Director George Romero commits the cardinal sin of attaching a group of completely unlikable characters to a story that not only is uninteresting, but ridiculous, even in a genre that saw a zombie fight a shark (the fast-paced Zombie) and nude anthropology (the wholly superior piece of trash Hell Of The Living Dead).
The idea that three scientists would be living in an underground storage facility with about twelve military men and be working on a project to try and train zombies to behave is reminiscent of other pointless science projects like when Dr. Butcher was doing brain transplants to turn cannibals into zombies in the busy classic Zombie Holocaust.
The opening shot shows a large city in Florida deserted except for zombies, tumbleweed and newspapers that just happen to blow by with their headlines displaying “The Dead Walk” just in case I wasn’t sure what this movie was all about.
The four people who pass for our heroes are on a reconnaissance mission to see if there any other survivors in the area. They see no one and can’t raise anybody on the radio, making it evident that civilization as we know it has completely ceased to exist.
The scenario that Romero posits then doesn’t really seem to allow for a group of people hanging around in a big tunnel trying to teach zombies to appreciate “Ode To Joy” or the pleasures of reading Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot.
The movie sets up the conflict between the human survivors at this facility by dividing them into two equally distasteful groups: the angry, dimwitted military guys and the egghead scientists who spend most of the movie covering up for Dr. Logan and his insane experiments on zombies as well as the corpses of recently deceased soldiers.
On the one hand, the soldiers lead by the insane Rhodes (“I’m running this monkey farm now!”) are simpletons who constantly threaten the scientists and make rude remarks to them to the point that their use of profanity (particularly by Rhodes’s two men, Steele and Rickles) turns into comic relief.
On the other hand, the scientists are completely out of touch nerds who are wasting time and resources on idiotic experiments and deserve to be threatened. What am I to do as a viewer when confronted by two such sets of unsympathetic characters? Four words: Bring on the zombies!
And no, I don’t mean that big green Frankenstein Monster wannabe Bub either. Bub is Dr. Logan’s “star pupil” as one of the characters sarcastically puts it. Logan keeps Bub chained up in the lab and gives him things that he may remember from his former life. Stuff like a razor, a telephone and even an automatic pistol!
Dr. Logan made sure it was unloaded, since that’s the kind of safety the NRA preaches when giving guns to zombies, but later on someone goes and leaves a loaded pistol lying around and well, it isn’t guns that kill people, it’s zombies with guns that kill people, right?
For most of the movie, everyone seems content to go about the daily routine of everyday life. Go down to the zombie corral to get some new test subjects for Dr. Logan, complain about how stupid Dr. Logan’s experiments are, make racist comments about the Hispanic soldier, and have staff meetings that usually end with Rhodes pulling his six shooter on someone and shouting a variety of words strong Christians like myself usually reserve for only the most extreme of circumstances such as when our favorite sports team isn’t going to cover the point spread for a third straight week.
That idyllic existence is shattered once Rhodes discovers that Logan has been using his soldiers’ corpses to experiment on. Rhodes then uses Logan to test out his automatic weapon and the Hispanic guy who had his arm hacked off by his probably soon to be ex-girlfriend goes nuts and heads to the surface where he lets the zombies eat him while they’re all descending on a big platform into the underground base.
The remainder of the movie is pretty much the payoff for the zombie fans who have patiently waited through scenes of the Hispanic guy crying from all the stress, the Jamaican guy pontificating about how the zombies are God’s way of showing us we ain’t all that, and the radio guy drinking.
As the zombies invade the base, everyone follows the emergency plan and promptly splits up so that we can have several explicit kill scenes where guts are flung about, eyes are gouged and bodies are ripped in half and dragged down the hall.
You also have Rhodes who suffers the great indignity of being the only guy in the history of the movies to lose a gunfight to a zombie! I guess Bub’s in charge of this monkey farm now, huh?
This is a much slicker looking film than either of its predecessors (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, but as the female lead in this movie would probably try to have you believe, looks aren’t everything. Tom Savini contributes outstanding special effects and there are moments when you really believe that a zombie’s eyes are still moving even after its head has been hacked off at the jaw with a shovel, but its all for naught as Romero’s experimentation storyline isn’t believable in the context of his world and the people he populates the movie with are all overbearing oafs.
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