How Zombies Became My Favorite Movie Monster - Part 1
I can still remember the feeling I had after sitting through George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead for the first time. Though technically the second zombie movie I encountered (I saw bits and pieces of Andrea Bianchi’s Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror about a year prior), Day of the Dead was the first zombie film I watched from beginning to end. Might not sound like much of an achievement, but it was for that scared little five year old I was when I saw the film. I was in kindergarten at the time, which was split into two classes, AM and PM. I was in the PM class, which meant I didn’t have to be at school until about 11:30 in the morning. So, most mornings were spent with my dad watching movies before he went into work. One morning he happened to put a copy of Day of the Dead in, and didn’t think much that his five year old son was sitting in the living room with him. Regardless of whether or not this was bad parenting, this experience forever changed who I was, and started a lifelong obsession with zombies that is still going strong today.
As I try and rediscover my love for movies with this blog I thought it only fitting that I spent a little time revisiting with my favorite movie monster, zombies. Even though I was that scared little boy watching Day of the Dead the movie fascinated me. When the movie reached its climax, and one of the central villains (I won’t spoil who for those who haven’t seen the movie yet) gets ripped in half I was sold on zombies. Shortly after viewing this entry in the series I immediately followed it up with the other two zombie films Romero had made. Dawn of the Dead was the next film I watched, and I loved that one even more than I did Day of the Dead. Night of the Living Dead was the last of the original Dead Trilogy for me to watch, and since it came at a time when I was getting into classic cinema, the film quickly became my favorite of the series, and to date remains my favorite zombie movie of all time.
In the years since I first watched Day of the Dead my opinion on the film has altered a bit. I still love the movie and enjoy watching it from time to time, but when you compare it to the first two films it doesn’t stack up very well. This is largely in part to the fact that Romero had a much grander vision for this third, and what was supposed to be final entry in the series. But, due to budgeting issues with the studio things had to be scaled back and Romero’s vision was trimmed down to what you see on the screen now. It’s not a bad movie, just not a particularly great one.
The characters aren’t as strong or as compelling as the ones in Night and Dawn, but there are some good ones in the mix. The villainous army characters and most of the scientist are underdeveloped, with Captain Rhodes (Joseph Pilato) being a cardboard cutout of a typical control freak and Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty) feeling more like a mad-scientist reject. But, there are great characters like the alcoholic Bill McDermott (Jarlath Conroy) and helicopter pilot John (Terry Alexander) to pick up the slack. John in particular is the strongest human character in the film, and gets to say the most intelligent and well thought out dialogue that Romero put into Day of the Dead.
Then, of course there’s Bub (Sherman Howard), Dr. Logan’s prized zombie pupil. Day of the Dead was the first in the series to introduce the idea of smart zombies, a topic that would get explored more with Romero’s next zombie film, Land of the Dead (which was released nearly 20 years after Day of the Dead). Aside from the great make-up that Bub, as well as the other zombies, has (headed by legendary make-up artist Gregory Nicotero) the character stands out because of the great performance that Sherman Howard gives in the role. Dare I say that Sherman Howard plays what I consider to be the greatest zombie in cinema history? I do indeed.
With Romero’s original vision for Day of the Dead, the smart zombie (ones that were taught to perform menial tasks, and even fight other zombies or humans on command) was to play a large part in the story. You can see shades of it with Bub, but not enough for the idea to truly blossom into greatness. It’s a fantastic concept that unfortunately got watered down, and was never given a fair chance of coming to life on the big screen like it should have.
Regardless of the film’s many shortcomings, Day of the Dead is still a favorite of mine. Some see this as the best in the series, but most view it as the weakest of the original three. But, almost no one holds it against George A. Romero for not being able to deliver the goods with this one. Besides, the movie played a pivotal part in the development of my obsession with zombies. And I will always have a special place in my heart for it.