Originally intended to be the "Gone with the Wind" of horror movies, but scaled back a bit later on, one has to wonder what the Gone version was gonna be like and how it would'a played out. Because this movie is epic, it's huge, and it's damn good. So to think it might've been better, that's pretty insane.
George Romero was granted the rights to do the sequels to Night of the Living Dead, for an explanation see my review of Return of the Living Dead. He just had to change the name a bit, so hence we had Dawn of the Dead in 1978 (he just dropped the word Living) and then this movie, Day of the Dead. As you may be aware, there are plenty of others and remakes, but the original two are just Dawn of and Day of.
The movie starts with a scene of several people looking for survivors out in the city. This is presumably a while after the zombie apocalypse, and after they leave without finding anyone, we learn they have searched hundreds of miles for any such survivors. Back at their base of operations, an underground facility somewhere, there is a military presence of about 6 guys, and a scientist presence of 2. The scientists are Dr Logan is a crazed old man and the leader of the scientists, the other is Dr Sarah, who is also the films leading protagonist. This movie follows in the recent-at-the-time trend of making the lead a strong female character, a trend made popular by Halloween and Alien.
All these guys are in this underground facility, tensions and frustrations are running high, conflicts between the scientists and military are rampant, and now there is a new military lead in control. This guy, Rhodes, is completely hellbent on putting everyone under his control, and wants to leave the compound and move to somewhere else. The scientists want to continue their research, trying to figure out how to stop the spread of the zombies, and also if reversing the process is possible. Anyways, the conflicts and plot goes on from there.
I kind of love fan theories and seeing other peoples take on movies like this that are fairly well known. This movie is a true cult classic, a well known zombie film, and by a legendary director, etc. So I was just reading on IMDb some fan theories concerning why the movie plays out the way it does, and a lot of them make a good amount of sense. One theory is that despite how Rhodes appears in the film, he actually has a lot of motivation to send him off the way he does, and he may not be the true "bad guy" that the film makes him out to be. This fan theory was pretty well thought out. If you didn't want to read that, basically he has reasons to act the way he does.
The great parts of this movie are plentiful: the music is freaking awesome. Number one reason I saw this movie recently was because this music was put high on the list of inspirations behind the latest Boards of Canada album, and I fucking love Boards of Canada. And it's true, the music is genius: 80's, John Carpenter inspired, minimal, creepy, awesome, etc. Listen! I'm not like a giant soundtrack guy, but it's near perfect, I'd say. The acting, again, solid. The lead actress hasn't been in much, but was great in this. The other actors are all good too. They did a good job of making several of the characters memorable, yet still having disposable people in the flick.
The effects are good too. Sure, not great. By some other movies standards, a lot of the zombie makeup is pretty lame, barely existent, etc. But some of the zombies look fucking awesome. It's kind of a mixed bag. But nothing horrible. One thing this movie series does do which makes it stand out among the other zombie movies is to make the zombies capable of learning. It's slow in this one, but in later Romero movies, it would of course be a plot point. That plot point tends to make this movie get some guff. Whatever, it's the small things that set these different zombie movies apart. At least they were thoughtful re-imaginings, twists, instead of doing the same thing time and time again.
In the end, this is a very good follow up to Dawn of the Dead, and a great zombie movie. If you haven't seen it in a while, it's a great way to scratch that zombie itch of yours.