Lori Cardille - Sarah
Joe Pilato - Captain Rhodes
Terry Alexander - John
Richard Liberty - Dr. Logan
Howard Sherman - Bub
Antone Di Leo Jr. - Miguel Salazar
Jarlath Conroy - Billy McDermott
G. Howard Klar - Steele
John Amplas - Ted Fisher
Mena Suvari - Corporal Sarah Cross/Bowman
Nick Cannon - Private Salazar
Michael Welch - Trevor Cross/Bowman
Stark Sands - Private Bud Crane
AnnaLynne McCord - Nina
Matt Rippy - Dr. Logan
Ian McNeice - Paul
Ving Rhames - Captain Rhodes
Genre - Horror/Action/Drama/Zombies/Virus
Running Time - 101 Minutes (1985)/85 Minutes (2008)
Although zombie culture had always been part of the horror genre since its inception [although they began as the Haitian/African voodoo variety], it wasn't until 1968 in which zombies really gained a major focus when an independent filmmaker named George A. Romero filmed and released the iconic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. The whole zombie landscape had changed. The voodoo stuff became passe, allowing a more realistic "dead rising" type of monster to take center stage. Not only that, but zombie films started using social commentary and deep social themes to tell their stories and allowed them to resonate for different generations. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD wasn't just a great horror film, but it kicked the horror genre in the ass for years to come.
Romero kept the zombie stuff going, even when he was dealing with viral outbreaks [1973's THE CRAZIES], vampires [1976's MARTIN], fake knights [1981's KNIGHTRIDERS], and classic anthologies [1982's CREEPSHOW]. 1978's DAWN OF THE DEAD took what NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD did, but pushed it further. The special effects were better. The character dynamics were deeper. And the social commentary was just as powerful. It's still considered by many to be Romero's best DEAD film due to its upbeat nature and for the legacy it has left behind all over the world.
But something happened in 1985. Romero released what was thought to be the final DEAD film - DAY OF THE DEAD. It had a lot of buzz. Tom Savini's effects were a lot improved since DAWN OF THE DEAD, truly creating great looking zombies. The commentary on humanity, civilization, and gender issues were on display. Hell, I remember owning Fright Flicks trading cards with DAY OF THE DEAD in them! But I guess the film's depressing and bleak tone turned horror fans away, as DAY OF THE DEAD wasn't liked much during its release by critics or audiences, although it did pretty well at the box office [at least worldwide - it didn't do too well domestically]. It didn't help that THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, which had been released a few weeks later, was considered cooler due to its younger cast, awesome soundtrack, and comedic tone.
DAY OF THE DEAD had been considered one of the more misunderstood and oft-forgotten horror films in the genre for many years. But once home video came to play and digital media was more readily available, DAY OF THE DEAD's reputation began to grow. It also helped that the 1990 remake of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and 2004's remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD were highly favored, giving audiences a reason to seek the Romero originals out. In 2003, Anchor Bay released a special 2-disc Divamax version of DAY OF THE DEAD, which garnered huge sales and renewed interest in the film and the franchise. Nowadays, fans have embraced the film - with some considering it to be the strongest entry in the original DEAD trilogy.
No shocker - DAY OF THE DEAD, with its new popularity, was remade in 2007 by Steve Miner and Jeffrey Reddick. It was meant to be released theatrically, but studio interference delayed the released and it was eventually shelved for DVD and Blu-Ray in 2008. Is it because the zombie sub-genre was saturated by this point that the studio felt the film had no chance in theaters? Or is it because the remake is terrible and the studio felt it would grab an unsuspecting audience at their homes? In this edition of Original vs. Remake, we'll see if DAY OF THE DEAD (1985) is worthy of its reputation and whether it holds up today - while we'll see if DAY OF THE DEAD (2008) is a worthy remake, or just a terrible cash in on a popular George A. Romero zombie franchise.
A military doctor named Sarah (Lori Cardille) is the only woman amongst a group of soldiers, scientists, and pilots, counting down the days on a calendar as a way to keep herself sane. Sarah takes a helicopter ride with two pilots (Terry Alexander and Jarlath Conroy) and her soldier boyfriend, Miguel Salazar (Antone Di Leo Jr.) to what's left of Florida. They encounter a horde of zombies, but no other survivors. Feeling a loss of hope, they return to an underground military bunker nearby.
Being stuck underground for months, most of the scientists and soldiers around Sarah are starting to lose their sanity. The self-appointed leader of the group, Captain Rhodes (Joseph Pilato) is the worst case, as he has a short fuse and will do anything to make sure he survives - becoming a tyrant obsessed with power in the process. On the other side of the crazy spectrum is Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty), who's mental state works in his favor rather than against him. Logan has been experimenting on the zombies, trying to figure out why the dead have come back to life and what makes them function the way they do. Logan realizes that the brain controls all of a zombie's functions, whether they're full bodied or just a head. He also has a guinea pig in the form of zombie Bub (Howard Sherman), who slowly begins to understand the ways of human society again as if a child would. Through these experiments, Logan feels that the survivors would be able to teach the zombies in how to behave properly within their society, which would allow them to control the zombie threat.
Too bad Rhodes believes that Logan's experiments are a waste of time, energy, and resources. Wanting to make sure he's the last survivor, Rhodes demands changes be made or he'll kill some of the people or just leave them stranded. Feeling that gathering zombies for experiments are putting them in jeopardy, Rhodes and his soldiers begin feuding with the scientists. It's during this battle that we start seeing who truly are the monsters and who truly still have their humanity.
DAY OF THE DEAD is a thought-provoking, very character and dialogue driven drama that just happens to have zombies in it. It's easy to see why it failed back in 1985. Horror at the time was still coming off the slasher boom, which was highlighted by its silliness, gory deaths, and fun tone. DAY OF THE DEAD may have gory deaths, but it's not silly and it's definitely not a fun watch until its final moments. This movie will depress you and make you think about the fear of change when it concerns life and death. There are no teen actors. There is no punk/new wave soundtrack. There are no zombies yelling out for brains. DAY OF THE DEAD will hit you hard with its concept of civilization, what life really means for many, and what truly classifies someone as "human" and someone else as a "monster".
Like I mentioned, DAY OF THE DEAD is very talky, which probably turned many people off to it [probably still does]. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and DAWN OF THE DEAD had dialogue-heavy moments, but they were between zombie action and a sense of suspenseful atmosphere. You don't really get that with DAY OF THE DEAD. The zombie moments are few and far between, although the final act more than makes up for it. And while there is a bleak mood and an atmosphere of isolation and paranoia due to the cabin fever the characters are struggling with, it's not really a suspenseful film like the first two films are. This is really due to the fact that the characters aren't as likeable as in NIGHT or DAWN, which a lot of people I know have a problem with in this film. But honestly, it's the only logical step after both NIGHT and DAWN. Even from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, we were given hints that Romero had some of the humans portrayed as monstrous, even if the zombies were considered the monsters of the film. But the time DAY arrives, it's obvious that the zombie apocalypse has changed the survivors. As they struggle with their humanity and their place in life, they become selfish, power-driven, and insane to keep some normalcy in their existence. On the other hand, the zombies have now evolved and taken human characteristics. They aren't evil. They behave on instinct, doing what they need to survive. But some of them know right and wrong by this point. Most of the humans in this film are now considered "dead" in terms of humanity. Romero did this intentionally - it's an evolution of both sides, as we quickly figure out that the zombies aren't the villains of the piece - the humans are.
DAY OF THE DEAD raises a lot of questions in terms of mankind. For example, what is it like to be the only female survivor amongst a bunch of crazy men? How do these men feel when the women is strong, tough, and still sees the bigger picture for the most part? Are we defined by our behavior, or by our intelligence? Is this God's plan to purify the human race for all the sins we have committed? These are scary things to think about, because a lot of people ask themselves these questions. These questions arise when we're desperate for answers and for change. Being stuck underground with the same people, looking at the same surroundings, for months [who knows maybe even longer] will drive anyone mad.
And while the characters are certainly unlikeable, we understand why they behave and think the way they do. This is human nature. They struggle with control, power, and their sanity because they're desperate and they're helpless. When one is pushed to the brink, they'll do anything. Captain Rhodes is a prick, but I get why he behaves that way. He's afraid to die, especially when he doesn't understand the situation that brings him closer to death. His tirades and ultimatums are his way to maintain a certain level of control. He's overwhelmed by the change that's happening around him and what's to keep some sense of what he knows alive. He's doing it the wrong way, but it's his way and I understand it. Same goes to Dr. Logan, who's nicknamed "Dr. Frankenstein" because he's obsessed with his experiments on zombies. How he treats the dead is very messed up, as you sympathize with them because no one wants to be a lab rat against their will. But he's doing it with the best intentions, as he begins to realize that zombies used to be human just like him. He wants to make zombies sort of human again, so they stop being a threat to his survival. He's definitely kooky, but he's on the money.
We also get an interesting dynamic between Sarah and Miguel, who have a very dysfunctional relationship. Miguel has pretty much given up, not focusing on the task and hand, and freaking out at the worst times. He's also pissed that Sarah, his girlfriend, is much stronger willed and pretty much telling him what to do and doing his job better than he is. Sarah and Miguel prove that relationships don't work in this bleaker society, especially when the sole woman is more useful than a once proud soldier.
Rhodes two minions, Steele and Rickles, are absolutely insane to the point of annoyance. They're the bullies of the story, always picking on others in order to make themselves feel better. McDermott deals with the cabin fever by drinking. And John, who is probably the sanest of the human characters, uses religion and philosophy as his way of keeping strong and accepting what the world has become. His idea of taking the helicopter, finding a deserted island, and living with the bare necessities of life made a lot of sense to me. Why suffer when you can find a way out?
However, the most fascinating character is, without a doubt, Bub the zombie. It's obvious that Dr. Logan's treatment of Bub is a form of slavery - teaching him how to perform in society again by focusing on things he would remember from his days of living, rewarding or punishing him depending on how he does. Bub represents the humanity inside of all of us, showing us that the stuff we take for granted can please us on a basic level. Everything else just corrupts us and makes us forget the simpler things. The zombie is the most human character in DAY OF THE DEAD, which has a lot to do with Howard Sherman's incredible performance. I'll get to the acting shortly, but Sherman makes Bub a true sympathetic character that we root for over any of the humans in the film.
I also like that Romero takes a jab at the social institutions that tend to govern us all, such as the military and science. When all hope is lost, these institutions will do whatever it takes to maintain their power over everyone else. It's obvious that the two can't work together, which makes them weak individually. This battle is what destroys what's left of society. There can be only one King, and the war is what destroys whatever civilization these people had left. None of these institutions are stable, which corrupts the society created. It's as if Romero is claiming that those who lead us and keep us together as a society are just as flawed as we are individually. No man can rule another man without there being power struggles and social concerns. It may not be as talked about as the social commentary that lies within both NIGHT and DAWN, but it's just as important.
George A. Romero wanted DAY OF THE DEAD to be the "GONE WITH THE WIND of zombie movies". The budget was originally $7 million, which would have allowed him to accomplish this. But somewhere along the way, it was cut in half. This put strife on Romero, as he had to rewrite his script and cut down on some of the effects in order to get his message across, but done with a cheaper budget. There were also other technical issues, like the "guts" the zombies eating being tainted - which made many of the extras sick. The high humidity inside the mine shaft where all the bunker scenes were shot ruined a lot of the equipment and the props, especially for Tom Savini's make up and effects. Actors had to sleep in the mine overnight to save money and time for transportation. The shoot was a mess.
But even with that happening, Romero directed a masterful film here. There's some style here. There's some good amount of tension. The film looks closer to NIGHT than it does DAWN, with its dimmer lighting and bleaker vibe. Seeing nothing but an underground bunker for 99% of the film creates a claustrophobic effect that makes you want to find a way out. I thought the editing was great. The pacing is really slow for some, but the drama for much of the film enhances the character development, making all the action during the final act resonate more and become more effective. It's a character drama with horror elements, and Romero treats the film as such. It's great direction by Romero. I kind of wish he had ended the DEAD series here, but you can't stop a man who has something to say through zombies.
The acting is also great. Lori Cardille is very good as Sarah. She has her off moments here and there, but she plays a tough, somewhat intelligent woman that many will respect. Terry Alexander is fantastic as John, the philosophical one. He had the second most likeable character for me and plays the role perfectly. Richard Liberty plays the perfect mad scientist in Dr. Logan. He seems to be having fun with the role. Antone Di Leo Jr. kind of made me laugh as the unhinged Miguel. His emotional rants made me chuckle, not gonna lie.
In Colorado, a lot of the locals have come down with some strange virus. The military has been issued to keep things in order and to quarantine the virus before its spreads outside its origin. As we learn, the virus may come across like the flu and give people nose bleeds. But it really turns the victims into vicious creatures with a hunger for human flesh. Not only that, but they gain some superhuman strength as well, allowing them to run really fast, climb walls, and crawl on ceilings.
Some of the people living in the town haven't gotten infected due to their immune system. But they're left to deal with the aftermath of the virus. Among them is a soldier named Sarah (Mena Suvari), who must protect her younger brother Trevor (Michael Welch) and his girlfriend, Nina (AnnaLynne McCord) from being dinner. Also along for the right are two other soldiers - Salazar (Nick Cannon) and Bud (Stark Sands) - as well as a mysterious doctor named Logan (Matt Rippy), who may know more than he lets on. The group attempts to escape town and fight up the infected, they soon realize the origins of the virus, what it was planned for, and how to stop it from spreading.
Let's set the record straight: this is not a remake to George A. Romero's 1985 classic. Sure it shares the same time, uses the same character names, deals with military characters, has an underground bunker in its final act, and involves non-zombies [they're infected, not dead]. But the two films are presented very differently. Romero's film had social commentary and wanted to send a message through its dramatic story. Steve Miner's film wants to capitalize on the trend started by 2002's 28 DAYS LATER, which ironically is considered to be a ripoff of DAY OF THE DEAD. This remake doesn't have social commentary. This remake doesn't have interesting characters. Everything in this film we've mostly seen done before and done a lot better. It doesn't surprise me that DAY OF THE DEAD went direct to DVD. This isn't a theatrical movie. This is a SyFy Saturday Night Feature Presentation.
I respect the producers of this film to do something different from the movie that it's based on. While I don't think DAY OF THE DEAD needed a remake, I'm glad FINAL DESTINATION screenwriter, Jeffrey Reddick, didn't just recreate most of the original for a modern audience like some remakes do. It's really its own film - not a remake and not a sequel to 2004's DAWN OF THE DEAD. It follows its own path while retaining certain elements of the original film. That's what a good remake should do - be familiar enough, yet create something new out of something old. So I respect the film for that.
However, I would respect it more if the changes made to DAY OF THE DEAD were actually...you know...good. But they're not. This remake is just like any modern infected zombie film out there. From the beginning, it's completely predictable with stereotypical characters finding themselves in stereotypical situations. Teen characters are concerned with sex, even when they're infected with a virus. The military is in a small town, trying to roadblock people from leaving to quarantine the virus. More people get infected until the virus finally kicks into full gear and turns them into flesh hungry creatures. The survivors group up, finding weapons and places to hide as they escape the infected while figuring out what the cause of the infection is. I've seen this film countless times before and you know exactly how it'll end. I'm not expecting everything to be original, but at least give people something new to make yourself stand out.
And by original, I don't mean having infected people having the ability to run on walls and crawl on ceilings. Although I prefer the much slower, dead zombies, I don't mind the running "zombies" that modern filmmakers have taken a liking to. But giving them super speed? Having them run on walls? Travel on ceilings? Was there radioactive spider blood mixed into this biological weapon? My disbelief is already suspended by fast "zombies". But ones that crawl above you? That's just jumping the shark right there, and I've seen a lot of weird shit in zombie movies.
The loose remake also has unlikeable characters, just like in the original. However, the characters in Romero's film had every reason to come off as unlikeable. There's no real reason for the characters in Miner's film. Sarah is the tough and so-called smart soldier who becomes the defacto leader of the survivors. While I didn't dislike the character, nothing about her really endeared me to her either. There's a subplot where Sarah and her family seem a bit estranged, with her brother having issues with her and her mother wishing she had never left home to join the military. Supposedly, Sarah has a complicated past - yet the script never elaborates on it, forgetting it by the halfway point. She also tolerates Bud, who has a crush on her, but doesn't give in to his advances. Yet, she's willing to keep him around once he's infected, as if she does care about him. But the screenplay never lets the character develop these subplots, so why are they even brought up? But she was the typical leader who called the shots, and each zombie film needs one of those.
I had more of an issue with the other characters, besides one or two. Sarah's brother, Trevor, is just a nuisance. He's too busy wanting sex from his hot girlfriend, Nina. Even though he should be looking after his mother, he would rather hang with Nina and her family. Even though he knows that a nosebleed means that someone is infected, he wants to let his infected mom inside the safe shelter even though he knows she was really sick. He would rather argue with his sister than listen to her. This kid got on my nerves big time.
Even worse, though, was Salazar - Sarah's soldier buddy. MY GOD was this dude fuckin' annoying. I would rather take the whiny bitch version from the original film over this wannabe thug any day of the week. This character says the most cliche one-liners and quips any time he appears, making me wish the infected had killed him sooner than they did. I guess he's supposed to be the "hip" comic relief, but he's so corny and unfunny. Nothing about this guy was likeable and I wanted him to shut the hell up. The casting for this character didn't help either. Nick Cannon, really? Ugh...
Captain Rhodes is barely in the film to make an impression. He's a lot more subdued than the original version, meaning he lacks any sort of personality that'll make you want to watch more of him. Dr. Logan is still a mad scientist, but he's pretty much a prick and a pussy here, leaving the survivors stranded and trying to cover his ass so his involvement is never found out. I already discussed Bud, but I need to mention a certain exchange with Sarah's mom over how hot she is. It was so casual, that it was unbelievable. It was as if Sarah's mom was prostituting her daughter to this guy she didn't know. Maybe it was the infection talking, but I just found it so out of place. We also get a DJ [who wasn't too bad] and a neighbor couple [who were just there to be victims].
The best character in my opinion was Nina, Trevor's girlfriend. She was the typical girlfriend character - screaming and running, traumatized by what was going on around her. But as the film went on, she got a lot smarter and a lot tougher, ready to fight to survive. She never annoyed me. She was hot to look at. And her character actually evolved. I barely knew anything about her besides how she behaves in the film. But out of all the characters, she was the only person who behaved like a human being. So she's cool with me.
What the "remake" does get right are the make up and the special effects. The infected folks look really great in this movie. They look like they're decomposing. The white contacts for eyes are pretty creepy. These villains don't seem human at all, which is great. The CGI was a bit iffy at times [nothing you would see out of place on SyFy], but it was the least of the film's concerns. It wasn't terrible in any way, but you could tell some things looked really fake. Still, it was visually entertaining and I thought some of the gore was cool looking. The best one is one infected person eating their own eyeball in a funny bit. Didn't mind the special effects at all.
The direction, however, was a mixed bag. I honestly couldn't believe this was the same Steve Miner who directed FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2, FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3-D, HALLOWEEN H20, LAKE PLACID, WARLOCK, and the awesome 1986's HOUSE. What happened here? I'm not saying it's completely terrible. The pacing is fine, as the short running time goes by quick. Some shots were quite stylish. The action portions were shot well - probably the best part of the direction. But the editing was weird, especially those flash transitions that just annoyed me. The fast motion for the infected as they ran almost looked like an outtake of Benny Hill at times. The cinematography is nothing special. I honestly have trouble believing this was going to be released in theaters because it looks so cheap. The look of this film screams "Direct to DVD". Miner's direction is just mediocre at best. He's done some great stuff in the past, but he was short changed here. Maybe it was the bad material. Maybe it was the budget. I have no idea what led to this.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE CHOKING ON 'EM
- Steele offered his penis to lure in the zombies. I'm sure they wanted a feast, not a snack. But it's the thought that counts.
- Feeling she emasculated him, Miguel Salazar slapped Sarah around. Miguel is Chris Brown's favorite character in a George A. Romero film.
- Dr. Logan realizes that zombies only need their brains to function. I guess if Sarah Palin passes away during a zombie apocalypse, that it's for her.
- Zombies need to be rewarded or punished in order for them to become civilized again. If they don't obey, shoot them in the head. If they do, send them more paramedics.
- A zombie got decapitated by a shovel. I'm sure he didn't dig that too much.
- Trevor tried to cop a feel on Nina. I guess he wanted to Nip/Tuck it into her 90210!
- Captain Rhodes got eaten by some infected patients inside of a hospital. He probably longed for the days when he was a tortured by a gimp.
- Rhodes, now infected, had no problems trying to kill Sarah inside of an air duct. I guess he just needed to vent out his frustrations.
- Bud insulted Salazar by saying his sharp weapon was a spear, not keeping mind of how racist that sounded. Bud also insulted any female with a microphone by calling them Britney Spears.
- Salazar was chewed up by the infected. They should win the million dollar prize on America's Got Talent for that.
THE FINAL HOWL
DAY OF THE DEAD (1985)4 Howls Outta 4
DAY OF THE DEAD (2008)1.5 Howls Outta 4
DAY OF THE DEAD (1985) Trailer
DAY OF THE DEAD (2008) Trailer