump every single time) hands burst out of the wall at her!
Commentary: There is so much right with this opening scene. Immediately, we feel claustrophobic because of the smallness and emptiness of the room. There is literally nothing in there but the overhead lights, the woman, and the calendar. Not only this, but in such a short, dialog-free scene, we also know that a lot of time has passed - enough to make her wistful over a calendar photo....
The only thing I'll complain about here is the music for the opening menu screen (which presumably we'll be hearing again) and this opening scene 'boop-be-boop' motif. Like with my review of "Dawn of the Dead", I often find the music incongruous and working against the tone of the scene being established.
Scene 02: The woman snaps awake, to the sound of helicoptor blades. Sitting next to her is a bearded man, praying over a cross/Jesus necklace he has grasped tightly in his hands, along with what appears to be a pair of dog tags. He's dressed as military, while the woman is in civilan clothes.
In the front of the coptor, which is hovering over a Florida city, another bearded guy in civilian clothes reports that there isn't anything moving below. She orders the coptor to set down so they can use the bullhorn to call for any survivors. The pilot, a black gentleman in civilian clothes is very clearly not liking this plan.
The pilot is John, and he agrees reluctantly to set the bird down, but he also warns that he's not getting out of the coptor and the engine is going to stay running. If they run into a problem, he'll leave anyone not onboard behind.
With the coptor on the ground, the co-pilot calls on the radio for any survivors tuned in. The military man accompanies Sarah a distance away from the coptor, so they can call for anyone still alive over the noise of the blades.
Scene 03: As military guy calls over the bullhorn and Sarah keeps an eye out, we receive scenes of utter desolation and abandonment....
A newspaper blows by, and we see the headline, "The Dead Walk". It isn't long before we see a shadow, followed by our first undead. Drawn by the human voices, the unliving begin to come out and wander down the street.
Commentary: Which brings up a point that I don't think anyone ever actually addresses - logically, someplace with temperature extremes would be the ideal place to hold out in the case of a zombie plague. It is never stated just what is keeping the living dead from rotting apart and collapsing in a heap considering the humidity and heat in Florida. We'll just have to assure ourselves that there is some sort of scientific reason that the undead are able to hold onto their physical intergrity and keep their muscles working even after prolonged exposure to the elements without fuel (the dead we see are LONG dead - and an alligator in the scene isn't molested for its meat).
In the coptor, the pilots can hear the wailing of the dead wanting. As the first animated are spotted, the military guy takes off at a dead run for the helicoptor, while Sarah continues to search in vain for any signs of actual human life.
Scene 04: We switch to a POV from the coptor racing over the trees and waterways of the (presumably) Everglades. As the chopper is heading for base, we see the army guys going about their business there. One is tending a garden of pot plants. Another is looking through a girly-mag.
Commentary: Again, these scenes give us volumes about what has happened here that we're going to see much more explicitly later... clearly military discipline isn't high on the list of priorities, nor is the drug laws of the land. The pot-tender is also walking around with his shirt covering his head and his camo-pants pulled up to his knees so attitudes in this refuge have gotten very lax.
The coptor lands and a pan shot shows us that the undead are right outside of the compounds gates, meaning that our squad is not only cut off from everyone else, but are under constant threat that the zombies will get in at any time. The pilot wants the coptor to be refueled, but Sarah overrules him. She's concerned that the zombies are getting 'riled up' because they can see them. She orders everyone into the building and they can refuel after dark when they're not so visible. She is clearly in charge outside the base. The soldier who accompanied them is Miguel.
She tells Miguel they need to get below, but we get the sense here that his psychological health is at risk - he just sits in the coptor, clinging to his cross and dog tags and trying not to cry. He's also pretty bitter toward her for being "stronger than everybody else" and resents and rebuffs her offers of help.
Sarah notes a fresh grave and girly-mag soldier informs her a major died while they were gone. John notes they're down to twelve.
John and Sarah clash a little over staying in the underground bunker instead of loading up the coptor and heading for an abandoned island to wait for the end. As he points out, there are hundreds of zombies gathered right outside their warren, millions world wide. What they're doing in the base, what they're doing trying to locate any other survivors is pointless.
Commentary: I like John, because I'm mostly on his side. Sarah's forays into the cities trying to locate survivors is an empty gesture at best and an inexcusable waste of resources at worst. In the weeks, even months after the pandemic, you could forgive her for wanting to continue the search for survivors, but there comes a time (in my view) when you have to give it up - and they seem to be well past that point.
Scene 05: Riding a platform elevator leads them all down to a dark, dank bunker network of tunnels. Two more soldiers who will be referred to as Asshole and Little Shit tell Miguel to hop onboard the cart they're driving. They mention getting two more subjects for someone named Logan. Sarah tries to look out for Miguel, but Asshole points out they don't have anybody else to help them out. She jumps on, angry at John and co-pilot (who is the mechanic and radio operator, actually) very obviously refuse to help out with anything outside their assigned jobs. Miguel resents her for it, and tells them he's fine and ready.
Scene 06: The cart pulls up to a large cavern that has been penned off. Asshole and Little Shit whoop and hollar. Asshole climbs up on top of the pen, after plugging in a search lamp to give them adequate light to work by. In the pen, as you could guess, are zombies. Sarah complains to Little Shit that the charts they're supposed to fill out aren't up to date and he tells her they forget to write down when they pull subjects once in a while.
She throws a minor fit over this, complaining that they can't keep track of how many subjects they have left if the paperwork isn't kept accurate.
Commentary: You know, I sort of see her point, but I can also see the soldier's points of view. All of this must appear to make less and less sense as the weeks tick by. I'd probably just want to sit around and relax until everything finally ends too, after a while. Sarah doesn't help anything either by being so damned bossy and humorlessly anal-retentive about everything. Which also leads me to just insert here that the only two I can stand out of the whole cast is John, the pilot and his sidekick the mechanic. These people are so unlikeable and it only gets worse....
Asshole screams from the top of the barrier to draw the zombies toward the noise. Little Shit jokingly tells Sarah that he thinks they're afraid because they know what's going to happen to them. She doesn't find it very funny - as she thinks that the undead may actually be learning. That thought is not comforting.
Asshole shows his assholishness here, as he grabs his groin to offer to the zombies - but he stares at Sarah and tells her it's the "biggest piece of meat in the cave" lewdly.
Commentary: This exchange actually puts her behavior in a new light for me, too. She's the only woman, surrounded by 'macho men' who've lost their sense of military discipline. It makes sense that she would go out of her way to make sure that the rest of them not only see her as the one in charge, but also just 'one of the guys, doing guy's work". We still don't know how long they've been trapped with one another but it is more than obvious that Miguel isn't the only one who's suffering psychological/emotional effects from their prolonged exposure to the stress and isolation they're experiencing. I also say here that Little Shit really follows Asshole's lead too closely and seems to have a real focus on talking about Asshole's possibly large dick. I'm just sayin'. We also get a direct statement that Miguel and Sarah are involved which again explains why she is so concerned with his being so on the edge. And, why he resents her trying to 'take care of him' in front of the others. The whole situation in this group strikes me as dangerously unstable.
Using collared loops, they capture the zombies for Dr. Logan. Miguel has the pole attached to a female zombie, who has been transferred out of the pen, to make room for the second. He loses the pole, putting Sarah and Little Shit at risk, but she's able to grab the fallen pole and keep the zombie away from them. In the meantime, Asshole grabs Miguel and pushes him so that his hair is dangling just out of reach of the second zombie and screams in his face for almost getting Little Shit killed. Sarah shouts back that he shouldn't have been up there in the first place, because he's been up over 24-hours and is crashing.
When Asshole doesn't stop threatening Miguel with execution by zombie, Sarah pulls up her submachine gun and threatens to kill him if he doesn't let Miguel loose. Asshole complies, but spits in Miguel's face and throws him off of the pen. Sarah looks briefly away before staring at Miguel with something in between disgust and worry.
Scene 07: Later in the lab, Asshole and Little Shit has gotten the two subjects chained to a wall for the doctor....
Scene 08: Elsewhere, Sarah fills a syringe. Miguel grabs it out of her hands and smashes it against the wall, telling her he's not going to be drugged up. We can see that the calendar from her dream is on the wall and this is probably their room. Sarah insists that he needs to be sedated and that he's acting too erratically for safety. He disagrees about needing anyone's help.
He is on the verge of a breakdown, but takes this opportunity to blame his inability to function on her for making him "feel like a piece of shit" back at the pen. He warns her to stay away from him with her needle, and then follows that up with two hard slaps to her face.
Miguel grabs her and holds on, sobbing. She takes the moment and injects him, which does nothing to make him feel any better toward her. He calls her a bitch for this betrayal, and she sadly leaves the room and him.
Scene 09: In what passes for a mess hall, a scientist named Fisher is complaining to the base commander about the lack of sterile conditions for their work. Rhodes is less than sympathetic toward all of the scientists. As they argue, Sarah comes in.
Sarah interrupts to tell them all that they need each other, and they need to stop fighting, but Rhodes informs her that he's not so sure. He tells both of the scientists that they need them for protection, but he's not sure that they're providing anything of value, especially since all of their tests have apparently yielding nothing useful. He complains that he doesn't even know what they're doing in the lab.
Commentary: Some of the oldest cliches in the book are a) conflict to pad out the script and b) science vs. military. It goes all the way back to the '50s B-Movie cycle at least and I find myself disappointed that it's used here so repeatively and heavy-handedly. The military in this film is so negative and on the verge of violence all of the time, that it is really hard to understand how there hasn't been a coup, yet, against them if for no other reason than the scientists' self-preservation. All of the military men come across as borderline psycho, making me wonder how they ever maintained unit cohesion in the first place.
Scene 10: After the scientists depart, Fisher points out to Sarah how seriously in trouble they could be with Rhodes in charge. He warns her about being the only woman in the base, but she remains stubbornly blind to her very real danger, despite Rhodes all but telling her that maybe it's time for someone else to have some companionship instead of just Miguel.
Scene 11: Over a voiceover of some sciency-stuff, a door opens in a darkened room with cave rock walls. Sarah walks in, reluctantly. Within is a juri-rig laboratory with blood-soaked sheets draped over some bodies. Standing in the middle of this gruesome tableau is "Dr. Frankenstein" - Logan. He's dictating notes to himself and staring at X-Ray.
Sarah stands staring at this scene until she gets a jump-scare by a zombie behind her. This is 'Bub', probably the most recognized and loved zombie in the "Dead" trilogy. He's chained to the wall and Sarah is just out of reach.
Dr. Logan calls excitedly to Sarah about a breakthrough that he has made. He walks over to a zombie, spread open at the thorasic cavity, strapped down to a gurney. The undead remains animated. Dr. Logan shares that everything is being driven by the brain of the undead (well, yeah - same for us - but...). The difference between them and every other animal life form, is that they don't require blood flow or any internal organs to continue functioning.
Teasing the zombie with a hand, Dr. Logan excitedly tells Sarah that it still wants food, but it has no stomach - he's removed it with the other organs. It's being driven completely by instinct to seek out something it has no use for - food - his flesh.
He further expounds on the decomposition of the zombie brain, sharing that the central node of our brains - that which we inherited from the reptiles - is the last thing to degrade.
Commentary: What he doesn't explain is, why it takes so, so long for this bit of driving brain to decompose enough to stop them. Also, these 'test zombies' are some pretty great special effects.
At another table, he shows her a zombie that he's removed all facial features and skull from, leaving nothing but the brain and stem. He's removed the instinctual driving part of the brain. Using electrical current to the other portions of the brain, he's able to command its limbs to move, but he tells her that it is completely inoffensive without the portion of brain, he's removed.
Commentary: Yes, the whole scene states in an indirect way that this zombie is still "alive". One can only hope that the pain receptors of the walking dead are non-functional.
We get to Logan's point and his cause for excitement. He believes that the zombies can be domesticated and "taught to behave", as long as they destroy - surgically - that node of the brain. Sarah complains that all it took was advanced surgical skills by a specialist to perform this 'miracle' and tells him that this line of research was supposed to have been ended so they could focus resources on a more practical means of eliminating the danger.
Sarah is on a rant now, complaining that Dr. Logan has wasted time by looking for WHAT is happening in the zombies, instead of WHY it is happening. She also complains about the number of specimens he's racing through as every time they run low of numbers, they have to go out and corral them up "in the wild" (It is never explained just how they do this - nets? But I wonder if that is how the Major bought it....). She's agitated at him.
Commentary: I sort of have to take exception to Sarah's reasoning here. I think it stems because she's been exposed to the military's exposure, where I get the distinct impression the military men avoid Dr. Logan's labspace as much as is possible, so he hasn't been. But, to understand why something is happening, don't you NEED to confirm what is happening exactly?
Sarah brings up the hostility of the soldier contingent to their work, but Dr. Logan assures her that he'll explain his results to them. He tells her that learning how to learn to condition them is their only hope. Sarah is almost ready to give in on his argument, when she sees a uniform - COOPER - the dead Major. She realizes with a start that he is the 'dead' on the gurney with no face! He wasn't destroyed and buried at all! Dr. Logan looks guilty.
Dr. Logan explains he needed Cooper's fresh remains for his research. Sarah is appalled - and afraid - she tries to make him understand what will happen if the other soldiers learn that he's performed experiments on their commanding officer. She's seen how on edge they are after all, and they have the guns.
Their argument about necessity vs. risk is interrupted by the split down the middle zombie breaking one of the restraints tethering him to his gurney. He half sits up to reach for Sarah across the room and his insides spill out all over the floor. This sight makes Sarah sickened, but Logan nonchalantly walks up with a power drill and drives it into the creature's forehead, destroying the brain.
Scene 12: In the mess/meeting room: Mechanic-guy is stating dejectedly that he can't raise anyone on any radio band. There is some discussion about whether they could be the only ones still alive, but radio/mechanic-guy tells them that they're not transmitting from the best place and that there must be others.
Commentary: In this scenario, you'd expect that there would be certain key locations that were locked down quickly enough and have the military presence capable of surviving even this, even if there isn't anything they can do to save the situation: The President's bunker, Air Force One (until they had to risk landing, but even then they could survive for quite some time without leaving the plane), Cheyenne Mountain (home of N.O.R.A.D.), Ft. Knox - and these are just the American locations... the folks in these movies never seem to realize these places are likely still operating.
The soldier known as Asshole uses a lot of 'fucking' words to tell the radioman its his job to get their antiquated equipment working. He tells him to lay off the booze for a change. Radioman responds by pulling out his flask and telling him he'll have to soon, because he's going to have run out (using much more of the F-word). After more back and forth, Sarah finally gets tired of listening to it all and gets up to leave. Rhodes tells her they're not finished and orders her to sit down.
Little Shit complains here, again, about how Sarah has herself some dick to get off with while the rest of them are left without any company to relieve the pressure and again I have to wonder just why he's so preoccupied with penis. Anyway, Rhodes' biggest complaint is that everything that the scientists report is in gobbledygook, and he's starting to doubt that they're actually accomplishing anything that will help them with their current situation. He has a point, but he's such a menacing jerk about it all that I'd fear him and his armed men far more than the zombies.
Commentary: Staying with this version of the military would be intolerable and I really wish that George had lightened the tone of them a little - or given us at least one military guy that was at all sympathetic to the scientist's efforts. As it is, the old cliche "science vs. military" is overdone here and is far too heavily weighed on the scientist's part. The anti-military sentiment isn't even a subtext, so much as screaming in your face and slapping you around to make sure that you 'get it'.
Sarah goes to storm out, but Rhodes warns her that if she doesn't sit down, he'll have her shot. And, he seems entirely serious. At first she doesn't believe his threat, but then he does order Asshole to raise his weapon and shoot her if she doesn't return to her seat. When Asshole thinks it's all just another joke, Rhodes pulls his service pistol on him, next. He tells him to shoot Sarah, or he'll be shot dead.
The standoff comes to an end (the pilot is armed, too, and some of the soldiers look like they might draw a bead on Rhodes instead if he shot Asshole) when Sarah agrees shakily to sit back down for Rhodes.
Commentary: This is actually a very good scene for the sheer tenseness of it, and a way to convey that they really are close to falling apart - despite my grievances for the way the military is portrayed. I find myself tensing up in this scene, so it's well played.
Rhodes asks if it's clear that this 'operation' is no longer under civilian jurisdiction. He yells at the scientists for not understanding that they're in a war. He is also angered about the five men they've lost during the experiments going on (including the former commander) instead of just killing the zombies and being done with them.
It's at this point that Dr. Logan deigns to join them (we've gotten the impression up until now that the doctor has been as reticent to mingle with the rest of the team as the soldiers are to hang around in his lab). He comes in responding to Rhodes that they wouldn't have nearly enough ammunition to make shooting the zombies any good to them. Dr. Logan shares that he calculates the zombies outnumber the humans by at least 400,000 to 1.
Captain Rhodes goes off another tirade, one because Dr. Logan is late for the meeting and two because he still hasn't gotten any information about what the scientists are doing or if they're having any sort of progress. He threatens to destroy all of the remaining zombies in lock-up, and then to leave and abandon them. But, Dr. Logan points out the sad fact that there isn't any place for them to go. Doctor Logan here broaches his conditioning idea and Sarah tells Rhodes that she's seen some progress, but I don't think she believes it. I think it's more likely that she's just afraid of the volatile situation the civilians have found themselves in. While the Major was no prince, clearly he was more reasonable than Captain Rhodes.
Doctor Logan says confidently that he thinks he'll have results to show in days, but Sarah pipes up warning it could be weeks or years before they can know anything. Dr. Logan disagrees, not recognizing what Sarah and the others know about the risks they're facing if Rhodes really does lose control of himself. He tells the soldiers that she's right in that it could take years for her to find what she is looking for to reverse the process of zombication. Then he goes on to complain about the inadequate facilities they're working with. This, on top of the mechanic's complaint about the radio equipment, just sends the Captain into another impatient tirade.
Rhodes grants them a bit more time after Sarah brings up that there have to be survivors in shelters in Washington (D.C. most likely, not the state) who have better equipment and who know where they are. She insists (rather desperately, I think) that they'll send out rescue parties when they don't get any more regular updates (except, I really think that she doesn't believe that, the way she keeps shooting looks at Dr. Logan, who remains far too naive about the level of the military men's hostility at this point). But, he also warns the scientists that anyone challenging his command (that would be you, Sarah) will be court-martialed and executed.
Scene 13: After the meeting, everyone is in the hallway leading to the rest of the complex. Sarah is telling other-scientist guy that she can't believe Rhodes would go so far as to execute them, but the Pilot stops them and warns them they're in serious crap. He warns Sarah that he's probably safe, because he's the ride out of there and Logan is probably safe because he's doing the heavy research (I'd question that assertion) but that the rest of them should figure it out that they're in danger of him killing them (this assertion I don't question, in fact I'd be really worried if I was Asshole, Little Shit and the other army guys that their commander has gone batshit).
Scene 14: Later, Sarah is wrapped in a blanket in her room. On the cot, Miguel is finally coming around from his sedation. He half sits up, and like the zombie in autopsy, his insides spill out over the cot.
She snaps awake, sitting against the wall and wrapped in a blanket. On the cot, Miguel has come awake, but his insides aren't dripping out. Instead, he's sitting in the corner of the cot and fiddling with his cross and dogtags. Miguel has some harsh words for her and she throws him out, sick of his shit.
Scene 15: Moments later and she leaves too, amped up on adrenaline and lack of proper sleep. She grabs her knapsack and heads down the hallway, stopping just long enough to grab some aspirin from a hallway med-cabinet. In an darkened office, one of the zombies chained up is agitated. As Sarah heads further through the halls, there is a sudden commotion and the soldiers come barreling out of another room, group fist fighting. The mechanic/radio man is with them and he snatches her and rushes her away from the brawling men.
He shares his flask with her, which she resists at first before slamming the brandy.
Things continue to deteriorate, and she's finally breaking down under the strain as well....
Continue onto Part II....