George A. Romero’s ‘Day of the Dead’ and ‘Land of the Dead’: Reviews

George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead, are his third and fourth ‘Living Dead’ or ‘Of the Dead” zombie movies, respectively, after Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead.

DAY OF THE DEAD

(Day of the Dead)

OK, here’s the deal (as per the Gospel According to Wikipedia)…

Some time after the events of Dawn of the Dead, zombies have overrun the world. An underground army missile bunker near the Everglades is the base for a group which is part of a military-supported scientific team assigned by the remnants of the government to study the zombie phenomenon in the hopes of finding a way of stopping or reversing the zombification process. Dwindling supplies, loss of communication with other survivor enclaves, and an apparent lack of progress in the experiments have already caused tension and loss of cohesion among the scientists and soldiers. Dr. Logan, the lead scientist on the project, has been secretly using the recently deceased soldiers in his experiments, trying to prove his theory that the zombies can eventually be domesticated.

Mayhem ensues when the soldiers, commanded by Capt. Rhodes, and the scientists discover that Dr. Logan has gone crazy and his experiments have gone way over the top. What sets off the shit-storm at the end of the movie was when the soldiers and other scientists realize that Dr. Logan’s idea of ‘reward’ is feeding bits of the recently deceased soldiers to his test zombie, Bub. Rhodes threatens to kill the scientists if the helicopter pilot doesn’t fly him and his men out of the area and off to safety. Things really start to hit the fan when one of the infected soldiers opens the huge missile elevator and lets hundreds of zombies into the underground installation.

(Zombies reach out and touch someone!)

My two cents… Day of the Dead is the most pessimistic of Romero’s zombie movies to this point. The zombies outnumber the humans 400,000 to one. There is no trace of any radio signal or indeed of any human activity within 100 miles in any direction of the base. Even if they wanted to escape, where would they go? It seems the characters spend most of the movie yelling and screaming at each other. What you have is a mini-society melting down in much the same way as the people on the surface must have melted down in the face of the zombie apocalypse. As Max Brooks, author of The Zombie Survival Guide, said last summer at ComicCon, “The zombies don’t win. We lose!” It is our own faults and foibles, our stupidity and inability to get along that results in our failure. We screw it up. Royally.

Much of the acting is pretty wooden. Not that I expected to see glittering performances in this movie but… a bit of effort on behalf of some of the actors would have been appreciated. I thought Lori Carille as Dr. Sarah Bowman was just plain old bad. What I found both amusing and oddly disconcerting, however, was John Liberty’s performance as Dr. ‘Frankenstein’ Logan. It reminded me so strongly of The Daily Show’s John Hodgman doing his recurring segment ‘You’re Welcome’ that I couldn’t keep grinning at every scene in which Liberty/Logan appeared. Really. (Watch this movie again with Hodgman in mind. You won’t be disappointed.)

An important aspect of Day of the Dead is Romero begins to ‘humanize’ the zombie, giving it some thought and emotion. In this movie, the humanization character is the zombie Bub – the star pupil of Dr. Logan’s experiments. You see Bub go through the rudiments of memory, thought and emotion. (This humanization of the zombie is fleshed out a lot more in Land of the Dead, below) In some ways, Bub is a lot more ‘human’ that the soldiers under Capt. Rhodes’ command, who are portrayed as little more than gun-toting apes.

Bottom line… A step down in quality from Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. Still worth watching but don’t go in expecting a fantastic movie. It’s not bad. It’s OK. It’s just not great. I was kinda hoping for great. Or at least really good. I was let down.

I give it three-quarters of a bitten bleeding thumb up.

LAND OF THE DEAD

(Land of the Dead)

“In a world where the dead are returning to life, the word ‘trouble’ loses much of its meaning.”

OK, here’s the deal (as per the Gospel According to Wikipedia)…

Years after the events of [Day of the Dead], there are very few living humans left. Many have fled to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where a feudal-like government has taken hold. Bordered on three sides by rivers and on the fourth by an electric fence, the city has become a sanctuary. Fiddler’s Green is where the rich and powerful live in luxury, while the rest of the population subsists. Paul Kaufman (Dennis Hopper) rules the city with overwhelming firepower. ‘Big Daddy’ (Eugene Clark), a zombie, is unusually aware and intelligent, directs his fellow zombies to use firearms and overcome the human defenses. The zombies learn, adapt, and even communicate with primitive moans and grunts. When Big Daddy realizes the river is no obstacle he leads the zombies in an assault on the human city. The electric fence that once kept the zombies out now keeps the humans trapped inside.

(Big Daddy at the gas pump)

Kauffman (Hopper): “Zombies, man. They creep me out!

Mayhem ensues when the lead zombie, ‘Big Daddy’ [1], appalled, angered and outraged at how the zombies are being killed practically for sport by humans, begins to communicate basic ideas to the other zombies, telling them what to do. As a mob, they attack one of the fences, knocking it down and overpowering the soldiers guarding the perimeter. The zombies then walk across (or rather under) the river and gain access to the city.

My two cents… I found Land of the Dead a lot less ‘low budget cheesy’ than Day of the Dead and therefore much more enjoyable. And the quality of the acting is much higher… which also made it more enjoyable. It was filmed in Toronto and Hamilton (a lot of horror movies are) so I recognized some of the actors and a few of the locations. That’s always fun for me.

In all of his zombie movies, Romero is interested in social commentary. What do zombies and the zombie apocalypse say about us? Unlike Day of the Dead where basically none of the humans is really likeable, there are a lot of good decent human characters in Land of the Dead. Still, many other humans don’t come across so well. Some of them are such douches that you want to cheer for the zombies when things hit the fan. It’s not so much like a ‘we deserved this’ kind of thing… but at times, you just kind of feel that zombies are the chlorine that has been added to our gene pool, if you know what I mean. Like the old Sylvester Stalone line in Cobra. “You’re the disease… and I’m the cure!”

Bottom line… I found Land of the Dead way better than Day of the Dead. I recommend that you see both of them just because I think any fan of horror should see all of the George A. Romero zombie movies. It gives you a sense of history. But while you might feel that sitting through Day of the Dead is a bit of a chore… something you HAVE to do… you’ll have a much better time watching Land of the Dead.

I give it one and a half rotting zombie thumbs up.

A side note…

I took a peek at the overall ratings on the RottenTomatoes site for the whole Romero Living Dead series and I noticed a steady decline in the approval ratings, as follows:

Night of the Living Dead – 96%
Dawn of the Dead – 94%
Day of the Dead – 79%
Land of the Dead – 74%
Diary of the Dead – 61%
Survival of the Dead – 29%

Not that I pay all that attention to what critics say. It’s just something I thought I’d mention as RottenTomatoes take a survey of a bunch of critics and averages out the final result. In other words, the score – the approval rating – is the percentage of critics who gave the film a favourable review.

________________________________________________________________

[1] He wears blue auto-mechanic overalls with the name ‘Big Daddy’ on them. He is also armed with what looks to me to be an M-16 he picks up from a dead soldier/mercenary. He can think to a limited degree extent, use tools and can communicate basic ideas, even teaching zombies how to use tools and guns. It appears to me that he operates almost on a intelligent chimpanzee or even a toddler level which is light years ahead of the mindless living dead of the first two Romero zombie movies.

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2 comments on “George A. Romero’s ‘Day of the Dead’ and ‘Land of the Dead’: Reviews

  1. Besch says:

    My tastes and assessments must be mediocre because I found a bit more to like in those films than some others. I liked Linda Carderelli’s performance. A thankless job being the only woman and one of the leads. But I do agree the group in the 3rd film was an example of what happens as you slide from a level #4 collapse to the final one. Where even family won’t hold you together. Everyone turns on everyone else. I like “Land of the Dead.” Strangely it is the only one where I had any positive thoughts about becoming a ghoul. When Cholo turned and finished his job after death of revenge against the leader of Fiddler’s Green. “You’re dead. No your are really dead!” He showed much intelligence too. Even the ghouls aka flesh eaters had some sympathy here, far more than just Bub who started it all. (Note originally in the script for Day of the Dead the ghouls had already been trained. But the budget was too small to do it.)

    “Diary of the Dead” was interesting too as a relaunch of the franchise. Haven’t seen the most recent one yet. As a kind of sequel, or in this case a parallel story of the soldiers we meet briefly in Diary.

    Just as a point on Big Daddy, the weapon he takes off of a marauder is Austrian. Steyr Aug, light, easy to use anyone can learn how to take it apart and put it back together. (5 parts.) Every see the second “Die Hard” film?” The long haired terrorist used one.

    • vampyrefangs says:

      I am keeping an eye out for the next films in the series, Diary of the Dead (2007) and Survival of the Dead (2010). As soon as I get them, I will check them out and write my reviews. And THANK YOU for providing the information regarding Big Daddy’s rifle. I was hoping someone would be able to help me with that! I’m pretty hopeless with that kind of stuff. Well spotted.

      Maybe I am developing a weird kind of dyslexia but almost every time I see “Diary of the Dead” I think “Dairy of the Dead” and I have to laugh. Zombie milk cows. Sorry, but it happens just about every time and it gets a giggle out of me each time.

      Thanks for the input! Much appreciated!

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