Ever since its release in July of 1985, Day of the Dead has been the red-headed stepchild of George A. Romero’s original Dead trilogy, which began with the genre-defining Night of the Living Dead in 1968 and was brought to new heights in 1978’s Dawn of the Dead. Popular opinion began to shift upon the release of Land of the Dead in 2005 (and changed further with Romero’s subsequent, lackluster Dead movies), but only recently does it seem that the movie has truly found its audience.
Thanks to Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray release of Day of the Dead, viewers have the opportunity to give the misunderstood zombie picture another chance. Although previously available on Blu-ray from Anchor Bay, Scream Factory’s “Collector’s Edition” can effectively tell any and all past versions to “Choke on ’em!”
The Blu-ray boasts a brand new high-definition transfer, which is absolutely beautiful. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a 35mm print of the film on the big screen, and this is the next best thing. Tom Savini’s groundbreaking special makeup effects look better than ever, as do Dr. Tongue, Bub and the rest of the undead gang. The audio is on par with the video; Torrez’ pitch-shifting scream as his head is torn from his body is absolutely haunting.
In addition to the excellent transfer, the disc is packed with special features. There’s a commentary with Romero, Savini, production designer Cletus Anderson and actress Lori Cardille; rare, behind-the-scenes footage taken from Savani’s personal archives; a tour of the mines where filming took place and more. The best of the features, in my opinion, is the brand new, feature-length documentary, titled World’s End: The Legacy of Day of the Dead. In terms of DVD extras, I much prefer documentary-style featurettes over individual interviews, so I was excited to dig into this one. It did not disappoint.
The documentary begins with the well-known fact that Romero’s original script for Day of the Dead was much more grandiose. Savini describes it as “Raiders of the Lost Ark of zombies.” Executive producer Salah M. Hassanein was willing to give Romero $7 million – the estimated cost – to make them movie, with the condition that it be rated R. Romero stuck to his guns, scaling back his vision and settling for a $3 million budget in favor of going unrated. Some of the bigger ideas later came to fruition in Land of the Dead, but Romero believes Day of the Dead turned out better in spite – or because – of the cut backs. “Basically, all I lost were some action sequences that are absolutely unnecessary to make the point of the film,” he says.
Day of the Dead was received poorly upon its release. There were several factors contributing to this, not the least of which was the film’s limited release due to it not being rated. Furthermore, it was poorly advertised, it was critically panned and there was even some confusion between Day and Return of the Living Dead, which was released around the same time. Perhaps the biggest issue, however, was that fans wanted Dawn of the Dead Part 2 and, instead, received a picture much more serious in tone.
Although the production wasn’t exactly glorious – the cast and crew spent about 8 weeks filming a dark, dank, dirty mine – everyone involved appears to look back on it fondly. They were disappointed by its poor box office performance, of course, but Day of the Dead found new life (no pun intended) on video and beyond. The film holds up well; not just on an entertainment level, but its themes remain relevant to this day. Romero even calls Day of the Dead his favorite of all of his Dead movies. With Scream Factory’s top-notch Blu-ray, more fans will be able to rediscover this gem and give it the appreciation it deserves.