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From Under A Rock: Day of the Dead

October 21, 2017 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
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From Under A Rock: Day of the Dead  


October is our horror season here at From Under A Rock, and our latest pick is Michael’s favorite entry in George A. Romero’s “…of the Dead” franchise.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Aaron chose Little Shop of Horrors. This week Michael takes Aaron out from under the proverbial rock to show him Day of the Dead.

Day of the Dead
Released: July 19th, 1985
Directed by: George A. Romero
Written by: George A. Romero
Lori Cardille as Dr. Sarah Bowman
Joseph Pilato as Captain Henry Rhodes
Terry Alexander as John
Jarlath Conroy as William “Bill” McDermott
Anthony Dileo Jr. as Pvt. Miguel Salazar
Richard Liberty as Dr. Matthew “Frankenstein” Logan
Sherman Howard as Bub the Zombie

Michael Ornelas: Zombies were my gateway into horror, a genre I never really thought much about until I dove headfirst into them about 5 years ago. 28 Days Later has always been a personal favorite of mine,

Aaron Hubbard: I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum, as zombies are close to my least favorite subgenre of horror. But, that said, Romero’s reputation precedes him and I was looking forward to this.
Villainy Through Prejudice
Michael: The bad guys in this movie were very easy to pick out because they were blatant racists and sexists. It’s a little on the nose, but for a B-movie, it doesn’t feel out of place. In a way, that’s always been a trope of horror, where the bad humans are so obvious in how despicable they are so that you don’t have too complex of a character dynamic that you have to use your brainpower to consider if you like them or not, and you can instead just enjoy the “monster” or whatever supernatural element is brought into play. It also made their ultimate demises that much more satisfying to feel like they had it coming.

Aaron: What struck me here was that the villains were living humans, not zombies. Until the very end, the zombie horde is never really a threat. I feel like is one of the first movies to use a zombie apocalypse as a status quo setting instead of a new phenomenon. Here they are more a force of nature than anything, and as you alluded to, the tool by which the bad guys are slain. Quite a turnaround from Night of the Living Dead.

Michael: It actually feels a lot like the groundwork that was laid for what The Walking Dead has become, where zombies are more of an inconvenience and a scientific curiosity than the main threat. Humanity will always be its own worst enemy and this film highlights that.
The Sympathetic Monster
Aaron: What is always going to stick out to me most about this film is Bub. The idea of trying to domesticate a zombie is both fresh and sort of hilarious. Watching this guy slowly remember things he used to know was a treat, and I found myself almost wanting the film to be more about him. Which is not a knock on the human characters, but a tribute to how interesting Bub is.

Michael: Bub is definitely a highlight for me. I was rooting for him when he was pursuing Rhodes. Bub showed emotion, he showed a capacity to learn mechanical tasks, and even appreciation for art. I genuinely feared for Dr. Logan when he reached his hand to Bub’s face to put the headphones on him. He tempted fate, and came away with a trust of Bub. I feel that the story had just enough of him to make me want to see more, but there was so much more that was interesting going on, that I would’ve felt cheated if we didn’t focus on those other things as well.

Aaron: Yeah, the story has a lot of moving parts and balances it very well. That said, I feel like this movie had a lot of impact on Warm Bodies, a more recent zombie movie that I liked quite a bit. The genre can be really tired at times, but getting inside the head of a zombie is something worth exploring.
Gross Gore
Michael: Romero was soooo amazing at gore effects. I know every time a movie impresses me with practical effects, I devote a whole section to talking about it, but this was on another level. The gore mixed real actors with prosthetics and gave us horror without cutting away. It was terrifying and gruesome. We had a guy have his head pulled off while screaming and the animatronic head fooled me at first glance. The dude whose eye was clawed out also got me. Even cutting off Miguel’s arm was done super disgustingly, and I bought into it.

Aaron: I don’t mind you bringing the subject up every time. Especially in the horror genre, which often gets overlooked by Academy Awards and what not due to the gore. But the effects in this are genuinely incredible. I love when an effect lets me be viscerally grossed out while still being in awe of how real it looks.

Michael: There were a couple where my instinct was to avert my eyes. That never happens to me! That’s how I know the effects are something to be revered. Anyone who thinks CGI is better than practical should look to this movie for how to do practical effects well. It will always look better when done right.

Aaron: I’ll probably never be too gung-ho about zombie movies, but this was one of the best I’ve ever seen. The effects were outstanding, Bub was a great idea, and the general mood sets the standard for the genre.


Michael: Full disclosure, I like other zombie movies better than Romero’s franchise, but for his time, he was a master. I love the human element of this film and the creativity of how they used Bub, the zombie who was effectively “learning.” We were just as much of monsters as they were, and they proved to be just as human as some of us. Add the gore effects on top of a compelling idea, and you get a really great movie.


Aaron: I assume 28 Days Later is your favorite zombie film?

Michael: Absolutely. It’s in my top 10 of any type of film. But it would have never happened if it weren’t for Romero’s work decades earlier.

What’s your favorite zombie movie?

Next week:

Aaron: Next week, I’m picking a sci-fi monster movie, one of my favorite subgenres of horror.
Michael: It’s an older movie, right? I saw it on a “best of” list recently, so I’m very excited to check it out.

Aaron: Them! is from the 1950s, yes. I have a lot of appreciation for this period, especially in the sci-fi genre.

What are your favorite eras of science fiction filmmaking?

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Mission: Impossible, They Live, Marvel’s Daredevil, The Silence of the Lambs, 12 Angry Men, The Usual Suspects, The Boondock Saints, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Iron Giant, Fargo, American Psycho, 28 Days Later, Frankenstein, Crank, The Godfather: Part II, American Beauty, Rocky, Alien, Spaceballs, Star Wars: Clone Wars, The Muppets Christmas Carol, Reservoir Dogs, Superman: The Movie, Lethal Weapon, Double Indemnity, Groundhog Day, The Departed, Breaking Bad, Shane, Glengarry Glen Ross, Blue Ruin, Office Space, The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest, Drive, Memoirs of a Geisha, Let the Right One In, Apocalypse Now, Aliens, The Incredible Hulk, A Clockwork Orange, Chicago, Seven, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, The Room, Chinatown, Jaws, Unforgiven, RoboCop, The Legend of Korra – Book One: Air, Ghostbusters, Spider-Man 2, Prometheus, Scarface, Gattaca, Monty Python & The Holy Grail, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Equilibrium, City of God, The Graduate, Face/Off, Snowpiercer, The Exorcist, Hellboy, Village of the Damned, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Idiocracy, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Fly (1986), Under the Skin, Die Hard, Dredd, Star Wars Holiday Special, A Christmas Story, Snakes on a Plane, The Big Lebowski, Bulworth, Raging Bull, Thank You for Smoking, John Wick, Mulholland Drive, The Karate Kid, Lucky Number Slevin, The Searchers, Black Dynamite, Labyrinth, Rick & Morty, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Abyss, Seven Samurai, Bio-Dome, Memento, L.A. Confidential, Tangled, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Wonder Woman, The Way Way Back, Rebel Without a Cause, Predator, Before Sunrise, Evil Dead II, Planet of the Apes, Wet Hot American Summer, Tombstone, The Core, American Graffiti, León: The Professional, Steel, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Logan, Tusk, Ghost in the Shell, Twin Peaks, The Artist, The Thing, Little Shop of Horrors, Day of the Dead

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The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Day of the Dead may not be the landmark film that Night of the Living Dead was or as popular as Dawn of the Dead. But it's an excellent film in its own right, with spectacular special effects and memorable characters. It also sets a standard for a zombie apocalypse as a status quo; if you're a fan of The Walking Dead in particular, this film is highly influential.