- Steve Miner
- Mena Suvari, Michael Welch, Nick Cannon, Ving Rhames
- 87 min.
- Release Date
Credited as a remake of George A. Romero’s 1985 cult favorite of the same name, Day of the Dead bears no resemblance to its alleged source. Director Steve Miner and screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick depict their zombies as active as spider monkeys, clinging to walls and crawling on ceilings—a far cry from Romero’s allegorical zombie stagger. Attempting to reinvent the zombie subgenre the way recent success 28 Days Later did, Miner’s movie is utter trash, recommended viewing only for laughably bad performances by an officially washed-up Mena Suvari (American Beauty) and D-grade special effects.
The story begins in a Colorado town cut off from the world by mountains. Recently erected military roadblocks prevent citizens from escaping quarantine. In charge of the blockade is Sarah Bowman (Suvari), following orders from Captain Rhodes (Ving Rhames) not to let anyone out for fear of spreading a possible infection. The townspeople are stricken with cold symptoms—a harsh cough that leads to nose bleeds and eventual death. Once dead, well, given the title, you can imagine what happens next…
Returning home to check on her family during the outbreak of who-knows-what, Sarah, accompanied by fresh-faced soldier Bud (Stark Sands), finds her brother Trevor (Michael Welch) shagging Nina (AnnaLynne McCord) on the couch, all while mother (Linda Marlowe) is upstairs suffering ill. When Sarah and Bud take her mother to the hospital to get checked out, they find most of the town’s population there sick. Capt. Rhodes is there with the seedy Dr. Logan (Matt Rippy) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, perhaps the only member of the CDC in a movie to not appear decked-out in full biohazard garb during a potentially deadly outbreak.
Before reaching any conclusions about what’s happening, all hell breaks loose. Every ill individual becomes zombified, turning the hospital into a panicked terror zone. But as stated, these aren’t George A. Romero’s zombies. Some jump ten feet in the air; one does a flip worthy of an Olympic Gold Medal. They’re agile, moving at incredible speeds, making us question how anyone can outrun them. Instead of undead moans, they roar like dinosaurs. As if the living dead from 2004’s Dawn of the Dead remake weren’t fast enough, Miner’s zombies seem to have snorted multiple lines of coke, taken a few hits of crack, but only after drinking a pot of Caribou Coffee’s “Obsidian Blend” (Which is worse for hyperactivity? The latter.).
Following standard zombie flick attempts to escape or hide out, the stupid behavior of the film’s survivors feels forced given the release of Max Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide, an actual what-to-do book written with surprisingly helpful tips about living through a potential zombie apocalypse. Perhaps I’m tired of people behaving like morons in zombie movies. Why does it take them rounds upon round to discover that a bullet in the brain will take a zombie down? Isn’t that pretty much the way it goes with any creature, alive or dead? One soldier, Salazar (Nick Cannon), drops the word “zombie”… clearly zombie movies exist within the film’s popular culture. Haven’t these people seen, or at least heard of Night of the Living Dead?
Alas, for intelligent zombie horror, the best source remains Romero, who proved as recently as a few months ago with Diary of the Dead that he’s still the zombie master. The aforementioned 28 Days Later and its sequel 28 Weeks Later are welcomed innovations into the subgenre, but no one can make this type of film as important or transcendent as Romero. Pictures like his 1978 masterpiece Dawn of the Dead serve as crucial social commentaries, while also managing to be damned entertaining.
The filmmakers of this remake have done Romero an injustice by claiming their film is based on his original. Hiding in an underground military bunker somewhere in Florida, characters in Romero’s Day of the Dead provided a harsh examination of the military and scientific communities. His personal favorite of his own pictures, though my least favorite, the original suffered from some poor acting and cheesy musical score, but was an A-list production compared to Miner’s messy rethinking…
Character names taken from the original are about the only evidence you’ll see of Romero’s content. There’s even a character Bud, sorta named after Bub from Romero’s version—both characters become thinking zombies that refuse to attack the living; in this version, it’s because Bud was a vegetarian. Once again, I must state that remaking something that worked the first time through (albeit with flaws) is ludicrous; rather than improving the few errors with the original, Miner went in another direction entirely. So why not call it Mountain of the Dead, or something not associated with Romero’s work, since Miner and Reddick have evidently gone out of their way to distance their movie from the original? They set themselves up for Hollywood’s typical remake flaw by scrambling to be original, but instead come off looking pathetic, failing to ridiculous extremes.
Day of the Dead is the kind of movie that, when it’s over, you seriously debate yourself about writing someone involved in the production an angry letter. Except, no single person is to blame here; every aspect is silly and contrived. This film was slated for theaters last year, but I suspect was deemed too awful, hence its direct-to-DVD release. With a good sense of humor, you’ll be able to laugh at the film’s unintended awfulness. But unless you share mocking comments back and forth between your fellow viewers, there’s not really any point in watching.