Remakes always take some liberties with the original (otherwise why bother?), whether that be some tweaks to the plot, adding or removing characters, changing the setting, etc. Generally these changes are fairly superficial, but even when they’re major you can always get a sense of the original. Well, almost always. 2008’s remake of Day of the Dead shares a title and a character name or two with the original film, and not much else.
Now the original Day of the Dead is a bit of a divisive film for fans of the classic Romero zombie. It’s classic Romero in that it’s got slow zombies and seems to follow the general timeline from Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. But it also has a fair amount in common with newer Romero zombies (the smart kind) with the introduction of Bub, a semi-intelligent zombie who is able to use tools and even fire a gun. For some, Day of the Dead is the last good film of a director who lost his way, and for others it’s an eerie precursor for things to come.
The remake is so, so much worse. It looks like Day of the Dead saw the success of the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead (which I enjoyed despite the fact that the original is vastly superior and the two films are only tangentially related) and decided to try to do the same thing again, only bigger. As a result we get extraordinarily fast, super-powered zombies, a ridiculous story, cheap special effects, and boring characters straight out of central casting.
The writing is particularly bad. Mena Suvari’s character, for instance, carries around an unloaded handgun for reasons she never explains. Every time this is brought up, she gets a constipated look on her faces and says “It’s complicated”. This would lead one to believe that there is a very good explanation that will shed a lot of light on the character and perhaps her relationship with her family and other soldiers. You would be mistaken, however, as she never gives even a hint of what these complicated reasons might be. Essentially, the writers wanted the character to be unarmed, but couldn’t come up with a reasonable way to pull this off. The rest of the film follows suit.
While all those things bother me, what gets me the most is why this film even needed to be a remake. Other than the title, a character named “Captain Rhodes”, and a zombie who is able to use a gun, this film has absolutely nothing in common with the 1985 version. My inner cynic tells me that this was a simple equation: Zombies are popular + Earlier remake of Romero film was financially successful = Find another Romero flick and remake it. Instead of hiring competent writers to actually update the existing stories, they just cherry-picked a couple elements, made all the zombies into Olympic athletes with Spider-man abilities, and called it a day.
In fact, they seem to be referencing the remake of Dawn just as much as the original Day, especially with the use of Ving Rhames as Rhodes. While it’s never implicitly stated, we’re supposed to assume that Rhodes is the brother of Kenneth from Dawn of the Dead. Sure, they never give Kenneth a last name, but just look at the resemblence! The other characters are also pretty similar to Dawn‘s: you’ve got the plucky female lead, the cocky black sidekick who oscillates between being an asset and a pain in the ass, the asshole who tries to screw over the group, and the canon fodder you can see a mile away. Sure, there are some tweaks here and there, but they’re never too significant that you can’t immediately spot where they came from.
The remake of Day of the Dead isn’t just unnecessary, it’s an embarrassment for fans of the original and fans of the genre in general.
Would this movie have been enjoyable had it not been a remake? Good lord, no.
Avoid Day of the Dead (2008) at all costs.