Like many horror fans, including George Romero himself, Day of the Dead is easily my favorite entry in Romero's "Trilogy of the Dead." So when Umbrella Entertainment announced their new "Ultimate Edition" Blu-ray for the film and presented me with an opportunity to review it, I readied myself for another journey into the flesh-eating (under)world of the undead.
Chances are high that if you’re reading this review, you’re already rather familiar with the film, thus I'm going to keep the story rundown to a minimum and mainly focus on the quality of the release itself.
Taking place years after the events of Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, the film begins in a world where the undead outnumber the living 40,000 to one and the civilized world has all but eroded away. A group of survivors, comprised of civilian scientist types and soldiers, have taken refuge within a fortified underground missile silo. When we're introduced to the group, tensions are already running high between factions. Captain Rhodes (Joe Pilato), who leads the ragtag group of soldiers, has begun to lose faith (and patience) in the scientists' efforts, who aren't seeking to eradicate the zombies like Rhodes and gang are hell-bent on doing, but are instead trying discover a more peaceful solution.
At the forefront of testing is borderline mad scientist Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty), commonly referred to as Frankenstein due to his bizarre means of experimentation, most notably on a captured zombie named Bub (Howard Sherman) that's begun to show signs of intelligence. The two factions collide with their moral stances, as Logan's research gets out of hand and the soldiers' severe actions become more frequent and brutal. Soon, the biggest threat to their survival isn't the zombies roaming above, but each other.
Dubbed "the darkest day of horror the world has ever known," Romero's third entry in the living dead universe is an insanely grim romp, and while it doesn't feature much of the excitement found in Dawn of the Dead, Tom Savini's special effects really take the film to a whole new level. Quite possibly Savini's best work, the gore effects are not only more plentiful than in Dawn, but leaps and bounds more realistic. The zombies also feel like more of a threat than their shambling "blue faced" predecessors. With Day, Romero once again gives us a strong female lead that's able to handle herself in a male dominated world. Sarah (Lori Cardille) is a very likable character and one who's easy to root for when Pilato's Rhodes begins to lose his marbles and the shit really hits the fan. And the film's location itself only adds to the overwhelming sense of dread, as the bunker's walls create a claustrophobic and tense setting for the storyline to play out.
I'm rather biased when it comes to Romero so it's hard for me to pick out aspect that I don't like in his films. If I had to complain about one thing with Day of the Dead it would have to be the unexplored subplot with Bub and Dr, Logan. I would've loved to have seen more interaction between the two, which is honestly too small of an issue to call a "complaint." This film is borderline perfect in my eyes and it ends Romero's first trilogy on a very dark and dreary note. The cast is fantastic, it's well edited, and it truly feels like a legitimate horror film, one that can easily get under your skin if dwell on the circumstances of those involved.
Now onto the part you're all here for, the Blu-ray itself. First up, we have the video quality. Day of the Dead is presented on a 50GB disc in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.78.1 widescreen and it looks like Umbrella used the same master as Scream Factory did for their 2013 Collector's Edition release. The colors are a tad bit brighter on this release, with depth and detail seeing a slight improvement, especially in the dark mining tunnel scenes. The film obviously isn't a very colorful one, given that it primarily takes place underground, but the colors that are seen, mainly in the bloody scenes, really do pop. There are no noticeable issues with noise reduction, edge enhancement, or print damages, with film grain kept to a natural amount.
In terms of audio options, we're provided with English language DTS-HD 5.1 and 2.0 options with removable English subtitles. I noticed absolutely no issues with either.
Umbrella Entertainment lives up to the "Ultimate Edition" title with a plentiful amount of bonus features, beginning with a wonderful audio commentary track that features Writer/Director George A. Romero, Special Make-Up Effects Artist Tom Savini, Production Designer Cletus Anderson and Actress Lori Cardille. This comprehensive track covers the movie's shooting locations, production in front of and behind the camera, scripting, effects work, and pretty much every other aspect of the film. There's a second audio commentary track that features Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger, Everett Burrell and Mike Deak, which mainly focuses on the special effects and the difficulties that arose with them during production.
Quite possibly the best feature is the comprehensive ninety-minute-long feature length documentary entitled World’s End: The Legacy of Day of the Dead. The doc features interviews with most of the film's cast and crew, and it's essentially the definitive "making of" for Day of the Dead. It's insanely well put together and in-depth, covering cast experiences on working with Romero, their thoughts on the film and shooting locations. Romero himself goes into detail on making the picture and his intended vision with the project. This really is a heartfelt and brazenly truthful look into one of the greatest zombie films ever made. This featurette alone is easily worth the price of the Blu-ray.
"Behind the Scenes with Day of the Dead" is a vintage, 21-minute piece that show a lot of what went into pre-production and some behind the scenes footage from the set. We're treated to life on set as cast members hang out and chat with one another, zombie extras eat lunch and watch TV, and Joe Pilato discovers the ugly outcome of unrefrigerated animal guts. Fun stuff!
Next is "Day of the Dead: Behind The Scenes," a 31-minute featurette that mainly focuses on Tom Savini's time on set and the footage he shot behind the scenes, emphasis on special effects, of course!
After that, there is a 49-minute "In Conversation with George A. Romero" piece from Melbourne International Film Festival, wherein Guilia D’Agnolo Vallan hosts an interview with Romero himself about his entire career. They talk early influences, Romero's love for horror comics and their influence on Creepshow, the Hollywood system and so much more. This is a truly magnificent interview and really hits home if you're still deeply affected by the loss of Romero.
Finishing out the extras on the first disc are four TV spots, three different trailers and the 8-minute vintage Wampum Mine Promotional Video, which was originally created as a business development tool.
Umbrella has included a second DVD in this release that contains a few more extra features, starting with "The Many Days of the Dead," which includes interviews with Romero, Savini, Nicotero, Howard Sherman, Joe Pilato, Lori Cardille and others. It's another great look at the creation of the film and its lasting impact. From there we're treated to "Joe Of The Dead," an insightful look into Joe Pilato's career as told by the man himself. Another feature on the disc, titled "Travelogue Of The Dead," which follows Pilato once again, this time joined by Ken Foree as they make appearances in the UK to promote the movie. This piece also features input from the fans, some who praise it, while others don't fare it as well.
"Reflections on the Living Dead" is a 78-minute extra that covers an event where Romero, John A Russo, Russell W. Streiner and Karl Hardman got together for the first time in years to discuss Night of the Living Dead and how the film came to be. Filmmakers Tobe Hooper, Fred Olan Ray, John Landis, Sam Raimi, David DeCouteau, Scott Spiegel, and Wes Craven also show up to talk about the film's influence on them.
Rounding out the extras on this disc is an extensive gallery of behind the scenes and promo images. The Blu-ray also features reversible cover art by Simon Sherry.
Day of the Dead is one hell of a zombie epic. It's relentless, grim and uncompromising, and while some fans of the "Dead Trilogy" don't hold it as near to their hearts as the previous two films, there's no denying Day is one of the greatest zombie films ever created. Umbrella Entertainment has not only created the ultimate edition of the film, but a comprehensive and monumental tribute to the late George A. Romero and his undying legacy.