Replacing their older DVD release, Anchor Bay's raided the film's archives and assembled a densely packed set, with a heavy emphasis on the film's main attraction: the wet and organic special effects created by Tom Savini, and his assistant at the time, Greg Nicotero (now of KNB).
The first commentary track gathers writer/director George Romero, actress Lori Cardille (whose father appeared as a newsman in the original “Night of the Living Dead”), production designer Cletus Anderson, and make-up ace Tom Savini. Group commentaries tend to be a mixed blessing; sometimes the strongest personality dominates, squashing any informative tangents by the others; and on occasion the group treats the recording session as an unofficial reunion with little attention to hard facts.
Fans of the film – which director Romero states as his favourite in the existing trilogy – won't be disappointed by the lively, brisk pacing, and the regular mix of anecdotes that paint a good picture of what it was like for the crew to film over four months in an underground limestone quarry that had been converted into a huge storage facility.
After the epic mayhem of “Dawn of the Dead,” some gore fans were disappointed with Romero's slant towards isolated terror on a much smaller scale. Originally planned as a $7 million epic, the script was reduced to suit a $3 million budget that, more importantly guaranteed, the director zero interference from executives, and a release free from the demands of an R-rating. (Ironically, the MPAA had issues with the film's coarse language, though the graphic violence certainly contributed to the film's unrated theatrical release.)
The DVD's second commentary is from self-acknowledged fan-boy Roger Avary. An avid admirer of Romero and the Zombie genre, Avary's fixation with “Day of the Dead” also stems from his own childhood, playing in mine tunnels at his father's work. There's some major gaps in spots, and an indexed collection of comments would have better organized Avary's thoughts; but for a more personal observation of the film, it's an acceptable track. There's a few funny anecdotes concerning Avary's brushes with Romero, and fulfilling a wish by engaging Tom Savini to work on “Killing Zoe,” in 1994.
The overall transfer is very nice – sharp details and rich, stable colours dominate - and the production design doesn't date the film. The audio mix makes good use of John Harrison's Goblinesque synth score (which hasn't dated as badly, either).
Disc 2's extras offer a good bounty for Dead-ites in search of effects minutia. The documentary “The Many Days of Day of the Dead” assembles participants from the first commentary track, plus actors Howard Sherman and Joe Pilato. (Late actor Richard Liberty contributes some added memories in an audio interview from 2000, also archived on the DVD.)
As a supplement to the doc's special effects breakdown, Anchor Bay's edited vintage production footage into a half-hour featurette that covers designing, testing, application, and removal. When the latex facial mask is peeled off, you actually expect the actor's lip to snap off by accident from the super-adhesive solvent. Nasty stuff. Collectors should still hang on to the prior 1998 Anchor Bay disc, as it contains some different interviews, footage, and sound materials.
A really well-assembled DVD set that does the film and Romero's zombie series justice.
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan