Day of the Dead (1985 film)

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Day of the Dead
Day of the Dead (film) poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGeorge A. Romero
Produced byRichard P. Rubinstein
Written byGeorge A. Romero
Music byJohn Harrison
CinematographyMichael Gornick
Edited byPasquale Buba
  • Dead Films Inc.
  • Laurel Entertainment Inc.
  • Laurel-Day Inc.
Distributed byUnited Film Distribution Company
Release date
  • June 30, 1985 (1985-06-30) (premiere)[1]
  • July 19, 1985 (1985-07-19) (United States)
Running time
100 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Budget$3.5 million[3]
Box office$34 million[3]

Day of the Dead is a 1985 American zombie horror film written and directed by George A. Romero, and the third film in Romero's Night of the Living Dead series, which began with Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Dawn of the Dead (1978).[4]

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".[5]

This film features Sherman Howard in an early appearance as Bub, and make-up artist Gregory Nicotero playing Private Johnson and assisting Tom Savini with the make-up effects.

The film was remade twice: the first is the 2008 film of the same name and the second is Day of the Dead: Bloodline (2018).


Zombies have overrun the entire world, outnumbering humans 400,000 to 1; the surviving humans live in barricaded camps and secure underground bunkers.

In an underground facility in the Everglades housing scientists and soldiers, the scientists are trying to find a solution to the zombie pandemic, in exchange for the soldiers' protection. Dr. Sarah Bowman, soldier Private Miguel Salazar, radio operator Bill McDermott, and helicopter pilot John fly from their underground base to Fort Myers, Florida, in an attempt to locate additional survivors. However, they encounter a large horde of the undead and flee.

Dr. Logan, the lead scientist—also known as "Frankenstein" due to his grisly surgical dissections of zombies—believes that the zombies can be trained to become docile and, accordingly, has amassed a collection of test subjects, which are kept in a large underground corral in the compound, despite the objections of the bigoted Captain Rhodes; the tension between soldiers and scientists worsens in the face of dwindling supplies, loss of communication with other survivors, and slow progress in research.

During a meeting between the scientists and the soldiers, Rhodes declares that, following the death of the previous base commander Major Cooper, he is taking command of the base, he also informs the scientists that henceforth they will work under his orders, and anyone who either objects, questions his leadership methods, or commits even the smallest infractions will be executed instantly, no questions asked, and that if those ordered to execute those found in violation of his rules refused to comply, they would be severely reprimanded.

Dr. Logan hopes to secure Rhodes' cooperation by showing him the results of his research. Logan is especially proud of "Bub", a friendly and docile zombie who remembers some parts of his past life and engages in rudimentary human behavior: listening to music, aiming a pistol, saluting Captain Rhodes, and even repeating a string of garbled words. "Civility must be rewarded," Logan tells Rhodes. "If it's not rewarded, there's no use for it." Rhodes, however, remains unimpressed, although he does grant Frankenstein more time, but is cryptic as to how much.

During a zombie roundup mission, two of the soldiers, Miller and Johnson, are killed after a zombie escapes its harness. Miguel attempts to kill the creature but is bitten on the arm. Sarah amputates the arm and cauterizes it with fire to stop the spreading infection. Rhodes then calls off the experiments and demands that all captive zombies be destroyed, as well as severing any further help from him and his remaining men, even going as far as insulting Miguel's nationality.

Sarah and Bill later discover a crude form of Dr. Logan's experimentation involving the bodies of Miller and Johnson, and an audio tape in which a crazed Logan talks to his "Father" and "Mother". Shocked, both Sarah and Bill plan to leave in the helicopter immediately before someone else does.

Conditions worsen further when Rhodes finds out that Logan has been feeding the flesh of his dead soldiers to Bub as a reward for his docility and positive behavior. Enraged, Rhodes kills Logan and his assistant Dr. Fisher for refusing to cease the experiments in the first place, stripping them of their weapons in the progress, he then locks Sarah and Bill inside the zombie corral and attempts to force John to fly him and his men away from the base, which John refuses to do. His refusal causes Rhodes to order Steel to pummel John.

Bub manages to escape from his chain and finds Dr. Logan's corpse. In a display of human emotion, he expresses sadness and then becomes enraged, he finds a pistol discarded on the floor and goes in search of revenge.

Meanwhile, Miguel, who has become suicidal, opens the gates to the compound, allowing the horde of zombies lurking outside to enter onto the industrial-sized platform-elevator and devour him. Before they devour him alive, however, he lowers the platform, allowing them to swarm the compound.

While Miguel is doing this, John overcomes his captors, knocking out both Rhodes and Torrez, steals their weapons and departs into the zombie corral to rescue Sarah and Bill; as the zombies rapidly enter the complex, Rhodes flees on a cart, leaving his men for dead, much to their dismay. Pvt. Rickles and Pvt. Torrez are torn apart and devoured by the horde, while Pvt. Steel makes it through and attempts to shoot Bub through a covered window but gets bitten on the neck by another zombie. Refusing to be eaten alive or succumb to the infection, he commits suicide by shooting himself in the mouth.

Rhodes attempts to escape but is chased and shot several times by the gun-toting Bub. Bub leads a wounded Rhodes into a horde of zombies. Bub mocks Rhodes with a salute and departs, as the other zombies slowly tear Rhodes to pieces; as he is being torn apart, he defiantly shrieks "choke on 'em!" at the zombies before dying.

John reunites with Sarah and McDermott inside the zombie corral, they escape together to the surface, but once they make it to the helicopter, Sarah is attacked by a zombie inside. Fortunately, it turns out to be a nightmare as Sarah wakes up on a deserted island with John and McDermott. A relieved Sarah crosses a day off on her calendar as the film ends.


  • Lori Cardille as Dr. Sarah Bowman, a scientist researching the cause of the zombie outbreak
  • Joseph Pilato as Captain Henry Rhodes, a racist, misogynistic, increasingly mentally unhinged soldier, and the self-appointed leader of the military group
  • Terry Alexander as John, helicopter pilot
  • Jarlath Conroy as William "Bill" McDermott, radio operator
  • Richard Liberty as Dr. Matthew "Frankenstein" Logan, the group's main doctor and surgeon and most enthusiastic scientist
  • Anthony Dileo Jr. as Pvt. Miguel Salazar, a suicidal soldier and one of Rhodes' men (credited as "Antoné Dileo Jr.")
  • Sherman Howard as "Bub", a friendly captured zombie taught by Logan to engage passively in human behaviour (credited as "Howard Sherman")
  • Gary Howard Klar as Pvt. Steel, Rhodes' obnoxious 2nd in command
  • Ralph Marrero as Pvt. Rickles, Steel's equally obnoxious sidekick
  • John Amplas as Dr. Fisher, technician and aide to Logan
  • Phillip G. Kellams as Pvt. Miller, Rhodes' men
  • Taso Stavrakis as Pvt. Torrez, Rhodes' men/Knock-on-wood Zombie/Biker Zombie
  • Gregory Nicotero as Pvt. Johnson, Rhodes' men
  • George A. Romero as Zombie with scarf (uncredited cameo)



Romero originally intended the film to be "the Gone with the Wind of zombie films".[6] 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.[6] This forced Romero to scale back his story, rewriting the script and adjusting his original vision to fit the smaller budget.

A total of five scripts were written as Romero wrestled with the film's concepts and the budgetary constraints; the first draft was over 200 pages, which he later condensed to 122 pages. This is the true original script, and to date no copies of it have come to light; this version was likely rejected because UFDC felt it was too expensive for them to produce even with an R rating. Romero subsequently scaled down the scope of this script into a 165-page draft (often erroneously referred to as the original version), then condensed it again to a 104-page draft labeled the 'second version, second draft' in an unsuccessful final attempt to get the story within budget parameters; when this failed, he drastically altered the original story concept and ultimately produced a shooting draft that numbered only 88 pages.

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.[7] The fenced in compound with the helicopter landing pad was shot at a location called Bowman's Beach Helistop in Sanibel. Underground scenes were filmed in a former mine shaft located near Wampum, Pennsylvania, converted into a long-term storage facility for important documents. Though the mine maintained a constant temperature of about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, 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. Despite these failures, Savini was nominated and won the 1985 Saturn Award for best makeup effects; 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 time-consuming travel to and from the shooting location. "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;[6] this is chronicled in the documentary "The Many Days of Day of the Dead" on the two-disc Anchor Bay special edition DVD of the film.[6] Some of the original concepts and characters remain, but the film differs greatly from Romero's original script,[8] 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. In fact, whenever I would try and make her a little more emotional, he would not allow me to do that.[6]


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!."[9] 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.[9] 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.[9]

Release and reception[edit]

Subsequent to its theatrical release, the film has grossed over 30 million dollars worldwide.[10] 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 film's poor box-office reception when it was released in cinemas.[11]

Based on 35 reviews collected retrospectively by Rotten Tomatoes, Day of the Dead had a high approval rating, with 29 critics rating it positive and only 6 rating it negative; as of February 2019 it has received an 83% approval rating.[12] That rating is the lowest of the initial 3 films in Romero's Dead series[13][14] with Night of the Living Dead having a 96% approval rating and Dawn of the Dead with a 92% approval rating.[13][14] On Metacritic the film holds a score of 60 out of 100 based on reviews from 13 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[15]

Day of the Dead had its world premiere on June 30, 1985,[1] and was given a limited release on July 3, 1985; the film saw its wide release on July 19, 1985.[16] It opened to mixed reviews, with some critics complaining that the film was too dark, depressing, and slow. Roger Ebert, who reacted favorably to other films of Romero's Dead series,[17][18][19] gave Day of the Dead one and a half stars; he praised the special effects but was put off by what he referred to as "over-acting" in the movie, specifically that all of the actors screamed at each other for the entire film in a way that was not present in Romero's earlier films.[20] 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;[21] 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."[22] 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."[23] 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."[24]

Day of the Dead would peak at 23 on the Billboard chart Top VHS Sales in 1986 a year after its initial release.[25]

The film grossed $5.8 million domestically.[6] It fared much better internationally, grossing $28.2 million outside of the United States.[10] Day of the Dead's total gross is a little over $34 million.[10] 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.[26] Romero himself cites Day of the Dead as his personal favorite of his original trilogy of zombie films.[27] On May 9, 2012, the film headlined the 12 Hour Film Festival Hudson Horror Show V.[28]

Home video[edit]

The film was released on DVD on November 24, 1998 in the United States and on March 5, 2001 in the United Kingdom.[21][29] Both the theatrical and an unrated director's cut were released as special editions containing identical bonus features, and the DVD was released in the United Kingdom in a region 2 DVD;[21] the Blu-ray version of Day of the Dead was released October 2, 2007.[30] 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.[30] There is also a second commentary with fellow filmmaker and self-proclaimed Romero fan, Roger Avary,[30] 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.[30] 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.[30] On March 29, 2010 Arrow Video released a 25th Anniversary Edition on Blu-ray exclusive to the UK.[31]

Shout Factory! released the film under its Scream Factory label on September 17, 2013. The release is a Collector's Edition Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack with all-new artwork and special features.

Popular culture[edit]

Near the end of the film version 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.

One episode of Stroker and Hoop featured the characters battling zombies using guns made by Double-Wide, they turn out to fire only sunlight, which he claims is because of zombies' vulnerability to sunlight, hinted at by the film being called Night of the Dead and not Day of the Dead. 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.[32] The song "Hip Albatross", also by Gorillaz, features a clip of Terry Alexander's dialogue.[33] 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).[32]

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 wants to be one of these things?" The line "Sit down or so help me God I'll have you shot" appears once near the end of the song.

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.

The song "Confessions of a Knife (theme part 2)," from the 1990 album Confessions of a Knife... by My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult samples dialogue between Sarah and Captain Rhodes: Captain Rhodes: "I'll have you shot." Sarah: "Are you out of your mind?" Captain Rhodes: "No, ma'am. Are you?" Along with dialogue from Private Steel and laughter from Private Rickles that repeats later throughout the song. Steel: "Bang! You're dead!" followed by Rickles' laughter.

The song "The Only Good God Is a Dead God," from the 1992 album Psychological Warfare Technology Systems by Terror Against Terror, samples Captain Rhodes' final screams "Choke on them... choke on them," with the sounds of the zombies eating him.

American punk band the Misfits recorded a song about the film entitled "Day of the Dead" for their 1997 album American Psycho.

In 2014, Sherman Howard's zombie character Bub appeared in a cameo in the fifteenth episode of Season 4 of the AMC series The Walking Dead[34] Season 4 episode "Us", as one of the walkers encountered by the characters Glenn and Tara in a railroad tunnel, an homage to not only the character but also to the underground setting of Day of the Dead.

Seattle-based musical duo Little Black Bottles composed "Letter to Miguel", a tribute song to character Miguel Salazar, for their album Let Them Eat Red Velvet Cake.


Day of the Dead
Soundtrack album by
GenreRock, film score

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;[35] the vocals came from Sputzy Sparacino who was the lead singer of the Pittsburgh R&B/Dance/Cover band Modern Man and Delilah, who was known at the time for being the lead singer of the Pittsburgh R&B/Gospel/Dance band Samson & Delilah on the tracks "If Tomorrow Comes" and "The World Inside Your Eyes".[35] 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.[35]

1."The Dead Suite"Harrison19:41
3."Escape Invasion"Harrison3:58
4."The Dead Walk"Harrison/Sparacino/Blazer4:54
5."If Tomorrow Comes"Harrison/Blazer/Sparacino3:39
6."The World Inside Your Eyes"Harrison/Blazer/Sparacino/Pearsall3:31
7."Deadly Beginnings"Harrison3:31
8."Diner of the Living Dead"Harrison3:44
9."Dead Calm"Harrison6:54
10."Bub's 9th"Beethoven/Harrison5:59
11."Dead End"Harrison3:34

Prequel and remakes[edit]

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 holds the rights to the original film, no one from the original Day of the Dead had any involvement in the film;[36] the film also diverges from the continuity of the original in several respects.

A loose remake of the film, Day of the Dead, was released straight to DVD on April 8, 2008.[37] 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;[38][38] 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.

On July 10, 2013 it was announced that there would be another remake of Day of the Dead, titled Day of the Dead: Bloodline. Christa Campbell and Lati Grobman, two of the producers behind Texas Chainsaw 3D have obtained the rights. Campbell, who had a small role in the first remake said "We want to keep it as close to the Romero version as possible. To make sure that his fans are happy; these are not going to be zombies climbing walls and doing back flips like in World War Z." Campbell and Grobman are currently holding meetings with possible writers to figure out the best way to adapt the story.[39] Directed by Hèctor Hernández Vicens, it began filming in June 2016; the film was released on January 5, 2018.


Stef Hutchinson wrote 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.[40]


  1. ^ a b Barton, Steve (May 2, 2017). "Horror History: Day of the Dead – Fan Corrects Official Premiere Date". Dread Central. Retrieved May 13, 2017.
  2. ^ "DAY OF THE DEAD (18)". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved 16 March 2018.
  3. ^ a b "Box Office Information for Day of the Dead". The Numbers. Retrieved December 8, 2012.
  4. ^ J.C. Maçek III (2012-06-15). "The Zombification Family Tree: Series of the Living Dead". PopMatters.
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b c d e f "Home of the Dead: Day of the Dead - The Filming". homepageofthedead. Retrieved 2008-01-03.
  7. ^ Day of the Dead Locations - Fort Myers, Florida Archived 2009-10-28 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ "Romero's original Day of the Dead script". Retrieved 2008-01-05.
  9. ^ a b c "Interview with Josef Pilato". homepageofthedead. Retrieved 2008-01-03.
  10. ^ a b c "Box Office History for George A. Romero's Dead Series Movies". Retrieved 2008-01-04.
  11. ^ "Day of the Dead". Pop Matters. Retrieved 2008-01-03.
  12. ^ "Day of the Dead". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2008-12-31.
  13. ^ a b "Night of the Living Dead". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2008-12-31.
  14. ^ a b "Dawn of the Dead". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2008-12-31.
  15. ^ "Day of the Dead Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 18 February 2018.
  16. ^ "Day of the Dead release info at IMDb". Retrieved 2008-07-15.
  17. ^ Night of the Living Dead (1968) Review Roger Ebert, January 5, 1967
  18. ^ Dawn of the Dead (1978) Review Roger Ebert, May 4, 1979
  19. ^ "Land of the Dead". Chicago Sun-Times. 2005-06-23. Retrieved 2007-10-07.
  20. ^ Day of the Dead (1985) Review Roger Ebert, August 30, 1985
  21. ^ a b c "Day of the Dead". BBC. Retrieved 2009-01-01.
  22. ^ Maslin, Janet (1985-07-03). "Film: Day of the Dead". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-01-03.
  23. ^ "Day of the Dead". VH1. Archived from the original on 2013-02-05. Retrieved 2009-01-03.
  24. ^ Variety (1985-01-01). "Day of the Dead". Variety. Retrieved June 7, 2016.
  25. ^ "Top VHS Sales - Day of the Dead". Billboard. Archived from the original on July 8, 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-04.
  26. ^ "Saturn Awards Archive". Saturn Awards. Archived from the original on 2008-09-14. Retrieved 2009-01-03.
  27. ^ 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)
  28. ^ "Romero's Day of the Dead to Headline Hudson Horror Show V". DreadCentral.
  29. ^ "Day of the Dead: DVD Release". VH1. Archived from the original on 2013-02-05. Retrieved 2009-01-03.
  30. ^ a b c d e "Day of the Dead". Retrieved 2008-01-01.
  31. ^ "Day of the Dead 25th Anniversary Edition Coming to UK Blu-ray". DreadCentral.
  32. ^ a b Kermode, Mark. "The Year of the Monkey". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2008-01-05.
  33. ^ "Gorillaz". Archived from the original on July 24, 2011. Retrieved 2008-01-05.
  34. ^ Horn, John (July 10, 2013). ""The Walking Dead" Gave Homage to 'Dawn of the Dead' In Last Night's Finale; Bub Also Made a Cameo!". BD.
  35. ^ a b c "SoundtrackCollector: Soundtrack details: Day Of The Dead". Retrieved 2008-01-03.
  36. ^ "George A. Romero". Archived from the original on 2008-10-25. Retrieved 2008-12-31.
  37. ^ "Day of the Dead Remake: DOA". Retrieved 2009-01-03.
  38. ^ a b "Day of the Dead - Jeffrey Reddick interview". Archived from the original on 2009-07-10. Retrieved 2009-01-03.
  39. ^ Horn, John (July 10, 2013). "'Chainsaw' producers to remake Romero's 'Day of the Dead'". Los Angeles Times.
  40. ^ "Day of the Dead Comic Preview".

External links[edit]