Two months into 2018 and we’re getting our second remake of a classic or fondly-remembered horror film. In early January we got the insipid re-telling of French horror film Inside and now Lionsgate Films is distributing another remake of George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead. Romero’s original ‘Dead’ trilogy has been a treasure chest of opportunities for film studios to churn out new zombie films although in this case, with even The Walking Dead beginning to see dwindling television ratings, this remake may have missed out on the zombie renaissance. In this edition of Re-Animated we take a look at the two visions of Day of the Dead to see if Bloodline has some new ideas to inject into the ‘Dead’ franchise.
Day of the Dead (1985)
Romero’s two original ‘dead films, Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Dawn of the Dead (1979), are celebrated genre films that have received significant critical praise in the years following their release. In contrast, the third film in Romero’s ‘Dead’ trilogy, Day of the Dead (1985), while relatively well-received has garnered less critical attention. Admittedly Day of the Dead is the weaker of the three ‘Dead’ films, but I would argue it still represents a significant achievement in Romero’s work.
Thematically different from Dawn of the Dead, Romero’s Day of the Dead still feels like a spiritual sequel in ambiance and tone even in the absence of returning characters or other direct links to his earlier films. The feelings of claustrophobia, isolation, and loneliness that permeated Dawn are all present in Day of the Dead. With no recognizable actors in the cast, it is remarkable how Romero gets just the right performance out of all of his actors. No character in Day feels superfluous to the story and the tensions that steadily mount between the characters feels palpable.
Like his previous “Dead” films, Romero effectively explores real-world tensions about America’s growing military-industrial complex through the film’s emergent conflicts between the isolated scientists and dwindling soldiers. Joe Pilato’s Colonel Rhodes makes for a brilliant antagonist, the best of the original ‘Dead’ trilogy, and only rivaled by Dennis Hopper’s turn in the later Land of the Dead (2005). Tom Savini’s special effects are once again a standout in Day, with the film’s climax almost approaching the gory level of lunacy of Dawn’s ending. Similar to the ending of Dawn, Romero even offers his audience an ambiguous glimmer of hope. After over thirty years since its release Day of the Dead still remains one of the best horror films from the 1980s.
Day of the Dead: Bloodline (2018)
Romero’s original ‘Dead’ trilogy films have all received the remake treatment at least once. To date, Night of the Living Dead has at least three remakes or ‘re-imaginings’ with the best being directed by Tom Savini himself in 1990. Despite all the fanboy derision directed at Zack Snyder for his Watchmen and Batman vs. Superman work, his remake of Dawn of the Dead still stands as one of the better horror remake efforts. To date, Day of the Dead already has one re-imagining, the dreadful 2008 Day of the Dead.
Director Hector Hernandez Vicens and writers Mark Tonderai and Lars Jacobson do try and more closely root their remake in the ideas Romero explored in his original Day of the Dead. Like the original, the remake is set in a military compound where tensions between soldiers and doctors over the best way to confront the ‘living dead’ epidemic is reaching a breaking point. Whether this remake attempt is step up from the 2008 effort is open to debate but probably irrelevant as this 2018 version is more lifeless and listless than its zombies.
Romero’s zombie films have always offered insightful political subtext running beneath the blood, gore, and spilled entrails. Bloodline’s creators set up a similar premise but clearly have no other ideas about how to explore Romero’s original ideas or build off of them with their own commentary. From a narrative perspective, the remake is a largely hollow retread with nothing new to offer audiences. Its lack of biting political commentary is exacerbated by logical inconsistencies and convoluted storytelling. The remake has its own ‘Bub’, a spin-off of the ‘intelligent’ or ‘domesticated’ zombie, named ‘Max’, a depraved stalker in life. What the Bloodline creators were trying to say with ‘Max’ is pretty unclear and the inclusion of the character just ends up feeling like a way to keep the remake spiritually connected to its source material. The inclusion of ‘Max’, played by Jonathan Schaech, does help the film as Schaech gives the strongest and, arguably, only good performance in the film. The remaining performances range from stiff to outright terrible with the military brothers (played by Jeff Gum and Marcus Vanco, respectively) standing out as particularly awful.
The gore effects in Bloodline are likely to satisfy some horror fans; there is enough blood-spurting and intestine-spilling action in the film to carry it through its run time. While the special effects are nowhere up the standard of work you would see from Tom Savini himself, they’re still remarkably better than what you might expect from other similarly low-budget films.
Most remakes arguably never needed to see the light of day. In some rare instances, a remake can offer something new visually for its audience or center the original film’s themes to a more contemporary context. In the case of Day of the Dead: Bloodline (2018), there is very little connecting it the original film and nothing in its narrative suggesting the filmmakers had anything new to say about Romero’s more political themes. With the wave of popularity experienced by zombie films over the last decade showing signs of waning, Bloodline may not even connect much with younger audiences unfamiliar with the original Day of the Dead. On its own merits, while I can’t say I was outright bored or disgusted with the final product, there isn’t much I can recommend about Bloodline.