Now available on DVD
Directed by Steve Miner
There are three types of horror movie remakes. First, there is the new twist on an old premise (Alexander Aja’s The Hills Have Eyes), which has been most successful. Secondly, there is the shot-for-shot recreation (Gus Van Sant’s Psycho), which is rarely good. Then there is Steve Miner’s Day of the Dead – a mess of celluloid that has nothing to do with the 1985 film from which it stole its title. Shamelessly capitalizing on the popularity of Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, this movie not only insults George Romero, but also insults the audience’s intelligence with a cheap script, unlikable characters, and the most ludicrous zombies ever put on film.
In a small Colorado town, most of the locals are ill with flu-like symptoms, and the U.S. Army has placed the area under quarantine. When the small epidemic turns into a zombie holocaust, two groups of immune survivors get held up in a hospital and a radio station, respectively. Leading the hospital crew is Corporal Sarah Cross, a young soldier who hails from the small town. Joining her is wise-cracking Pvt. Salazar, the cowardly Dr. Logan, and a clumsy private nicknamed “Bud.” Meanwhile, at the radio station, Sarah’s brother, his girlfriend, and more people you won’t care about hide out from the zombies.
The first mistake this movie made was calling itself Day of the Dead. Aside from having soldiers and using similar character names, this film has nothing in common with Romero’s third Dead film. The remake brutally butchers characters from the original, including Capt. Rhodes, Bub, and Dr. Logan. In this version, Ving Rhames plays Capt. Rhodes, albeit nothing like Joe Pilato’s memorable portrayal. Not one shred of his personality was incorporated into Rhames’ emotionless performance. Not even a “Choke on ’em!” for good measure. Ving was clearly cast in this role to trick fans of the Dawn remake into thinking this was a direct sequel to that film. The word shameless only begins to describe that move.
Bub, arguably the coolest zombie ever, is now Bud, a clumsy soldier-turned-zombie who does not eat people because he is – brace yourself – a vegetarian. Even Bub, lovable as he was, enjoyed a nice, bloody organ to snack on. This reincarnation is just insulting. Furthermore, Stark Sands’ portrayal of Bud comes across as a terrible impersonation of Howard Sherman’s brilliant performance in the original. Meanwhile, the script even botches Dr. Logan. Instead of being a stark-raving-mad scientist, Logan is a handsome, jerk doctor from the Center for Disease Control. He has no relationship with Bud and is worthless in the movie. Richard Liberty is probably rolling in his grave somewhere.
The only remotely likable actor in Day is Mena Suvari. She doesn’t set any acting standards, but at least she does not warrant a public beating. The same cannot be said for Nick Cannon, who plays walking black stereotype Pvt. Salazar. Every other line out of his mouth is a paltry attempt at humor that only comes across as offensive. Unlike the smart, level-headed African-American men that characterized Romero’s films, Salazar is reckless, short-tempered, and generally obnoxious. Among the other protagonists, there is Michael Welch as Sarah’s brother, AnnaLynne McCord as his girlfriend, and Ian McNeice as a radio DJ. All are annoying and barely worth the mention they just received.
Worst of all are the zombies. Somebody decided it would be a smart idea to have zombies that climb and bounce off walls like Spider-Man. You know horror has gone downhill when zombies are doing wire stunts. So superhuman are these zombies that they withstand being thrown from cars, falling from windows, and breaking through plate-glass. And yet Salazar and his knife-duct-taped-to-a-stick lop their heads off as if made of tissue paper. There are a few amusing zombie deaths, but too few and far-between. Most of the zombies are too ludicrous to be taken seriously, like the leader zombie who inexplicably sounds like the T-Rex from Jurassic Park. I wish I was exaggerating.
Looks-wise, the zombies are not so great, either. Following an act like Tom Savini and Greg Nicotero is no easy task, but the makeup FX team on this film was practically nonexistent. Most of the special makeup FX were touched up or replaced with computer-generated imagery. Then there were the gallons of blood – again, all CGI. A few decent prosthetic and makeup pieces did appear now and then, thank goodness.
Needless to say, Jeffrey Reddick’s script is lacking. His characters are poorly developed and mostly unlikable. The story is plagued by inconsistencies and absurd scenarios. At least the zombie contagion has an interesting origin story – it was developed by the military to non-fatally paralyze enemy soldiers. So it was actually intended to save lives. Wow, it almost qualifies as deep and ironic! Furthermore, the movie might have even been scary at times if not for all the spider-zombies.
Steve Miner does not help matters with his irritating directing. He is under the common misconception that high shutter speeds and scratchy film make a horror movie better. On the contrary, Day‘s style is derivative, nay, a complete rip-off of better movies. Most surprising are all the similarities with Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror. Their respective production schedules suggest it is a coincidence, but I have my doubts. The scratchy film stock, the hospital outbreak, the immune protagonists, the zombies exploding when hit with cars, the virus as a biological agent, and more. You decide.
Day of the Dead earned a score of 2 because it is not completely unwatchable. It’s cheap horror for indiscriminate genre fans. It also tiptoes on so-bad-it-is-funny territory. On the other hand, it cannot be forgiven for so shamelessly insulting Romero’s original. Even the posters proclaiming, “Based on the film by GEORGE A. ROMERO” are tactless. It is sad when producers have such little faith in their own film that they exploit the work of others. If you choose to rent this one, copious amounts of alcohol or masochistic tendencies are recommended.