This straight-to-video remake of George Romero’s Day of the Dead is an oddity among B-movie horror films in that it has more than one recognizable Hollywood actor, looks like it has a decent budget and has pretty good direction and visual effects. The only real downside is the lackluster writing. Still, most zombie movie aficionados will most likely be pleased by this offering provided they make a few concessions.
The tie-in to Romero’s Day of the Dead is very loose here. Most of the story takes place topside instead of underground and it focuses more on the zombie action rather than the human interaction. In this version, a small town has been quarantined by the U.S. military and the townsfolk are suffering from some kind of virus. Those infected turn into flesh-eating zombies and it’s up to a few survivors to get the hell out of dodge. Fans of Bub, the learning zombie from the original, may be disappointed to find Bud, the loving zombie here, but at least it’s something.
I think what’s most interesting about this Day of the Dead is how it reflects the current phase of how zombies are depicted in films. They seem to be getting smarter with each incarnation. Here we have zombies that can run, crawl on ceilings, hanging from acoustical tile and even dodge bullets. These zombies also feature the fast-motion headshaking that’s becoming ubiquitous of low-budget monster flicks and Saw films. I’m not a fan of running zombies, but I think it works here. Zombies are only really scary when there’s a lot of them. The more organized or trained the survivors are, the more zombies you need to pile on to drive up the fear factor. When the budget constrains the film to so many extras, it’s understandable that you need to make the zombies a little tougher. Although I do find it a little confusing when the undead are in better athletic shape than the living.
Still, for all its flaws, DotD 2008 is thoroughly watchable. The acting is above par for the genre. The makeup effects are first-rate. The direction also conveys the horror effectively. The only real weak link is the writing. It feels like the script was changed during production after additional budget was approved. For instance, early on a character carries a gun with no bullets, explaining that the reason is complicated, but we never find out what the reason is. It seems like a moot point after she finds a gun with bullets and there’s a shootout that Uwe Boll would be proud of. Also, the script tacks on some character exchanges to show familial disputes way too late in the film and at the most inappropriate times. Lastly, laymen characters are a little too familiar with firearms.
If you can forgive those criticisms and accept that the Day of the Dead title is just a quick way to attract viewers without having much to do with the source material, then this movie is worth a rental.