I wish all my favourite movies had a book like this
George Romero's 1985 Day of the Dead now has a brand new making-of book, full of never-before-seen photos and recent interviews with the cast and crew. Published in October, it's been put together by Lee Karr, who's so keen on Romero's zombie films that he even relocated to Pittsburgh!
Day of the Dead deserved this book in 1985, but as the author notes, any chance of that was eclipsed by the publication of Paul Gagne's 'The Zombies That Ate Pittsburgh - The Films of George A. Romero'. That only had a chapter about the film, but that was the main reason why I got it at the time. It's very good, but gives equal space to every other Romero film that existed up till then. I was so impressed with this film that I was still hungry for much more detail, which is why this book is such a treat.
It's still hard to decide which I like more, Dawn of the Dead or Day of the Dead. Dawn was more influential, but Day has a better script and a more consistent cast. While the shopping mall was a post-apocalyptic fantasy, the underground shelter is a claustrophobic nightmare. The mall had many escape routes, in the mine, you're trapped. In the dark. With zombies.
I saw both films in the cinema, during their first run in the UK. But the many, bloody shock moments in Dawn of the Dead had been censored, literally cut out of the prints, and it took years before the jigsaw was eventually put back together on home video. But Day of the Dead, I saw on one of the largest screens in the country and it looked uncut. With even more elaborate make-ups and gory effects, the many shock moments made much more of an first impression.
Thirty years later, I've seen short documentaries and heard a few well-trodden stories, but here is a book full of much more. A complete story of the production of Day of the Dead, from the original rumours of 'a trilogy', through Romero's original vision (there is a lengthy synopsis of his favoured script), to the tortured pre-production process as the budget was pared down. There's a detailed account of how and exactly where everything was filmed, including interviews with the cast and crew, right down to the main zombies of every scene. Featured zombies were often technicians, volunteers or extras - but this was a chance for anyone to get a big screen close-up and a death scene. Something that many actors can only dream of.
Usually, when a film is documented, it's divided up into departments, stunts, special effects, directing, and a choice of all the best stories. In Karr's book, I was apprehensive to start trawling through the lengthiest section, a day-by-day account of the entire shooting schedule! But it proved to be very interesting - here we don't get the best stories, but all the stories. By the end, I felt like I'd been there with the crew for the entire shoot!
Karr doesn't shy away from the raunchier aspects of the young, high-spirited crew and I now see the wizard of gore, Tom Savini, in a slightly different light (!). His constant love of practical jokes distracts many of the crew from a grindingly hard and difficult location, where they were filming for months, though some of the 'gags' end up in hospital! At the same time, Savini tests his effects so thoroughly that it's very rare that any of his effects misfire. He's so conscious of how precious time is to a production schedule.
The film proved to be a training ground for several young crewmembers who'd been drafted in to deal with the huge number of make-ups and effects. Day presents the zombies as starting to rot, whereas in Dawn of the Dead, many of the make-ups were just extras painted green! Greg Nicotero, now a make-up effects supervisor on The Walking Dead, got his professional start on Day of the Dead, (and even had a supporting role). He learnt his trade on this film, though now we know what he actually did...
The book is drawn from over 100 interviews, though the passage of time has dimmed some of the detail. But the book boasts 250 never-before-seen photos (none are shown here), mostly in colour, presenting an eyewitness document of Day of the Dead that can't be beaten.
The paperback has just been published by Plexus and is now available in the UK and USA. Happily, Day of the Dead is now available on blu-ray in the UK and US, but please, please don't confuse George's film with the inferior 2008 'remake' starring Mena Suvari. Please.