PITTSBURGH MADE: Day of the Dead (1985)

This movie was part of a three-film deal with United Film Distribution Company along with Knightriders and Creepshow. Director and writer George Romero had final cut but the screenplay was rewritten several times as the idea of making the Gone With the Wind — I’ve also heard Raiders of the Lost Ark referenced — would never get an R rating and be commerical enough for the budget needed to make the movie. Instead, Romero made a smaller movie on his terms.

While some scenes were shot in Florida, the majority of the footage was shot deep below the normal world in Wampum, PA, just ten miles or less from my parent’s house. As a middle school student, I noticed a lot of seniors were skipping class. They were all going to the salt mines, where this was filming, and would come back with arms made up by Tom Savini. Seeing as how my entire family taught at school — my dad was an art teacher, mom English, uncle the librarian and my aunt was the guidance counselor — all I could do was dream of skipping out and getting to be in a George Romero movie.

If the world seemed like it was ending in Dawn of the DeadDay finds it definitely over. Few survivors exist — if you follow the math in the film, around six hundred humans are still alive — as Dr. Sarah Bowman (Lori Cardille, daughter of Pittsburgh horror host “Chilly” Billy Cardille and an absolute force in this film), her rapidly growing suicical lover Private Miguel Salazar (Anthony Dileo Jr.), radio operator Bill McDermott (Jarlath Conroy) and helicopter pilot Flyboy (Terry Alexander) have just gone through another town where all they find are the living dead and crocodiles as newspapers blow past the camera proclaiming that the dead walk. It’s an amazing scene and sets you up for so much, but I’m going to have to come clean and lose a few of you here.

I’ve never liked this movie as much as I feel I should.

I don’t know if it’s the calustrophobic conditions, the fact that there’s no hope or that it could never live up to the pedestal I put Dawn of the Dead on, but I always wanted more.

That said — there is much that I do love.

Dr. Matthew “Frankenstein” Logan (Richard Liberty) and his relationship with the only zombie who can communicate, Bub (Sherman Howard) is the emotional heart of this film and the idea that the undead can be reasoned with is the lone hopeful moment. It’s also a major issue that Logan is using dead soldiers to experiment on, as the goal was to find a cure and there’s already a rough relationship between science and military after the death of commanding officer Major Cooper. Now, with Captain Henry Rhodes (Jospeh Pilato) in charge, if they find out that the beloved Cooper is one of the test subjects, the scientists, or lambs, will lose the protection of the soldiers, or the shepherds, from the zombies. You know, the wolves.

I guess I’m downplaying the hope, as there is a helicopter escape at the end, even if that feels cribbed from the last film. There’s also the amazing moment where Rhodes is literally torn apart by the zombies after Bub shoots him for killing his creator. For all the critical words tosses at Pilato for overacting, he’s great in this scene.

Actually, there’s one other moment of hope I never picked up on until now: when Dr. Logan and Fisher are shot, they don’t come back from the dead. Perhaps whatever caused the zombie outbreak has ended.

As for the song that plays over the credits, “The World Inside Your Eyes,” that’s John Harrison, Sputzy Sparacino and Delilah. Sputzy was also in the local Pittsburgh bands Modern Man and Sputzy and the Soul Providers.

Additionally, there are plenty of zombie cameos. Here are the ones that I know of:

Romero is a zombie pushing a cart wearing his trademark plaid scarf.

The former Dean of Fine Arts in Carnegie Mellon, Akram Midani, is a fisherman zombie.

The band NRBQ are zombies inside the mine.

Howard Berger from KNB is a zombie and Greg Nicotero is Johnson, one of the army troops.

The mines where this is filmed go miles below the ground and are where many archival prints of movies are stored, including the movie this was intended to be, Gone With the Wind.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.