Sunday, September 29, 2013

Blu-ray Review: DAY OF THE DEAD (1985) Collector's Edition


Collector's Edition Blu-ray 

Label: Shout! Factory / Scream Factory

Region Code: A
Duration:101 Minutes 
Rating: Unrated
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.78:1)
Director: George A. Romero
Cast: Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander Joe Pilato, Richard Liberty

Aah, Day of the Dead (1985), George A. Romero's third and final entry in the original Dead Trilogy if you don't count Land (2005), Diary (2007)and Island (2009)... and I know you don't, you better not! Day opens up sometime after the events of Dawn and it seems that humanity has all but lost the persevere the undead hordes and survivors are few and far between, the powers is out and radio communication with other survivors and government agencies have ceased. 

As Day opens a helicopter sortie flies up and down the coast of Florida looking for survivors and supplies, landing in Fort Myers and finding not a living soul but plenty of the undead they return to an underground Army base located in the Everglades. The sight of the helicopter brought me right back to Dawn of the Dead (1978) but there's no connective tissue to it's predecessor, perhaps just a poignant visual reminder to the previous entry. As they land we meet our principal cast whom are divided-up into three distinct groups; the military, the scientist and the pilots. 

Our group of scientist are Dr. Sarah Bowman (Lori Cardille), Dr. "Frankenstein" Logan (Richard Liberty, The Crazies) and Dr. Fisher (John Amplas, Martin). Logan is the lead scientist and is in the process of devising a cure and/or final solution to the zombie-plague, to this end he experiments on the undead, his latest patient is a zombie he nicknames "Bub" (Howard Sherman, TV's Seinfeld) whom is showing signs of an emerging intelligence, giving him hope that zombies can be rehabilitated, which even as a young teen  thought sounded pretty damn nutty, but it's an interesting point of exploitation for the film. 

Our second group are what seem to be civilian helicopter pilots,  a whiskey-sipping Irishman McDermott, (Jarlath Conroy) and an affable Jamaican named John (Terry Alexander, The Horror Show) whom are content to fly the bird from time to time when duty calls but wisely prefer to distance themselves from the science geeks and the military, preferring to drink and do their own thing separate from the feuding groups in a trailer location the underground bunker.

There's also a small group of brutish soldiers lead by the increasingly frustrated and unstable Capt. Rhodes (Joe Pilato, Pulp Fiction) who in the face of such a dire and apocalyptic situation begins to question just what the science nerds are up to and if there's any merit to Logan's bizarre and bloody experiments. This is the set-up that ignites the powder keg, things get tense when Logan suggest that zombies can be trained to behave, that's pretty much the last straw for Rhodes. When it's later discovered that Logan is actually rewarding Bub by feeding him scraps of meat carved from dead soldiers things turn for the worse for as what was previously a tense partnership turns downright deadly. 

Mostly set in the claustrophobic environs of an underground cavern Day of the Dead (1985) is frighteningly claustrophobic, it's dark and otherworldly, everyone is stressed to the nth degree, and Rhodes is a particularly venous and dangerous presence, threatening to shoot anyone one who disobeys his orders and he's perfectly willing to carry through with that threat without remorse. Just as nutty as Rhodes is our demented nerd Logan, a very memorable mad scientist character who clearly every bit as insane as the Capt, in fact I think I sympathize with Rhodes a bit more with each viewing, it's a fucked situation. 

I loved the gore-effects in the film, in Logan's lab a zombie breaks free of it's restraints and rises, his exposed intestines spill onto the floor as Logan casually walks over and puts a drill-bit through his forehead ceasing the threat, the lab is a real horror-show. Another zombie strapped to a table has had it's face and skull removed leaving only a brain attached to the body by the spinal cord, it's great stuff, no gorehound ever walked away from Day of the Dead disappointed. Special effects makeup master Tom Savini assisted by Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger were in top form, the effects are gut-churning, During the film's fantastic final third when the zombie make their way into the facility with the help of an unhinged soldier they just start tearing chunks of flesh apart, ripping people open and it's really creative stuff, a lot of it is on par with what we saw in John Carpenter's The Thing (1982), and it's certainly more visceral here, as a special effects film this is one of the goriest of 'em all. 

Romero's use of social commentary is fully intact, it may not be as in-your-face and as goofy as the consumerism critique of Dawn but it's felt, this time out Romero plays with the tensions between the scientists and the military, and it's pretty tense stuff. Can you imagine being holed-up in an underground cavern, zombies are encroaching at an alarming rate, soldiers are dying at a steady clip. and the science guys wanna train the undead, the military is becoming increasingly unhinged and hostile, it's a recipe for unhappiness and this is a pretty bleak film from the top down, it's much darker than the previous entry and not just because it's set underground, it's a depressing watch and one without the benefit (or detriment, depends on your view) of the occasional comedy break we had with Dawn, which may be why I prefer the Argento cut of Dawn, it removes a lot of the goofiness of Romero's cut.

Day of the Dead may not have been as widely appreciated in the past as Romero's Night and Dawn but I think fans are shifting their opinion of this film much the same way as I have with each subsequent viewing, it's a dark and unrelenting watch with a lot of great gore and some dynamic human interactions, a classic zombie film, still one of the best ever, period. 

Blu-ray: Shout! Factory imprint Scream factory offer up Romero's Day of the Dead (1985) with a brand-new MPEG4-AVC encode on a dual layered 1080p Blu-ray and it's quite a treat, there's a nice fine layer of film grain that's not too intrusive and colors are significantly warmer than the previous 2007 Anchor Bay edition which was bit cold, especially with skin tones and this is a nice step-up from that. This is a very dark film, much of it filmed underground, so don't expect the most vibrant viewing but colors are quite nice, it looks great. Fine detail may be slightly improved from the Anchor Bay edition but only by degrees, the warmer color grading is very much appreciated. 

Scream Factory have chosen to stay true to the original mono presentation with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 option with English subtitles. The Anchor Bay edition sported a PCM 5.1 mix, while I do appreciate the pureness of the mono I would have enjoyed a newly minted 5.1 to open up the sound field a bit, the mono a bit shallow but the dynamic range is decent and well-balanced, John Harrison's score sounds quite nice. Arrow's R2 edition and Anchor Bay's 2-disc DVD and Blu-ray featured some re-dubbed dialogue that upset a few fans, for example at the 9:35 mark the word "shit" was replaced with "right", I am pleased to confirm that Scream Factory's edition does not feature the re-dubbed dialogue, so kudos to Scream for fixing that issue. 

Onto the extras we have a few brand-new Scream-produced extras beginning with the new documentary World's End: The Legacy of Day of the Dead (85 Minutes) and even if you've watched the Many Days of Day of the Dead doc on previous edition this is a fantastic watch, a first-rate feature length doc and it alone would warrant purchase of this edition even without the improved transfer.

Absent from this release is the inclusion of Sean Clark's Horror's Hallowed Ground's featurette, in it's place we find Ed Demko of Cult Magazine and Bloodtype Online hosting a tour of the Wampum Mines location, A Look into the Day of the Dead Mines (7:37), the location is inspired and this is a great tour with Ed whom at one point performs some choice dialogue from the film as he tours the underground facility with longtime mine employee Skip Docchio. 

The remaining extras are ported over from the 2007 Anchor Bay edition and include two audio commentaries, the first with director George A. Romero, Make-up Effects artist Tom Savini, Production Designer Cletus Anderson and 

actress Lori Cardille and it's loaded with facts and bits of trivia, a must-listen for fans. The second commentary is supplied by Day of the Dead super-fan  writer/director Roger Avery (Pulp Fiction, Killing Zoe) and it's a pretty great listen from a different perspective, glad to see it brought over for this release. 

Finishing up the extras we have trailers, TV spots, and several extensive photo galleries plus some fantastic behind-the-scenes video courtesy of make-up effects master Tom Savini, fun stuff,  it was great to see the set-ups for many of the film's ultra-gory sequences. Missing from this set is the audio interview with actor Richard Liberty and the Anchor Bay produced featurette The Many Days of Day of the Dead, but on it's own this is a great edition. 

Packing extras include a sleeve of reversible artwork featuring the original theatrical poster art plus newly commissioned artwork from artist Nathan Thomas Milliner who also did the artwork for Scream's edition of Joe Dante's The Howling (1981), very nice stuff. His artwork is also featured on the slipcase for the disc, too.  

Scream Factory Special Features: 
- New High Definition Transfer
- New Documentary - World’s End: The Legacy of “Day of the Dead (85 Minutes) *
- New UNDERGROUND: A Look into the DAY OF THE DEAD mines (7 Minutes) *

- Audio Commentary with writer/director George A. Romero, Special
Make-up Effects artist Tom Savini, Production Designer Cletus Anderson and
actress Lori Cardille
- Audio Commentary with filmmaker Roger Avary

- Wampum Mine Promotional Video (8 Minutes)
- Behind-The-Scenes Footage from Special Make-up Effects Creator Tom Savini’s
archives (30 Minutes)
- Photo Galleries (42 Minutes)
- Theatrical Trailers (6 Minutes)
- TV Spots (2 Minutes)

It should be noted that unlike many of the recent Scream Factory Collector's
Edition Blu-rays (The Howling, Phantasm II) Day of the Dead does not
port over every special feature from the previous editions, for the sake of
comparison let's have look at the Anchor Bay Blu-ray features from a few
years ago and see how it stacks up...

Anchor Bay Blu-ray Special Features:
- Commentary by George A. Romero, Tom Savini, Lori Cardile, and Cletus
- Commentary by filmmaker Roger Avery
- MANY DAYS OF DAY OF THE DEAD documentary (39 Minutes) *
- DAY OF THE DEAD: Behind the Scenes (30 Minutes)
- Last audio interview with actor Richard Liberty conducted by Taso N.
Stavrakis and Telleria (16:08) *

- Gateway Commerce Center featurette (8 Minutes)
- 7 Still Galleries (43 Minutes)
- George Romero Biography/Filmography
- 3 Trailers
- 3 TV Spots
- DVD-ROM: Original 166 page draft of DAY OF THE DEAD; Production Memos *

* exclusive to each edition 

Verdict: For years I have been a bit cold on Romero's Day of the Dead (1985), I much preferred Dawn of the Dead (1978) and it's characters, plus I just loved the location, the mall was such an inspired idea to me as a teen, the commentary on consumerism appealed to me and I loved the goofiness of it. Day is way more claustrophobic, it's tense and moody, and as I have aged I definitely enjoy Day a bit more with every viewing and Scream Factory's new transfer was a great excuse to throw it on again, not that I needed a reason, I watch it at least once a year, it's actually starting to inch up on Dawn as my favorite Dead film. When it comes down to which edition to own I must say that Scream's Blu-ray has the more favorable transfer but it lacks a few extras that would make this the definitive edition, so hang onto that Anchor Bay Blu-ray for the 5.1 and a few extras, but as a fan of the film you need this one on your shelf. It's a powerful film, the transfer is awesome and the new doc is outstanding, highly recommended even if it's a double-dip. 4 Outta 5