One wonders what George Romero, the godfather of modern zombie horror, would make of the new TV series loosely based on his 1985 gorefest Day Of The Dead.
Perhaps he’d be flattered by the high quality of the script, acting and, in particular, the gruesome FX. He’d most likely appreciate the writers’ decision to inject some of the humour that was lacking in his grim film.
But Romero might also be confused about why these zombies don’t play by the rules he created with the first of his “Dead” trilogy, 1968’s Night Of The Living Dead.
Fear fans can make up their own minds which is better, with the new Day Of The Dead TV series and the original movie streaming at SBS On Demand.
The film is set several years into the apocalypse with an army unit and a science team living in an underground military bunker in Florida, bickering constantly while trying to find a cure for the zombie virus, while an ever-growing undead horde gather outside.
The tensions build when the mentally unhinged Captain Rhodes (Joseph Pilato) takes command and clashes with the science team’s leader, the unstable Dr Logan (Richard Liberty), dubbed “Dr Frankenstein” by the soldiers. The situation worsens when Rhodes learns that Logan is attempting to train one of the zombies, “Bub”, who listens to music, makes crude attempts to speak and has been taught not to attack people.
But will the two sides band together when the ravenous ghouls inevitably break into the bunker? It’s a bleak affair with Romero showing little faith in either the military or science to help humanity when it’s on the verge of extinction.
The TV series’ plot has little to do with the film and, crucially, has its tongue planted more firmly in its cheek. Watch the trailer now:
It’s mayoral election day in rural Mawinhaken, Pennsylvania and the pressure is getting to gun-toting incumbent mayor Paula Bowman (Miranda Frigon), especially dealing with angry protesters upset about a controversial fracking operation outside of town.
Meanwhile, Sarah Blackwood (Morgan Holmstrom) and her fracking crew discover a mummified body in a cavern. Police Detective McDermott (Mike Dopud) goes down the hole to investigate with unfortunate consequences.
Elsewhere, at the local funeral parlour, McDermott’s teenage son and groundskeeper Cam (Keenan Tracey) along with assistant mortician Lauren Howell (Natalie Malaika) discover that the dead are coming back to life with an appetite for murder and human flesh.
Is the zombie outbreak caused by the fracking and the sinister company that runs the operation? Or is the answer connected to the legend of a curse that dates back hundreds of years?
In many ways, Day Of The Dead the TV series pays homage to all three films in Romero’s trilogy. It begins on the day of the first outbreak in small-town Pennsylvania, reflecting the sequence of events of Night Of The Living Dead.
Later in the series, some survivors hole up in a shopping mall, which is the plot of 1978’s Dawn Of The Dead.
And there are several nods to the movie it shares its name with, including having a mad scientist called “Dr Frankenstein” and an intelligent zombie nicknamed “Bub”.
But the series isn’t afraid to throw aside the Romero rules when it comes to the monsters. Shooting the undead in the brain or decapitation doesn’t kill them. Even severed body parts continue to move of their own accord.
In this way, the monsters share the same traits as those found in another horror flick from 1985, the blackly comic The Return Of The Living Dead.
Other parts of zombie lore get trashed as the series progresses: people who are bitten don’t necessarily turn into undead creatures when they die. Some zombies shamble slowly while others walk at a fair clip and even run.
These changes are disorienting, but they keep viewers on their toes, never knowing what to expect next. The only thing they can be sure of is that the number of protagonists at the start of the series will be radically reduced by the tenth and final episode.
Fans of the subgenre should also check out 2018 French film The Night Eats The World, waiting to be consumed at SBS On Demand. It’s an English-language production, but it matters little as there’s very little dialogue in this reflective, moody tale about a troubled musician Sam (Anders Danielsen Lie) trying to survive in a Paris overrun with fast-moving zombies.
There are some excellent action scenes as his growing loneliness and mental fragility causes him to take crazy risks, like trying to catch a stray cat from the street outside the apartment building he’s holed up in.
But the sudden arrival of another survivor makes Sam question whether it’s better to continue his placid, empty life or risk everything with a dangerous escape from the city. It’s a more arty change of pace but also explores different ground in the zombie mythos.
As for Day Of The Dead, it comes on the heels of a slew of TV shows in recent years – including The Walking Dead, iZombie, Fear The Walking Dead, Black Summer and Z Nation – that indicates viewers’ appetite for this type of fare isn’t waning.
If George Romero rose from his grave today, seeing the enduring success of his undead creations would make him a very happy ghoul. Hungry, possibly, but happy.
Day Of The Dead (the TV series) premiered at SBS On Demand. It is also currently screening on SBS VICELAND on Friday nights. Start with episode one:
Day Of The Dead (the 1985 movie) is now streaming at SBS On Demand. (Both are English-language productions.)
The Night Eats The World is now streaming at SBS On Demand.