Day of the Dead (1985 film)

Day of the Dead (1985 film)
Day of the Dead

Theatrical release poster
Directed by George A. Romero
Produced by Richard P. Rubinstein
Written by George A. Romero
Starring Lori Cardille
Terry Alexander
Joseph Pilato
Richard Liberty
Music by John Harrison
Jim Blazer
Sputzy Sparacino
Studio Dead Films Inc.
Laurel Entertainment Inc.
Laurel-Day Inc.
Distributed by United Film Distribution Company
Release date(s) July 19, 1985 (1985-07-19)
Running time 102 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3.5 million
Box office $34 million[1]

Day of the Dead is a 1985 horror film directed by George A. Romero and is the third film in Romero's Dead Series, being preceded by Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Dawn of the Dead (1978).

Director George A. Romero describes the film as a "tragedy about how a lack of human communication causes chaos and collapse even in this small little pie slice of society". This film features Sherman Howard in an early appearance as Bub and make-up artist Gregory Nicotero playing Pvt. Johnson and doing the make-up effects.



Some time after the events of "Dawn of the Dead," zombies have overrun the world. The remaining fragments of the U.S. government and military hide out in fortified enclaves, attempting to find both survivors and a solution to the zombie phenomenon. Sarah, John, Bill, and Miguel -- four such survivors -- arrive in the deserted streets of Fort Myers, Florida, and search for survivors. They are instead met by a zombie horde, and quickly escape via helicopter to an underground Army base in the Everglades. Inside, a small group of scientists search for a way to stop or reverse the zombie process, assisted by a skeleton crew of Army soldiers. Sarah is a member of the scientific team, but she and Dr. Logan have different opinions of what should be done. He's looking to control the zombies after studying their biology, which Sarah thinks a waste of time. She's seeking a way to cure the problem by reversing the zombificiation process. She is also Miguel's girlfriend, and the only woman left in the complex, possibly in the world.

Dr. Logan, the lead scientist, earnestly believes zombies can be trained to become docile. He and his fellow scientists have amassed a collection of zombie test subjects, which are kept in underground corrals. Logan's nemesis, Capt. Rhodes, the base commander, loathes the zombies and wants to kill them. The tension between the soldiers and the scientists is worsened by dwindling supplies, loss of communication with other survivors, and a lack of progress in research.

Miguel, a soldier who is on the verge of a mental breakdown, is attacked by some of the captive zombies. Two other soldiers die in the attack, and Miguel is bitten on the arm, and because of his carelessness, leads to the death of some other soldiers. Sarah amputates Miguel's arm to prevent the zombie process and saves his life. The attack further enrages Capt. Rhodes, who orders the research shut down, and sends Miguel further into a breakdown.

Dr. Logan, meanwhile, continues his research. He is especially proud of Bub, a docile zombie who remembers parts of his past life, and recognizes common objects like a tape recorder and a book. Sarah is mortified when she learns Logan has been using the bodies of the dead soldiers in his research, and devises a plan with John and Bill to escape from the complex. Their plans are thwarted by Capt. Rhodes, who kills Logan after he discovers the corpses of his soldiers in a freezer. Rhodes then locks Sarah, Bill, and John inside the zombie corral, murdering Dr. Fisher, Logan's assistant. Sarah is the only scientist left.

Miguel has since gone insane, and heads to the surface to commit suicide. He opens the gate and allows the zombies to enter the complex -- and is devoured in the process. The zombies invade the underground bunker and kill the remaining soldiers. Rhodes attempts to escape, but is shot by Bub, and is fatally attacked by a nearby zombie horde. Sarah, John, and Bill manage to find an escape through the corral, and head to the surface. Sarah boards the helicopter, and is attacked by a zombie.

The attack is quickly revealed to be a nightmare; Sarah, John, and Bill are actually on a tropical beach. As John and Bill fish in the nearby water, Sarah smiles and crosses a day off her calendar.


  • Lori Cardille as Dr. Sarah Bowman
  • Terry Alexander as John
  • Joseph Pilato as Captain Rhodes
  • Jarlath Conroy as William McDermott
  • Anthony Dileo Jr. as Pvt. Miguel Salazar
  • Richard Liberty as Dr. "Frankenstein" Logan
  • Sherman Howard as Bub the Zombie
  • Gary Howard Klar as Pvt. Steel
  • Ralph Marrero as Pvt. Rickles
  • John Amplas as Dr. Ted Fisher
  • Phillip G. Kellams as Pvt. Miller
  • Taso N. Stavrakis as Pvt. Torrez
  • Gregory Nicotero as Pvt. Johnson

Stavrakis was also the film's Stunt Coordinator, while Nicotero was a member of Tom Savini's special effects make-up crew. In an outtake scene the director wanted to lighten the mood up, so had the entire cast and some zombies extra do a musical 1950 style number, sadly this clip was destroyed, but rumours still exist.



Romero originally intended the film to be his undead epic; "the Gone with the Wind of zombie films."[2] Following budget disputes and the artistic need to release the film unrated, the budget of the film was cut in half, dropping from $7 million to a scant $3.5 million.[2] This forced Romero to scale back his story, rewriting the script and adjusting his original vision to fit the smaller budget.

Filming took place in the fall of 1984 at locations in Pennsylvania and Florida. All above ground scenes were filmed at several locations around Florida, where Romero was living at the time. The opening scene was filmed in Fort Myers, Florida.[3] Underground scenes were filmed in a former mine shaft located near Wampum, Pennsylvania, which had been converted into a long-term storage facility for important documents. Though the mine maintained a constant temperature of about 50 F, its high humidity played havoc with the crew's equipment and props. Mechanical and electrical failures were a constant problem throughout filming, and caused several of special effects leader Tom Savini's props to fail during the filming of crucial scenes. The remote location also complicated the transportation of crew members and equipment. Cast and crew would often sleep in the mine overnight to avoid the timely travel to and from the shooting location while not shooting. "Zombie" extras were recruited from among the citizens of Pittsburgh, with preference given to those who had worked on previous Romero films. Extras were paid $1.00 for their services, and given a hat that read "I was a Zombie in Day of the Dead".

The film was given a very limited release.[2] This is chronicled in the documentary "The Many Days of Day of the Dead" on the 2-disc Anchor Bay special edition DVD of the film.[2] Some of the original concepts and characters remain, but the film differs greatly from Romero's original script,[4] as stated by actress Lori Cardille:

He could've made me this sexy little twit bouncing around with a gun:- much more the sexual element. But he made her intelligent and strong. Infact [sic], whenever I would try and make her a little more emotional, he would not allow me to do that.


Joseph Pilato was cast as Rhodes, the film's antagonist. As stated by Pilato "He pretty much just gave it to me. I don't know if he auditioned other people, but it was very quick. I came in and it was like, "You got it!."[5] Pilato had acted in two prior films directed by Romero, the first being Pilato's debut Dawn of the Dead and the second being Knightriders, in between those films he played his first lead role in a film entitled Effects.[5] In an interview Pilato was asked if Romero "had him in mind", Pilato stated that one of the reasons why he got the role was because of the budget being scaled down from 7 to 3.5 million.[5]

Release and reception

Subsequent to its theatrical release, the film has grossed over 30 million dollars worldwide.[1] Day of the Dead would earn most of its gross revenue when the film was released internationally on VHS format, and later DVD and Blu-ray. This is in contrast to the films poor box-office reception when it was released in domestic cinema.[6]

Ken Foree and David Emge from Dawn of the Dead and Joseph Pilato from Day of the Dead at a living dead convention.

Based on 29 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, Day of the Dead had a high approval rating, with 21 critics rating it "fresh" and only 6 rating it "rotten." Overall, it received a 79% approval rating.[7] Even so, that rating is the lowest of the initial 3 films in Romero's Dead series[8][9] with Night of the Living Dead which has a 96% approval rating and Dawn of the Dead which has a 94% approval rating.[8][9]

Day of the Dead was given a limited release on July 3, 1985 and a wide release on July 19, 1985.[10] It opened to generally mixed reviews, with some critics complaining that the film was too depressing and slow. Roger Ebert, who reacted favorably to other films of Romero's Dead Series,[11][12][13] gave Day of the Dead one and a half stars.[14] BBC reviewer Almar Haflidason stated "It benefits from a far larger budget than its predecessors, but suffers from a story as malnourished as the zombies that are chewing it up," Haflidason would go on to give the film three out of five stars.[15] As noted by the New York Times reviewer Janet Maslin "Yes, there are enough spilled guts and severed limbs to satisfy the bloodthirstiest fan. But these moments tend to be clustered together, and a lot of the film is devoted to windy argument. "[16] Allmovie reviewer Keith Phipps stated that: "The last, to date at least, of George Romero's living dead films is in many respects the least interesting, although it's not for a lack of ambition."[17] Variety wrote that the film was the most unsatisfying of the original three films and that "The acting here is generally unimpressive and in the case of Sarah's romantic partner, Miguel (Antone DiLeo Jr), unintentionally risible."[18]

Day of the Dead would peak at 23 on the Billboard chart Top VHS Sales in 1986 a year after its initial release.[19]

The film grossed $5.8 million domestically.[2] It fared much better internationally, grossing $28.2 million outside of the United States.[1] Day of the Dead's total gross is a little over $34 million.[1] The film is also noted for its special effects work, notably Tom Savini's make-up, he was honored with his second Saturn Award in 1985 for Best Make-Up, the first time being with Dawn of the Dead in 1980.[20] Romero himself cites Day of the Dead as his personal favorite of his original trilogy of zombie films.[21] The film will re-release on 30 April 2010 of the Con-Tamination 2010 narrated by Dave Dyer.[22]

Home video

The film was released on DVD on November 24, 1998 in the United States and on March 5, 2001 in the United Kingdom.[15][23] Both the theatrical and an unrated director's cut were released as a special editions containing identical bonus features, the DVD was released in the United Kingdom in a region 2 DVD.[15] The Blu-ray version of Day of the Dead was released October 2, 2007.[24] This edition includes many special features, including two audio commentary tracks with writer-director George A. Romero, Tom Savini, production designer Cletus Anderson, and lead actress Lori Cardille.[24] There is also a second commentary with fellow filmmaker and self-proclaimed Romero fan, Roger Avary.[24] It also includes two documentaries, the first one is entitled The Many Days of 'Day of the Dead, which focuses on the original script and the budget, it also included information about shooting in the Gateway Commerce Center.[24] What is also mentioned is the casting details. The second documentary entitled Day of the Dead: Behind the Scenes, focuses mostly on make-up effects.[24] On 29 March 2010 Arrow Video released a 25th Anniversary Edition on Blu-ray exclusive to the UK.[25]

Popular culture

In 28 Days Later, the British military were mostly psychopathic like Rhodes and his men. Like in Day of the Dead, they were keeping an "infected" in captivity for testing.

Near the end of Resident Evil, the protagonist Alice walks outside of her quarantine into a ravaged city street jammed with traffic. The camera pans past a newspaper blowing in the wind stating "The Dead Walk!", a direct homage to George Romero's work on Day of the Dead. Another homage is one episode of Stroker & Hoop featured the characters battling zombies using guns made by Double-Wide. They turn out to fire only sunlight, to which he claims because the film is called Night of the Dead and not Day of the Dead to hint out their weakness to sunlight. Coroner Rick yells at him "That was the sequel!"

The song "M1 A1", from the self-titled 2001 Gorillaz album samples the pulsing synthesizers and cries of "Hello! Is anyone there?" from the opening of the film.[26] The song "Hip Albatross", also by Gorillaz, features a clip of Terry Alexander's dialogue.[27] Furthermore, the artwork for the song "November has Come" off of the Gorillaz' 2005 album Demon Days has a picture of a calendar pinned to a brick wall set to the month of October with all the dates marked off in red Xs (reminiscent of the opening scene in Day of the Dead).[26]

The song "Battlefield", from the This Is My Battlefield 2004 Panzer AG album samples Captain Rhodes asking Sarah in reference to Miguel's zombie bite: "You think he wants to walk around after he's dead? You think he want to be one of these things?"

The band Through the Eyes of the Dead sampled a clip at the beginning of the song "Between the Gardens that Bathe in Blood", released on the Scars of Ages EP.

The Ministry song "Burning Inside" (from the album The Mind Is a Terrible Thing To Taste) features an audio sample of the military station's warning horn and a few notes of composer John Harrison's synthesized score.

America punk band The Misfits has made a song about the movie called simply "Day of The Dead" off the album American Pyscho.

The film "Resident Evil: Extinction", incorporates many plot points, such as trying to train a zombie to be human, or in a deleted scene when trying to capture zombies to experiment on. Also, the idea of an underground facility and how the floor moves up without any indication on the surface (impossible to know it was there) is also very similar.

The band The Little Black Bottles have a song about Day of the Dead called "Letter to Miguel" on their 2011 album "Let Them Eat Red Velvet Cake"


The soundtrack was released on LP and cassette in the same year as the film (1985) by Saturn Records; it contained 6 tracks, all of which was composed and performed by John Harrison.[28] The vocals came from Sputzy Sparacino who is the lead singer of Modern Man and Delilah on the tracks "If Tomorrow Comes" and "The World Inside Your Eyes".[28] The album was re-issued in 2002 by Numenorean Records as a limited edition CD. The new edition was limited to 3000 copies and contained the original album plus five additional tracks from the music and effects reel (the only surviving recording of the film score). It also included a 12 page booklet with information from Harrison and Romero regarding the score.[28]

Sequels and remake

A prequel was released in 2005, entitled Day of the Dead 2: Contagium. Although it is, by definition, an official sequel as Taurus Entertainment Company hold the rights to the original film, no one from the original Day of the Dead had any involvement in the film.[29]

A loose remake of the film was released straight to DVD on April 8, 2008.[30] Little of the original plot exists, with only a few basic elements remaining; notably the underground army base near the end of the movie, and some of the characters names.[31][31] This marks the second time that Ving Rhames makes an appearance in a remake of a George A. Romero zombie film, following Dawn of the Dead.

Taurus Entertainment announced over Bloody Disgusting in February 2010, the start of the writing of the screenbook of Day of the Dead: Epidemic.[32]


Stef Hutchinson painted the 24-page comic Day of the Dead: Desertion, which was exclusively released to celebrate the movie's 25th anniversary and shows the origins of Bub, before becoming a Zombie.[33]


  1. ^ a b c d "Box Office History for George A. Romero's Dead Series Movies". Retrieved 2008-01-04. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Home of the Dead: Day of the Dead - The Filming". homepageofthedead. Retrieved 2008-01-03. 
  3. ^ Day of the Dead Locations - Fort Myers, Florida
  4. ^ "Romero's original Day of the Dead script". Retrieved 2008-01-05. 
  5. ^ a b c "Interview with Josef Pilato". homepageofthedead. Retrieved 2008-01-03. 
  6. ^ "Day of the Dead". Pop Matters. Retrieved 2008-01-03. 
  7. ^ "Day of the Dead". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2008-12-31. 
  8. ^ a b "Night of the Living Dead". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2008-12-31. 
  9. ^ a b "Dawn of the Dead". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2008-12-31. 
  10. ^ "Day of the Dead release info at IMDb". Retrieved 2008-07-15. 
  11. ^ Night of the Living Dead (1968) Review Roger Ebert, January 5, 1967
  12. ^ Dawn of the Dead (1978) Review Roger Ebert, May 4, 1979
  13. ^ "Land of the Dead". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2007-10-07. 
  14. ^ Day of the Dead (1985) Review Roger Ebert, August 30, 1985
  15. ^ a b c "Day of the Dead". BBC. Retrieved 2009-01-01. 
  16. ^ Maslin, Janet (1985-07-03). "Film: Day of the Dead". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-01-03. 
  17. ^ "Day of the Dead". VH1. Retrieved 2009-01-03. 
  18. ^ Variety (1985-01-01). "Day of the Dead". Variety. Retrieved July 3, 2010. 
  19. ^ "Top VHS Sales - Day of the Dead". Billboard. Retrieved 2009-01-04. [dead link]
  20. ^ "Saturn Awards Archive". Saturn Awards. Retrieved 2009-01-03. 
  21. ^ George A. Romero interview, The Many Days of Day of the Dead, on Day of the Dead "Divimax special edition" (DVD, Anchor Bay Entertainment, 2003)
  22. ^ "Dave Dyer Talks Con-Tamination 2010". DreadCentral. 
  23. ^ "Day of the Dead: DVD Release". VH1. Retrieved 2009-01-03. 
  24. ^ a b c d e "Day of the Dead". Retrieved 2008-01-01. 
  25. ^ "Day of the Dead 25th Anniversary Edition Coming to UK Blu-ray". DreadCentral. 
  26. ^ a b Kermode, Mark. "The Year of the Monkey". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-01-05. 
  27. ^ "Gorillaz". Retrieved 2008-01-05. [dead link]
  28. ^ a b c "SoundtrackCollector: Soundtrack details: Day Of The Dead". Retrieved 2008-01-03. 
  29. ^ "George A. Romero". Retrieved 2008-12-31. 
  30. ^ "Day of the Dead Remake: DOA". Retrieved 2009-01-03. 
  31. ^ a b "Day of the Dead - Jeffrey Reddick interview". Retrieved 2009-01-03. 
  32. ^ "A New 'Epidemic' in Third 'Day of the Dead'". 
  33. ^ "Day of the Dead Comic Preview". 

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