In Day of the Dead, the zombie plague has reached its peak. The cities are deserted and the zombies are withering because there are no people left to eat. The film follows a small group in an underground facility, where brutish military men keep a harsh order and a scientist, Dr. Logan, whom the soldiers call “Dr. Frankenstein” performs gruesome experiments to find a way to control the zombies.
Sarah, the main protagonist, is a scientist seeking a cure for the zombies while trying to keep her exhausted soldier lover, Salazar, from harm. Salazar resents her help, and the ridicule of his colleagues; he eventually sacrifices himself to the zombies and allows them to overrun the compound. The military men kill “Dr. Frankenstein” after discovering that he’s training a zombie by feeding it their deceased colleagues. Sarah seeks to escape by helicopter with two civilian pilots from the compound, while the military men are being torn apart and eaten by the zombies.
This film was dark and very gory (like Dawn, it was unrated to avoid an X), but it’s my second favorite film in the series because of its themes of power and violence. The most interesting act of violence is perpetrated not by the zombies, but by the soldier Salazar. He is strained by fear and exhaustion, but also weak and resentful of others when they accentuate this character flaw. He unleashes an army of dead upon his lover, who wanted only to help him, and upon the military with whom he could not fit in. This violent revenge is an act of control in a world that seems beyond all hope.
The film shows two other ways in which humans commonly try to control their circumstances: military power and science. Both institutions are taken to a hideous extreme, presenting the viewer with a cautionary lesson:
We are not in control of the world, and though we may put our hopes in force, science, or even another person, everything except God will fail us.
“Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me… I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.” – Psalm 27: 10, 13
This would complete what would for years be known as Romero’s “zombie trilogy”, until 2005 when he couldn’t resist resurrecting the franchise…