Saturday, October 20, 2012

Psychobabble's 150 Essential Horror Movies: Addition 20

Every day this October, I'll be adding a film to Psychobabble's 120 Essential Horror Movies to bring the list up to 150. Today’s addition is:

109. Day of the Dead (1985- dir. George Romero)

George Romero rounds out Horror's best series since Universal's Frankenstein cycle with Day of the Dead. Neither as scary as Night of the Living Dead nor as entertaining as Dawn of the Dead, Day makes the social commentary stowed in the earlier films its reason for being. A quartet of zombie apocalypse survivors ends up in a compound where scientists bent on curing the zombies and military men bent on annihilating them are butting heads. Because Romero's tone is a lot less satirical than it was in his previous film, his message's ham-fistedness is not as easy to swallow. The soldiers are so crude, stupid, and psychotic that Day of the Dead plays out like Military Corruption for Dummies. Romero's portrayal of science is more nuanced. Played by the likable Richard Liberty, mad Doctor “Frankenstein” Logan causes his zombie charges to suffer in a sincere effort to better them. A scene highlighting his crazed disregard for their physical wellbeing is juxtaposed with a genuinely sweet one in which he tries to humanize his prize pupil, Bub, by playing Beethoven for the zombie and teaching him to work a cassette player. Romero understands that science can be an agent of great evil and great good. The revelation that the zombies have the ability to learn allows the director to take a greater interest in his monsters, which had been little more than roving killing machines in the first two movies. In the tradition of the golden age of monster movies, Howard Sherman's Bub is a lot more sympathetic than most of the human characters bickering around him. With budding makeup star Greg Nicotero lending Tom Savini a hand, the zombies are more convincing than the blue-faced creeps of old too. The gore effects are top of the line all the way as guts unravel from a zombie's ribcage, a guy gets impromptu arm surgery, and several dudes are literally torn to pieces. It's a bit of a looong build to the inevitable zombie fiesta, but the ambiguous, oddly hopeful ending is satisfying. Two decades later, George Romero would revive his living dead for a new round of films. While Romero’s politics would remain sharp through his 21st century zombiethons, the filmmaking was less satisfying. Non-completists would do just fine to stop with Day of the Dead.  

See this piece in context as part of Psychobabble’s Essential Horror Movies of the 1980s here.
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