Franchises of All Time
George Romero's 'Living Dead' Films
Day of the Dead (1985)
"Living Dead" Films
Night of the Living Dead (1968) | Dawn of the Dead (1978) | Day of the Dead (1985)
Land of the Dead (2005) | Diary of the Dead (2007) | Survival of the Dead (2009)
Day of the Dead (1985)
Film Plot Summary
The film opened in a bare concrete-block room, where Dr. Sarah Bowman (Lori Cardille) sat alone. As she reached out for a sole calendar posted on the cubicle's wall (the month of October with no year and the days crossed out, with a picture of a pumpkin patch), dozens of zombie hands and fists burst through the wall at her. She was startled awake from her nightmare, finding herself in the back of a helicopter. The booze-swilling Irish pilot William McDermott (Jarlath Conroy) told her that the area of Florida they were flying over was deserted, and there was no radio response. She ordered the two civilian pilots to set down at an abandoned residential waterfront area, where she emerged armed, with her low-ranking boyfriend Pvt. Miguel Salazar (Antone DiLeo). He called out with a bullhorn for survivors ("Hello, is anyone there?") of an unknown catastrophe in the small Florida city, streets littered with wind-blown dead palm fronds, crashed cars, a rotting corpse covered with crabs, cash, trash and newspapers (headlined: "THE DEAD WALK"). Their calls stirred dozens of wailing, 'undead' flesh-eating zombies who lumbered en masse towards them.
Almost out of gas, the team flew to their wire-gated and protected military headquarters, where two soldiers on guard passed the time: Pvt. Torrez (Taso N. Stavrakis) watered marijuana plants and Pvt. Johnson (Gregory Nicotero) read mens' magazines. Sarah cautioned that they must not fuel the chopper until nighttime, to avoid riling up the living dead who were amassed at the gates and vainly attempted to enter. The Jamaican heli-pilot John (Terry Alexander) warned that their numbers grew every day. Miguel was obviously anxious, unaware of his surroundings, and suffering from the stress of the situation - he admitted he wasn't as strong or resourceful as Sarah.
They descended by elevator into a claustrophobic underground bunker (a missile silo), the Seminole Storage Facility, where they told Pvt. Miller (Phillip G. Kellams) that their recent search and rescue mission (up the coast, 100 miles each way) was a "waste of time." In a separate area of the dark complex was a fenced-off series of caves, housing hostile specimen zombies, who were to be experimented upon. Sarah and Miguel accompanied Pvts. Steel (Gary Howard Klar) and Rickles (Ralph Marrero) in a golf cart as they went to the corral capture area, to select two more "dumb f--k" zombies to be brought back to the lab for further study, as Sarah feared: "They're actually learning." Crude and sexist Pvt. Steel tormented the zombies as they approached from the caves, and then verbally abused Sarah with talk about the size of his genitals. Although an exhausted and weakened Miguel was incapable of capturing two zombies required for experimentation, Steel chose him over Sarah, remarking to her: "You're not strong enough for up here." During the risky retrieval operation, an excitable female and male zombie were snagged in the pen, but Miguel jeopardized the mission and almost killed Rickles when he dropped his control pole with a leather restraining collar around the neck of the female zombie. As a consequence, the enraged Steel held Miguel over the zombie pen, threatening his life until Sarah - with an Uzi - ordered him to stop. Although resistant and belligerent ("You made me feel like an asshole out there"), the stressed-out Miguel was reluctantly given a hypodermic sedative by Sarah, and she recommended that he be removed from active duty ("He's over the edge, he's turning into jello"), but she was met with resistance.
In the cavernous dining hall, Dr. Ted Fisher (John Amplas) implored fascistic, megalomaniac Captain Rhodes (Joseph Pilato), now in command after the recent death of Major Cooper, about the need for sterile working conditions during the zombie test studies. Rhodes doubted the scientific research work: "You work with what you got. And you better start showing me some results or you won't have that very much longer." He questioned the work of the scientists, including Dr. Sarah Bowman. Rhodes was dressed as a western bandit, with guns in holsters and a bandoleer while enforcing martial law.
At the end of a hallway in a dark surgical theatre, Dr. Matthew Logan (Richard Liberty), known as "Frankenstein," worked on captured zombie specimens, recording his findings and conducting surgical and neurological operations on the ghouls to remove their internal organs. Excited by his discoveries, the mad scientist (with blood-stained hands and apron) told Sarah that the zombies sought flesh because of their primitive motor instincts: "It wants food, but it has no stomach. It can take no nourishment from what it ingests. It's working on instinct - a deep dark primordial instinct." He described how he was performing Pavlovian conditioning experiments on the zombies to 'domesticate' them and to find a cure for the apocalyptic plague and epidemic of undead swarming throughout the country: "It can be domesticated Sarah, don't you see? It can be conditioned to behave the way we want it to behave." He insisted: "I will not stop any work that might lead to an answer," while Sarah objected that he was only making assumptions and wasting time. She wanted him to concentrate not on what had happened, but on what was making it happen, and told him his work was extremely dangerous. She feared that their research work, guarded by a group of soldiers assigned to protect their work, might shut them down completely, although Dr. Logan stressed: "We've got to do this, Sarah. It's our only hope." Sarah then noticed Major Cooper's uniform, and deduced that the recently-deceased commander was one of the faceless corpses beneath a sheet on an operating table, with only his brain stem (attached to electrodes) exposed above his body. Logan confessed that he had wanted a fresh corpse and had secretly switched bodies ("He's helping us more now than he ever did when he was alive").
During a 7pm meeting in the dining hall, tensions ran high as the unit was low on food, ammunition, men and supplies, and McDermott complained about his outdated equipment: "Either we are the only ones left or there's nobody within range of my puny little Second World War signals." Frustrated with the juvenile bickering, Sarah rose to leave and was confronted by Rhodes: "I wanna know if you're doing something that's gonna help us out of this deep shit we're in, or if you're all in there just jerking each other off." When insulted by a depraved Rickles, she continued to exit the room, but was violently threatened by Rhodes to remain in her chair, or he would order Pvt. Steel to shoot her: "Sit down, or so help me God, I'll have you shot." After Dr. Fisher asked, "Since when did this become a military operation," the maddened commander vehemently told everyone, challenging with his gun drawn, that he would shoot anyone who didn't follow his orders ("This ain't a goddamn field trip, people. This is a f--king war!"). When Fisher reminded him that the tyrannical Rhodes and his soldiers were to facilitate the civilian scientists' teamwork, Rhodes replied: "Where does it say we gotta keep those dumb f--ks next door to where we sleep? Where does it say we should do any one thing but shoot the mothers in the head?"
Dr. Logan entered the scene, describing how they were overrun and outnumbered by the zombies ("We're in the minority now") - about 400,000 to one, and that there wasn't enough ammunition to shoot all of them in the head. Rhodes threatened to evacuate the "rotting, stinking sewer" and leave the scientists there, but Dr. Logan retaliated: "They have you in a hopeless situation, strategically. You're lost...unless you can make them behave," and he spoke of "progress" in keeping the zombies in check and controlling them. However, Rhodes was fed up: "I'm ready to take the next train out of here" and proposed shutting down the hastily-created operation, although he finally offered "a little more time" to complete their studies. He emphatically demanded results: "Nothing happens around here without my knowing about it. And anybody f--ks with my command - they get court-martialed. They get executed."
Sarah experienced another nightmare - of Miguel with his chest surgically opened and his guts falling out like one of the zombies she had seen earlier in the lab. She found Miguel awake, accusing her of being afraid ("You are afraid. Just as afraid as I am"). Screaming, Sarah ordered him to leave their cubicle-room when he told her she was "full of s--t." In the hallway, she encountered a scuffle between on-the-edge soldiers, and was rescued from harm by McDermott. They walked to his Winnebago trailer in the cavern area, named "The Ritz," where he lived comfortably with the other whirlybird pilot John, who had created a Caribbean-styled back patio area. Over drinks, John discussed the superfluous contents of the cave - voluminous historical records of civilization (of books, budgets, movies, tax returns, newspapers, etc.) kept by the US government. He commented: "All this filing and record keeping? We ever gonna give a s--t? We even gonna get a chance to see it all? This is a great, big 14 mile tombstone (echoing) with an epitaph on it that nobody gonna bother to read." He bluntly told her that her record-keeping and research to find a cure for zombification was also a waste of time: "You ain't never gonna figure it out, just like they never figured out why the stars are where they're at. It ain't makind's job to figure that stuff out. So what you're doing is a waste of time, Sarah. And time is all we got left, you know." He then explained his beliefs about why life had become like a living Hell: "We're bein' punished by the Creator. He visited a curse on us so we might get a look at what Hell was like. Maybe He didn't want to see us blow ourselves up, and put a big hole in the sky. Maybe He just wanted to show us He was still the Boss Man. Maybe He figure, we was gettin' too big for our britches, tryin' to figure His s--t out."
During research studies, Dr. Fisher told Sarah that one zombie specimen was refusing to eat an army-supplied meat substitute called Beef Treats. Dr. Logan described how the zombies were like humans: "They are us..They are the same animal simply functioning less perfectly" - and "they can be tricked into being good little girls and boys" through behavioral conditioning: "They have to be rewarded. Reward is the key." He demonstrated his reward principle with a prized, socialized and docile, gray-powder faced zombie named Bub (Howard Sherman). Bub had been spared from non-existence (and dissection), and Dr. Logan had introduced (or reacquainted him to remember past, civilized life tendencies) - he was presented with a toothbrush, a razor, a Stephen King paperback novel (Salem's Lot), and a desk phone. Remarkably, Bub wouldn't become agitated when Logan walked in the room, like other zombies ("He doesn't see Logan as...lunch"). He even saluted Rhodes who witnessed Bub's 'progress' - but Rhodes remained unimpressed by "that pile of walking pus." Dr. Logan even presented Bub with an unloaded handgun that he seemed to know how to operate. Rhodes responded: "What are we supposed to do? Teach him tricks!...They're dead. They're f--king dead, and you want to teach 'em tricks?...I don't want 'em to do anything but drop over...Is this your progress?"
During another tense capture attempt executed by four of the privates (Miguel, Steel, Miller, and Johnson), Miguel accidentally unleashed the collar holding an old lady zombie, and Miller was savagely bitten in the neck - causing his machine gun to inadvertently fire and kill Johnson. Sarah killed the female zombie with her gun, and as Miguel yelled denials: "I didn't do it," he was attacked by another male zombie who ravenously crunched into his forearm. Pvt. Steel killed the second threatening zombie, and turned to Miller - who begged for his life to be taken: "Don't let this happen to me. I don't wanna be one of them" - and Steel obliged by blowing his brains out. Hysterical from the bite, Miguel fled to the Winnebago "Ritz" where he was restrained by John, and Sarah knocked him out with a large rock. She then sliced off his infected arm (at the elbow) with John's machete, and they applied a tourniquet to the bleeding, amputated stump after cauterizing it with a makeshift flaming torch. Sarah, John, and McDermott were forced to defend Miguel's life in a standoff when Steel and Rhodes confronted them, intent on killing the bitten soldier. Sarah vowed: "If he dies, I'll destroy him myself." Rhodes replied: "I don't want him inside the complex," and then declared all the specimens would soon be destroyed: "Tomorrow, we're going inside that corral and we ain't coming out till every one of those rotten piles of garbage has been wasted." After they left, a visibly-shaken Sarah broke down in John's arms.
When Sarah and McDermott went to the lab to acquire morphine for Miguel, they were shocked to find that Logan had reanimated Johnson's decapitated head with attached electrodes. When they left the lab, they saw Dr. Logan in Bub's experimental room, where the zombie ("Logan's star pupil") was listening to Beethoven's 9th Symphony on headphones and being taught how to turn the tape recorder on and off. They also watched as Logan gave Bub his well-deserved reward -- the fresh bloody remains of Johnson in a bucket from the refrigerated freezer room. Rhodes also appeared, and after learning the doctor's dark secret about feeding soldiers' corpses as a reward, brutally machine-gunned him down, and then ordered the confiscation of Sarah's and McDermott's guns.
Rhodes then dragged Dr. Fisher at gunpoint to the corral area, along with Sarah and McDermott, where he ordered John to surrender his weapons. When the pilot refused to follow Rhodes' orders to fly him out on the whirlybird with only his men, Rhodes killed Fisher with a shot to the head. Pvt. Steel then shoved Sarah and McDermott into the wooden caged pen near the caves infested by zombies. As John bargained for Rhodes to release his friends ("Let 'em out. That's the deal"), the tyrannical leader opened up the cage, leaving them vulnerable to zombie-attack. The two of them defended themselves and ran to find an exit in the darkened bat-infested cave, as Steel was ordered to beat up John in order to get him to acquiese to Rhodes' demands. Then, everyone heard the sound of the main elevator ascending out of the bunker - Miguel had commandeered it (and ripped apart the control box on the wall). Steel and Rickles went to investigate, finding that they were trapped inside the underground complex. When Rhodes was distracted, John attacked him, knocked him unconscious, stole his two sharpshooters, and then hurried to find and save his friends in the cave area (and kill zombies along the way). When Rhodes recovered, he and Pvt. Torrez joined Steel and Rickles at the elevator.
Outside at the front entrance gates, Miguel released the chain holding the gate, allowing dozens of zombies to enter the grounds and tear his flesh apart atop the elevator. As he died, he activated the elevator and lowered it, carrying the zombies down into the complex to infiltrate into all areas, where the four remaining soldiers fled for their lives. In the lab area, Bub was able to release himself, and expressed genuine emotion and grief when he found the bloodied body of his partriarchal master - Dr. Logan, in the refrigerator room. Torrez was attacked and his head was forcibly ripped from his body frame, and Rickles was surrounded and died a similarly-bloody death when viciously torn apart by dozens of zombies.
Rhodes took a golf cart to an inner locked maximum security area, where he was pursued by Steel, who machine-gunned the entry door - allowing the zombies to follow after him. Bub found him scurrying into the lab, and targeted him with a gun he had found on the floor. As Steel attempted to defend himself against Bub, he was mobbed by the other zombies from another doorway and he committed suicide. At the same time, John located Sarah and McDermott in the cave, and they escaped by climbing a ladder to exit the bunker silo to the outdoors. Rhodes rearmed himself and then found himself face-to-face with Bub shooting at him in the hallway (one bullet struck him in the shoulder and another in the leg). Groveling on the floor and unable to find an exit, Rhodes was soon confronted and surrounded by other zombies behind an unlocked doorway. As Bub approached and kept firing from the other direction, and then saluted, Rhodes was ripped apart at the waist by the undead creatures. He defiantly yelled out with his intestines exposed: "Choke on 'em!" The zombies then gorged themselves on flesh in the lab area and throughout the entire complex.
The heroic trio of survivors fled from the compound toward the helicopter pad, where they saw hundreds of zombies closing in. As they rushed to the helicopter and Sarah opened the chopper door, zombie hands reached out at her -- and then Sarah woke up from a nightmare. She was on a tropical beach next to the chopper, near where John was fishing in the surf, and McDermott was feeding the swooping seagulls. Sarah removed her calendar from her backpack, and X'd out November 4th - as the film faded to black.
Film Notables (Awards, Facts, etc.)
Romero completed his zombie trilogy in the mid-1980s. This third film was regarded as the most dialogue-rich, and the goriest of the original trilogy (its climax was non-stop dismemberment, disembowelment, and beheadings). Although not well-received originally and the lowest-grossing film in the trilogy, it has since become a cult classic after revisionist thinking.
The claustrophobic horror-fest told about surviving mad scientists (particularly Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty), dubbed "Frankenstein") and officers, who - in an era of Reaganite militaristic politics obsessed with science - performed sadistic experiments on zombies in a subterranean bunker and attempted to 'domesticate' and integrate them back into society, until the zombies revolted. The film cleverly set the genre on its head again, showing how the living dead were misunderstood and oppressed.
It was remade as the direct-to-video Day of the Dead (2004) by Steve Miner (known for two Friday the 13th sequels, and one Halloween remake).
With a production budget of $3.5 million, but grossed almost $6 million (domestic) and $34 million (worldwide).
With the taglines: "The Dead have waited. The day has come." "And now the darkest day of horror the world has ever known."
Dr. Sarah Bowman
Pvt. Miguel Salazar
(Gary Howard Klar)
Dr. Ted Fisher
Dr. Matthew Logan/
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