Pointless, But Watchable
cockney0_1 - wrote on 07/11/09
It seems that the horror movie remake is now fully integrated into the Hollywood money-making psyche, and although the debate is going to run and run about the merits of such movies - the snobbery of the fans of the originals versus a newer generation who can't see what all the fuss over the so-called 'classics' is about - it doesn't really matter what anybody thinks as they're going to make them anyway. Although 2003's remake (reimagining, reboot, whatever...) of 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' arguably kickstarted the trend, to some degree of critical and commercial success, it was the 2004 version of what some see to be the Holy Grail of horror movies - 'Dawn of the Dead' - that really signalled the arrival of this new wave of remakes. Taking George A.Romero's original idea of having a group of survivors holed up in a shopping mall during the zombie outbreak and marrying it to the '28 Days Later' idea of zombies that can actually move faster than a tortoise. Some hated it, some loved it, but overall it was a decent movie that had it's foot planted in both the horror and action genres, with a few respectful nods towards it's source material and adding enough original touches to make it stand on its own.
Inevitably, though, the sequel to the original 'Dawn...' - unsurprisingly called 'Day of the Dead' - was also going to be a candidate for a 21st century makeover, but unlike 'Dawn...', this movie was more low-key, going straight to dvd without all the hoorah that greeted 'Dawn...'. Was this a sign that the remake trend was waning, and that nobody cared? Or was it simply because 'Day...' was simply a rubbish movie? Probably a bit of both.
The core of 'Day...' is essentially similar to the 1985 original - the idea of military tactics versus a more scientific approach of trying to train the zombies rather than annihilate them. And that's pretty much the only major similarity, apart from a few character traits, but more on that later. In the original, a group consisting of gung-ho soldiers, slightly eccentric scientists and drunken helicopter pilots were trapped in an underground bunker while the marauding undead were lurking on the surface. The movie explored the character development within the group and what happens when desperate people with no hope are grouped together, the end result being that the zombies end up being less threatening than the characters who are slowly losing their minds. In this movie we have a group of (fairly unconvincing) soldiers, led by Captain Rhodes (Ving Rhames, who bizarrely appeared in the 'Dawn...' remake playing a different character), who are setting up a roadblock to stop the occupants of a Colorado town leaving to stop the spread of a virus. Corporal Sarah Bowman (Mena Suvari), a town local, and Private Bud Crain (Stark Sands) go to Bowman's home to take her sick mother to hospital. When at the hospital, most of the town's inhabitants seem to be there, and before long all of the sick and injured (including Ma Bowman) start to transform into bloodthirsty zombies and start attacking the living. Bowman, Crain, another soldier called Salazar (Nick Cannon) and Doctor Logan (Matt Rippy), who may know more than he is letting on, manage to escape the hospital, but Bowman hears the voice of her brother Trevor (Michael Welch), who is hiding at the local radio station, on the radio and turns back towards town to rescue him. During all of this excitement, Bud gets bitten by a zombie and the slimy Dr. Logan does a runner, but Bowman rescues her brother and his girlfriend, and the group make a move towards a disused factory that houses a secret underground research facility that may hold the key to the outbreak.
Overall, 'Day of the Dead' isn't actually that bad. There is a lot wrong with it - more than there is right with it - but take away the connections to Romero's classic and you have a fairly pacey zombie romp that could probably sit alongside modern fare like '28 Days Later', 'Resident Evil' and 'Dead Set' fairly comfortably and appeal to a lot of the newer fans of the genre. The main problem with it is the title, because it really has none of the depth or quality of it's source material. You can give the characters the same names as the originals (Sarah, Logan, Rhodes and Salazar are all in the original, but Bub is renamed Bud) but that doesn't mean that the characters are the same. Rhodes in the original was a detestable bully who would stop at nothing to maintain control over the group, but as the zombies break into the facility and he loses control - of the group and his mind - there is a sense of empathy with him as he tries to escape his fate. In this one, Rhodes is a fairly generic army Captain who barks a few orders and then gets his legs bitten off after about twenty minutes. Original Logan is an eccentric doctor trying to achieve results in the taming of the undead. Ignoring the bullying of Rhodes in favour of trying to see what makes the zombies tick, Logan is a fascinating character who seems completely unaware of his surroundings and genuinely feels an empathy with Bub, the zombie he has managed to control. Logan in this movie comes across as a nasty piece of work who doesn't seem to have any reason to be nasty apart from saving his own skin. Do you see a pattern emerging? And who thought that making Bud a vegetarian zombie would be a good idea?
The casting is quite baffling, too. Ving Rhames appearance is just plain odd, the only reason seeming to be that because 'Dawn...' was so successful, the audience may see Rhames name on the cover and assume this movie to be a direct sequel. It isn't, and Rhames is only in the movie for about ten minutes of screen time, so ...go figure! Mena Suvari is fairly solid but unremarkable as Sarah, although to be fair she doesn't have a lot to work with considering the workmanlike script, and the other supporting cast being pretty forgettable, only the ever reliable Ian McNeice providing any sort of likeable or memorable character as Paul, the obnoxious local radio disc jockey.
The cgi special effects aren't the best ever seen, especially when you consider the groundbreaking effects that Tom Savini created in the original, and it sometimes feels like you're watching an Xbox game rather than a movie. The zombies are of the fast-moving variety, as in most recent zombie movies, but the ones in this movie also have the ability to crawl up walls and along the ceiling. Believing the dead are coming back to life is one thing, but then giving them Spiderman-like abilities is stretching it a little.
But, as previously stated, it isn't that bad when you watch it. Most of the negatives, apart from the ceiling crawlers, appear when the movie is over, when you have time to reflect on it. On screen it moves along at a cracking pace, with plenty of well coreographed action sequences and a few tense moments, namely the scene in the radio station featuring Trevor, his girlfriend, Paul and a couple of survivors. Another thing (and it may be just me) is that there seems to be an underlying sense of self-knowing, that what's being shown is nowhere near as good as the title suggests but they're going to have fun with it anyway. Because that's probably the best comment one could make about this movie - it's fun. Big dumb fun that fills 90 minutes without outstaying it's welcome and has none of the pretensions of greatness that plagued '28 Days Later'. It's certainly better than other recent zombie movies such as 'Flight of the Living Dead' and 'Zombie Strippers', just as long as you can get the Romero comparisons out of your head. Don't expect greatness, make up your own title, and it's a watchable, if ultimately pointless, zombie movie.