PictureDay Of The Dead was always a little muted and dour, as far as I was concerned. Obviously, it lacked the gaiety and glitz of Dawn being set, for the most part, deep underground. But the colours always looked drab and uninteresting, except for the bloodletting. The daylight exteriors had whites that where too blown out and a sort of plastic sheen that robbed the film of any life. Now transferred to Blu-ray with a 1080p 1.85:1 image (encoded via MPEG-4), it looks much better. But, you can certainly tell where most of the enhanced clarity and colour has gone - the gore. Yes, that's right - Day Of The Dead is now a more intensely bloody affair, simply by virtue of the deeper saturation of the reds, sharper detail on the wounds and the stretching, ripping flesh and the fact that the viscera now visibly glistens more than it ever did before. And, naturally for fans of Romero's excesses, this is reason enough to obtain the film on BD.
The print, itself, is in pretty good condition. Grain has been mightily reduced and there are no serious signs of age or damage, leaving an image that is quite clear. The film still has a slightly soft picture and a kind of TV-movie aesthetic that the extra lines of resolution can do nothing to alleviate. But the newly honed clarity does produce a lot of detail that was masked before now. Just look at the blood pouring from Miller's torn throat as he collapses by the corral, and the subsequent jet of blood from the bullet wound in his forehead, something that was always indistinct in previous editions. Then there is the cauterising of Miguel's stump, the charred flesh singeing under the blue-hot flame. Naturally the infamous Dr. Tongue, the jaw-less zombie who appears above the film's title, is awarded more clarity as well. The scene in which we first Dr. Logan going about his gleefully gruesome business exhibits all the best things about this transfer. The colours are extremely strong - look at the varying shades of red, from the old gore on the Doc's apron and hands to the fresh stuff jetting from the drill through the skull - shadows are dense, close-up detail is excellent - faces, whiskers, decomposing flesh, exposed brains and guts - and sharpness maintained with the cluster of multi-coloured wires and machinery behind Frankenstein clearly delineated. Skin-tones are very good as well, keeping the characters natural-looking amid the gloopy stuff.
However, there are still a few issues with this transfer that ultimately make it seem rather disappointing. Edge enhancement is still visible and noise is exhibited within some of the darker portions of the image - particularly down in the caves. Blacks are inconsistent as well. There are times when they are rock solid and shadow delineation is strong and well-defined, but others when they lose integrity and become a little too dirty to maintain stability. Again, it is down in the caves when this occurs, especially when John goes on his rescue mission. Contrast levels suffer, too, wavering a touch too often. Whites have a tendency to bloom, too - look at the helmet lamps that people are wearing or the overhead lights in the complex's corridors. There is little to no three-dimensionality to the image either. Shots during the opening Fort Myers sequence and those of Steele and co atop the wooden barricade to the zombie corral would have benefited enormously from such visual depth. But, as it stands, Day Of The Dead doesn't manage to leap from the screen even marginally. The scene when Bub is impressing his guests with his “toys” and Rhodes and Steele walk in behind them should have gained some depth but, sadly, still remains quite flat.
Overall, though, the transfer is still a visible upgrade over the SD versions that have gone before so, for fans, this is pretty much essential.
SoundWhereas Dawn's PCM mix didn't exactly add anything significant to the experience, Day's actually detracts from it and I would advise you to ignore it and stick with the mono. The PCM supplied here has several instances when the sound is misdirected or dislocated from the onscreen action. Encoded at 48kHz/16-Bit/4.6Mbps, its soundscape comes over as false and unrealistic and, apart from a smattering of zombie moans, the rears are largely redundant, leading to an experience that is anything but immersive. The caves waste any opportunity for echoing voices or gunshots and the shooting lacks any authentic sense of directionality or oomph. To be honest, much of the same complaints can be levelled at the DD 5.1 (640 kbps) mix which is also supplied, but as this track is somewhat quieter and less dynamic than the PCM it doesn't sound quite as distracting. There are definitely errors made with the score and the FX tracks which I found too irritating to put up with. For example, during the climactic zombie siege, listen for the moments when the ghoul-infested elevator descends into the complex, then when Torrez is attacked and then Rickles - the music and fx seem to rush towards the left front speaker, noticeably enough to make you think your ears have just slightly popped. Then, when John, Sarah and McDermott begin to climb the big ladder out of the cave and the camera moves around the huge cylinder, the music makes a very noticeable wobble, and there are other times throughout the film when this seems to occur.
None of these quibbles apply to the original mono track, which sounds just fine. Dialogue is clean and clear, gunfire has punch and Harrison's score doesn't dominate in quite such a heavy-handed manner as it does in the surround mixes. Having heard plenty of Anchor Bay's naff multi-channel makeovers over the years, I can state that the PCM and DD mixes exhibited here are most certainly not the worst. In fact, if it wasn't for the relatively fine work that they have done with Halloween, Evil Dead II and Dawn Of The Dead, I perhaps wouldn't have been so harsh on this disc. But, set against those transfers, Day makes a few too many mistakes to be let off the hook. Stick with the mono and you won't go far wrong.
I should perhaps add that a friend of mine who has this BD as well and also noticed the audio errors did not find them as distracting as I did. But he did agree that the mono track was certainly the best of the bunch.
ExtrasContaining the two commentary tracks that graced the SD Divimax Edition from a few years ago, only the first, featuring Romero, Savini, Cardille and production designer Cletus Anderson, is worth listening to. As with Dawn's terrific commentary, Romero and Savini are on fine form and deliver a relevant, fact-packed and enjoyable chatter, but there really isn't anything revealed here that the documentary “The Many Days Of Day Of The Dead” doesn't offer up. The proceedings are also let down by Cardille, who just doesn't seem able to come across all that well or supply anything of particular interest regarding her experiences with the living dead. Disappointing, too, is the lack of retaliation regarding the studio interference and penny-pinching that resulted in only half of his original vision making it to the screen. Still, the track is worth listening to ... just don't expect the same level of satisfaction that Dawn provided.
Then we have filmmaker Roger (Killing Zoe and the Pulp Fiction screenplay) Avery's track that is woefully uneventful and dry to the point of tedium. Quite what he's doing here in the first place is beyond me. Just being a huge fan of the series is not enough to grant you the freedom of an audio track running over it. They may as well have asked me to provide a yak-track for all the spontaneity and insight that he brings to the table. I may have had as little to do with the film's production as he did, but at least I would have tried to be entertaining and much less gushing!
The forty minute documentary “The Many Days Of Day Of The Dead” more than makes up for the deficiencies in the yak-track department. Boasting a huge number of participants, from cast to crew, the entire production is covered, from its initial and much bigger concept - and we see artwork and a page or two of script from this version, too - to the premier and how the film was received. Naturally, a huge part of the documentary focuses on Savini's special FX, and we get to see the majority of the big “gags” being devised and filmed. Budgetary and ratings issues are neatly mentioned, as is the fact that almost everybody filming down in the mine for four months virtually without seeing the sun got ill and had to pop vitamin B pills every day. Howard Sherman gives a terrific account of how he played Bub and the used improvisation to get that quizzical, helpless child attitude to come over on screen so well. It is interesting to note that Romero, behind those unfeasibly large glasses of his, tentatively lets slip the name of the potential fourth instalment of the series and you can see the sparkle in his eyes. Of course, we have now seen Land Of The Dead, not Dead Reckoning as he had initially called the screenplay, and know that it didn't quite live up to expectations and certainly didn't provide a satisfying conclusion to the epic story.
Day Of The Dead: Behind The Scenes is half an hour of home-movies examining Savini's riotous special effects for the film via handheld camera and sans explanatory narration which lends the feature a delightfully candid and fly-on-the-wall approach that is refreshingly free of contrivance, set-up or EPK-style marketing. Offering before and after makeup tests, prosthetic trial and error, animatronic heads and electronically controlled eyeballs and some of those loveable squibs going off, this is a great feature that shows Anchor Bay and Starz know exactly what Dead-fans want to see. Check out the sequence showing Rickles having his head torn open - it goes on for much, much longer in rough form and is truly horrible!
After this we get a nice little audio interview with Dr. Frankenstein, himself, Richard Liberty, who sadly died in 2000 shortly after the session was conducted. Despite dealing with a poor interviewer (apparently the brother of FX assistant and actor on both Dawn and Day, Taso N. Stavrakis) the actor manages to come up with some great stories and memories of his time conversing with the living dead, rehearsing lines and how eager he is, or was, to work with Romero again. In fact, in the last couple of moments Liberty actually sounds quite desperate for work! The whole things lasts around 15 mins.
And then we have a selection of trailers and TV spots for Day Of The Dead and the curious little titbit that showcases the Wampum limestone mine in its new guise as a conference/business/storage complex. Fast Film Facts round off a respectable package that just ditches a cluster of stills galleries and the snazzy little Dr Logan Files/film essay booklet that graced the Divimax double-discer. I still can't help but feel that with a series of films this important to the horror genre, only Dawn has really had the full treatment. Some sort of comprehensive examination of the entire cycle should be attempted. Mind you, since Romero hasn't finished with his zombies yet ... there is still plenty of time.
VerdictHailed by many as a major disappointment, but by some as a masterpiece, Day Of The Dead, as far as I am concerned, falls somewhere between the two. Relentlessly grim and full-to-brimming with despicable characters, the movie still moves at a fair clip and creates some horribly iconic moments with which to bolster the series. Romero's direction is smart and involving despite the creeping sense that he is simply making the most of a whittled-down script. Joe Pilato and Howard Sherman steal the show, effectively reversing their roles and chewing up the rest of the cast and spitting them out. Savini and his crew excel themselves again and the film is a wonderful reminder of how much better than CG actual on-screen prosthetics, animatronics and good old latex appliances are.
Both the PCM and DD surround tracks make a few mistakes and fail to convince - no two ways about it - but the image has definitely received an upgrade. However, the improvements are far less obvious than with Dawn, though gore-lovers can certainly revel in the newfound clarity and colour of the infamous gut-spilling mayhem. Extras-wise, most of the good stuff from the Divimax double-disc edition have made it across the hi-def divide and the two documentaries are excellent. So, overall, Day Of The Dead is visual step-up from the SD transfers that I, for one, think is actually worth upgrading to.
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