Here we come to a release that is more controversial than even The Matrix Revolutions. It follows two genuine horror classics and was set to be the ultimate zombie film. Instead, it was greeted with a luke warm reaction and many critics tore it apart (I am tempted to say like a human limb but I will resist that temptation). Many viewed the film as far to negative and bleak; it has had its reputation restored somewhat, but many still do not warmly embrace the film.
Frankly, this is because people forget what Romero’s zombie films were about. The zombies were not the enemy; the people were. It’s easy to forget this; Romero certainly did in the insipid Diary of the Dead. Yet those who complained about this aspect of Day of the Dead were only fooling themselves; this is a great horror film that exposes the military paranoia of the 1980s.
The film is the third installment of the Dead franchise. In case you are not aware, there was some sort of apocalypse likely caused by radiation on a probe returning from Venus. It causes all dead bodies to return to life and feast upon living human flesh. Also, the sky is blue, as it appears you are oblivious to a lot of things. Anyway, there is no real time frame in any of the films (it appears to occur over the span of a few years, although the clothing and backgrounds change radically to match the decades the films were made in) and each appears to examine how society is collapsing – not just due to the zombies, but due to people’s inability to come to understand what is happening and refusing to change the world that they are used to.
And that is exactly what Day of the Dead is – it shows how we as a culture have become so dependent on government and military to solve the world’s problems that we reach an impasse when they cannot. The military tends to respond (especially now) to problems with an emotional response. The scientists in the film are coldly logical – they feel they can solve the problems using science that has so far failed. The military wants nothing more than to blow the zombies away. These two sides are not likely to come to any sort of terms – but that does not mean that it is a key to their survival. Ultimately, their pride wins out more than their survival instinct.
Why the backlash? Because in order to illustrate this principle, it means that the characters are not going to be a whole lot of fun. The people in this film are either insane, annoying machismo, or downright violent. There are absolutely no redeeming qualities among any of them. Now, that helps with the themes, but not necessarily with anyone’s enjoyment. Besides, considering Romero’s last film gave us the warmth and camaraderie of people like Roger, Stephen, and Peter…it is easy to see why people were all to happy to watch the zombies wreak havoc on the compound after listening to ninety minutes of whining.
So, is this actually a good film on its own? Yes, it is a very effective one to boot. But then, compared to the stark originality of Night of the Living Dead and the perfection of Dawn of the Dead, this film is just not a whole lot of fun. And that is why some trilogies fail – trying to describe different eras becomes a problem when people become attached to the films themselves (actually, this is exactly my point in the next one of these write ups). Trying to make an effective satire when all you can see is gloom becomes a very difficult proposition indeed.