Why it’s famous:
Day of the Dead is the third film in director George A. Romero’s famous “Living Dead” franchise, following Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Dawn of the Dead (1978). While this movie doesn’t share any characters or specific plot threads with the previous films, the director’s love of gory zombie shenanigans and cynical political commentary remains thoroughly intact.
Why you haven’t seen it:
Thanks to a poor box office performance and mixed critical reception, Day of the Dead was considered the red-headed stepchild of Romero’s horror franchise for a long time. These days it has achieved a significant cult status amongst fans, but for almost three decades this film had to contend with the reputation of not living up to two of the most celebrated horror movies of all time.
Why it might be tough to get through:
Even by today’s standards, some of the zombie kills in this movie are pretty graphic—so if gory horror movies aren’t your thing, this film probably won’t change your mind. Some sections of the film might even be too hard to swallow for fans of the genre, since the plot is mostly driven by dialogue as opposed to cheap scares.
Why you should watch it anyways:
Outside of featuring career-best work from special effects legend Tom Savini, Day of the Dead is also a showcase for the director’s immense screenwriting talents.
Not only is Romero an expert at crafting believable characters, but his skill at staging scenes of dialogue is sublime, so much so that this movie exhibits more resemblance to a David Mamet play, rather than a brainless b-movie.
This film also features perhaps his greatest undead creation—Bud, the gun-wielding zombie with a heart of gold.
Sarah: “You’re incapable of exciting me, Steel, except as an anthropologic curiosity.”
Captain Rhodes: “I’m running this monkey farm now, Frankenstein, and I wanna know what the fuck you’re doing with my time!”
Dr. Logan: “How are we going to set an example for them if we behave barbarically ourselves?”
McDermott: “Come along, Johnny! We’re countin’ on ya to fly us to the Promised Land!”
The opening of this movie is generously sampled in the Gorillaz song “M1 A1”.
Romero has stated that Day of the Dead is his favorite film out of the original three “Living Dead” movies.
In the place of the standard latex and foam rubber props, real animal intestines were used during the movie’s gory finale.
The film was shot on a reported shoestring budget of $3.5 million.