It is far too common in most zombie movies to see military camps and quarantine bases to be in smoking ruins –overrun by the undead. This often serves as a testament to the legitimacy of the threat that the undead pose. But how does a group of well armed, fully trained, and organized soldiers fall apart in a crisis like this? How do scientists fare when presented with the mission of solving a problem that literally puts all of human existence on the balance? Day of the Dead takes its audiences to see the other side of the fence, what the world is like from behind the secured military lines when the undead start rising and eating others.
What is Day of the Dead?
This is the third film in Romero’s Living Dead continuity of films and focuses on a new set of characters. The new protagonists include Sarah who is a doctor, Bill who is a radio operator, and John the helicopter pilot. All of them are part of an army base which is currently protecting a group of scientists who are working towards finding a cure.
However, the set up is all but promising. Dr. Logan, who is the head of the scientist is somewhat deranged and has a knack for coming up with extremely dangerous and mostly pointless experiments with the zombies. Often focusing more on trying to train or rehabilitate the infected as opposed to coming up with a proper cure. At the same time, the military is lead by Captain Rhodes, who tends to be very extremist when it comes controlling the facility and ensuring its safety.
With such volatile elements in the mix, it is not surprising that things turn quickly afoul –Logan has a huge corral of zombies that he is experimenting on, so there’s no surprise that it becomes the cause of a lot of problems.
Sarah, Bill, and John are just basically in the movie as audience placeholders –and also as sensible voices of reason as the two major antagonists have very strange points of view. Still their struggle to survive, especially when things go from bad to worse, is pretty entertaining to watch. The zombies are certainly a big and major threat in the film, but they pale in comparison to the dangers that are human in origin. There is a particularly disturbing scene when Logan is exposed to be using the flesh of dead soldiers as a way to feed the zombies in captivity.
Aside from trying to survive, the protagonists actually do little or nothing that is particularly heroic in the film other than trying to protect each other. Their actions simply feel better just because everyone else in the movie is doing something wrong. Still, it makes for a good story.
Crazy Scientists and Smart Zombies
One of the film’s key characters is Bub, a zombie who has been somehow trained or taught by Dr. Logan to perform some basic actions. While this is amusing to a degree, it gets rather odd when it is shown that Bub has also been slowly taught to recognize what a gun is and at the very least, how to aim it. We’ll give that a moment to sink in. Yes folks, as if the nearly unstoppable, flesh eating undead was not scary enough, a crazy nut of a scientist is actually reminding one how to use a gun.
While the scene serves as a bit of foreshadowing for the movie, it also lays down the foundation for one of Romero’s unique zombie traits: the ability to think. This concept would be explored further in Land of the Dead where one of the zombies has even more cognitive functions and has gained it without being trained or experimented on. Sadly, later movies in the series would not delve too much on the subject, which is a shame since most zombie movies do not feature smarter versions of the undead (and before anyone thinks of bringing up “I Am Legend”, those are vampires, not zombies).
With the previous film already focusing on an escape by helicopter, it is a little predictable that the same goal is the put for the protagonists once again. Granted that this film also features all new characters, and that a military base is indeed likely to have a helicopter, it starts feeling like Romero is using the concept more as a crutch as opposed to it simply being his style.
Still, it has to be pointed out because after Romero has relied on the helicopter as a prime transport vehicle of choice in a zombie apocalypse, many other zombie-oriented stories in media rely on it to. And why not -it flies, and yet it requires less landing and takeoff space than a plane. While a VTOL jet would be awesome and kick-ass, you cannot fit an entire cast of survivors on it.