DAY OF THE DEAD (198) Blu-ray
Director: George Romero
Scream Factory/Shout! Factory

DAY OF THE DEAD gets an HD resurrection in Shout! Factory’s new “Scream Factory” collector’s edition Blu-ray.

The third film in Romero’s original “Dead” trilogy received mixed reviews upon its release, and first time viewers expecting another DAWN OF THE DEAD are bound to be disappointed by the downbeat tone and mostly unlikable characters. Although its reputation has become elevated since for most viewers by way of VHS in the 1980s and several barebones to fully-featured special edition DVD releases in the last decade – including one that I had covered for another site – Scream Factory’s new special edition Blu-ray (and separately released DVD) isn’t likely to convert any of its detractors, but it’s a great way for fans to enjoy the film. In the third installment of George Romero’s “Dead” trilogy, zombies outnumber humans four hundred to one. A team of scientists are frantically working on a solution to the zombie plague with military protection in a massive Florida mine, but their numbers are dwindling and patience is wearing extremely thin. They have lost contact with Washington D.C. and have thus far not encountered any human life on their helicopter tours two hundred miles up along the coast. When the death of Major Cooper, abusive Captain Rhodes (Joe Pilato, EFFECTS) has taken over as acting commander, and he’s sick of his men rounding up corpses for the socialization experiments of Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty, THE CRAZIES) or his colleague Sarah’s (Lori Cardille) increasingly desperate attempts to find a cure; Rhodes wants he and his men to cut loose from the project and blast their way to civilization. Further ratcheting up the tension between the scientists and the military officers is Sarah’s relationship with Private Miguel Salazar (Anthony Dileo Jr., MONKEY SHINES) who is cracking under the pressure and making potentially life-threatening mistakes as Rhodes continues to work him against the Sarah’s objections. Dr. Logan promises startling advances in his research in the form of “Bub” (Sherman Howard, DARK ANGEL), a zombie that he has managed to civilize, suggesting that the living dead can be conditioned not to eat flesh; but that proposed solution seems just as difficult to implement as Rhodes’ desire to decimate millions of the living dead with limited firepower. The scientist-military schism – with pilot John (Terry Alexander, THE WEREWOLF OF WASHINGTON) and radio engineer McDermott (Jarlath Conroy, the remake of TRUE GRIT) on the sidelines until forced to make a choice – is a powder keg waiting to erupt whether due to Rhodes’ and Sarah’s standoff, Miguel’s erratic behavior, or the icky details behind Logan’s experiments; whatever the outcome, the living dead will get fed. MARTIN’s John Amplas plays the third ill-fated member of the scientific time.

Scream Factory’s 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC-encoded widescreen (1.85:1) transfer lacks the 5.1 enhancements of the previous Anchor Bay and import releases (some of which utilized a dialogue track that was censored), but it does feature a perfectly fine DTS Master Audio 2.0 rendering of the original mono track (the film played theatrically in mono but was released on tape in Japan with a mono mix of the dialogue and effects but a stereo recording of the score). The image has bolder colors than the Anchor Bay and Arrow releases; that might seem to go against the film’s rough-hewn look and feel, but it does give the film an EC-comics feel particularly with the scenes where cinematographer Michael Gornick utilizes color gels (not unlike his certain surreal sequences in CREEPSHOW, which was shot just before this). The sky backgrounds in the chopper scenes are lacking detail, but the commentary track reveals that they were shot against seamless white paper. The presentation starts on the fade-in and is missing the United Film Distribution Company logo seen on some prints. Optional English subtitles are also available.

The two commentary tracks heard on the Anchor Bay release have been carried over here. On the first track, director/writer George A. Romero, special make-up effects artist Tom Savini, actress Lori Cardille, and production designer Cletus Anderson. As usual with tracks by Romero and his collaborators on various releases of his films, this track is a thoroughly enjoyable and warm discussion covering all aspects of the film. Cardille discusses being the daughter of Romero alumnus “Chilly Billy” Cardille, who was supportive of the first film and hosted a Saturday night program called “Chiller Theatre”. Anderson discusses dressing the Florida streets for the opening (the second unit was directed by composer John Harrison and shot by BONES’ Ernest Dickerson), but everyone has something to say about the advantages and drawbacks of working in the mine location (including various respiratory issues). Romero is extremely complementary of the participants’ contributions to the film (including Savini and crew’s severed heads). Romero also points out one of the film’s few visual effects, a matte painting by Jim Danforth (THE THING) that extends a shot of a derelict Florida street into the horizon.

The second audio commentary features filmmaker Roger Avery (KILLING ZOE) who had nothing to do with the film’s production and starts off the track by identifying himself as just a fan of the film. He also states that very little of what he has to say on the track will likely be anything new to diehard fans of the film, and instead discusses how he first encountered the film as well as DAWN and NIGHT (he and his friend took a bus to Los Angeles to rent a 16mm print to view it). His father worked in mines similar to the setting of the film so he is familiar with them, and suggests that they would actually have made a good shelter against a zombie invasion given the limited access points to get to them in the first place. He spends much of the commentary track admiring various aspects of the film’s story, performances, and visuals, and detailing the influence of Romero’s work on his own films (of DAWN, he says that he hired composers Tomandandy to score KILLING ZOE because them seemed like a cross between Goblin and Tangerine Dream). It’s not a bad track, but it doesn’t have the repeat value of the Romero and company track (and the Romero tracks on his other films). Some of the import releases feature a different audio commentary by special effects make-up artists Everett Burrell, Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger, and Mike Deak (which I would have preferred to the Avery track).

Missing from the new disc is the forty-minute documentary “The Many Days of the Dead”, but it does feature the brand-new feature length documentary titled "World's End: The Legacy of Day of the Dead" (85:25). The featurette brings back just about every surviving major player on the film from actors Cardille, Pilato, Alexander, DiLeo, Gary Klar, and even “Bub” himself Howard Sherman, as well as Romero, Savini, and composer/second unit director John Harrison among others. Among the highlights are DiLeo discusses the popular interpretation of his character, Klar (who originally read for Rhodes) waxes on Romero’s brilliance in casting him as the ultimate soldier and Pilato as the Napoleon (he also talks about his efforts to redeem his character in his final scene), Sherman discussing acting through effects make-up, and Pilato’s concern when taking the role and the first few days of shooting that he was going over-the-top (there is of course a tribute to the late Richard Liberty who was reportedly touched that fans enjoyed his work here). There’s a nice chunk devoted to the effects work, from the zombie designs to the gore itself, including the anecdote about the refrigerator storing the real animal guts being unplugged over the weekend so they were rotten when they were used for Rhodes’ death (it’s actually quite heartwarming to see some of the zombie extras who’ve torn him apart trying to shield him from the smell right after the “cut” was called).

The disc also carries over from previous releases a “Behind the Scenes” featurette showcasing Savini’s make-up effects (30:41) from his archival videos (much of which was already excerpted in the feature-length documentary discussed above. The “Wampum Mine Promo” (8:11) is the Gateway Commerce Center promotional piece seen on the previous releases advertising the virtues of underground storage (constant temperatures and unlimited floor loads), but the disc also features "Underground: A Look at Day of the Dead's Mines" (7:56) with Bloodtype Online’s Ed Demko doing the sort of schtick Sean Clark does on the “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds” featurettes seen on some of the other Scream Factory discs (but not as amusing). Also included are one teaser and three theatrical trailers (5:54), three TV Spots (1:34), and four still galleries (behind the scenes, locations, posters and lobby Cards, and miscellaneous) including just about every poster, video, laserdisc, DVD, and Blu-ray cover (Turkey cribbed the artwork for Jose Ramon Larraz’s 1987 film REST IN PIECES for their 1988 theatrical release). Although it lacks the surround remixes of the Anchor Bay and the collector’s packaging of the Arrow release, Scream Factory’s edition is a worthy upgrade for the transfer or a companion piece for the other editions (and definitely the edition to grab for newbies). (Eric Cotenas)