George Romero loves zombies. I (and I assume the rest of the universe) loved his classic Night of the Living Dead and most (but not me) loved his sequel Dawn of the Dead. I actually enjoyed the 2004 remake of that film more. Rounding out the trilogy is the 1985 Day of the Dead, released seven years after Dawn of the Dead. This episode follows a group of scientists and military holed up in an underground bunker as the zombie apocalypse takes place around them. I know this film is a cult classic and I can see why, but it still comes nowhere close to Night of the Living Dead and arguably isn’t scary enough to save horror.
Night of the Living Dead was both a character study and a horror. It mastered the skill of scaring the audience while also giving us insight into human behavior in survival situations. This is why that film got a 10 from me. Dawn of the Dead was simply a character study. Far too long and boring, the movie showed us what life could be like during a zombie apocalypse - i.e. you may be stuck in a mall and forced to live a mundane existence. Aside from some gore at the end, it wasn’t scary. Day of the Dead is similar to Dawn of the Dead. It’s an in-depth study of human behavior in a crisis except this time it’s scientists and military. The movie feels long and moves slow, just like it’s predecessor. I was bored many times and looked forward to the action-packed ending. And the ending does pack a punch, rife with disgusting zombie kills, but it’s not scary or enough to float the entire film as scary.
Don’t get me wrong, this film and the entire trilogy, is incredibly strong. There is a heart and soul to this film that many horror films don’t have. But this movie is too much of a character study and not enough zombie horror. The way Romero portrays human behavior in survival situations is truly amazing and insightful, but it’d be even more awesome if it was paired up with more fear and scare. One could argue if you look at the three films together, Night of the Living Dead is meant to be more scary and terrifying because it takes place just as people are realizing what’s happening around them. And then Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead are meant to be more calm and focus more on the way humans respond to the zombies. I get it, I do. I’m giving this movie a 6 for all of those reasons, but just know - this movie could be more scary and that would make it better.
All in all, Romero’s work with zombies is something to be watched. Few films in horror manage to provide insight on even one thing, never mind both the villains and the humans. His commentary on the human race and the ways in which we respond to certain situations is spot-on. Could this film (and Dawn of the Dead) be scarier? Absolutely. They could also both be shorter. But this movie was solid and had a refreshing ending that took me by surprise. Once again, we’re adding those gray, ghastly Romero zombies to the island - so watch out.
If you liked Day of the Dead, you might also like Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Dawn of the Dead (2004).