Somehow I missed the news last February that SyFy had greenlit a TV reboot of George A. Romero’s classic 1985 zombie horror film, Day of the Dead—just before the widespread onset of a deadly global pandemic, no less. And somehow the series managed to get into production despite all the shutdowns. SyFy dropped the official trailer for the ten-episode series during a panel at Comic-Con@home, with a planned premiere date this October, just in time for Halloween. You can watch the full 45-minute panel here.
The original Day of the Dead was the third in a trilogy of films that launched a franchise, preceded by Night of the Living Dead (1968) and its sequel, Dawn of the Dead (1978). Romero originally envisioned Day of the Dead as the Gone With the Wind of zombie movies, but disagreements with the studio over a proposed R-rating—Romero wanted the film to be unrated—meant that the director ended up with half his original budget (about $4 million). He was forced to scale back his vision substantially, so much of the film takes place in a secure underground bunker in the Everglades, where tensions rise between the scientists and soldiers on-site.
Romero has said that Day of the Dead is his favorite within the franchise, although it has the lowest “fresh” rating (83 percent) on Rotten Tomatoes of the initial trilogy. It only grossed $34 million worldwide (mostly from VHS, DVD, and Blu-Ray releases), but it still left its mark on popular culture. The pseudo-civilized zombie “Bub” made a cameo on a S4 episode of The Walking Dead as one of the “walkers” encountered in a railroad tunnel. And in Stranger Things S3 (set in 1985), the teens all sneak into a mall theater to watch an early screening of Day of the Dead. Three more films in the franchise were released in 2005, 2007, and 2009, and Night of the Living Dead II is currently in production, slated for a 2022 release. Three of the original cast members from Day of the Dead will reprise their roles in that film.
Back when the SyFy project was announced, the official logline for the Day of the Dead TV series described it as “the intense story of six strangers trying to survive the first 24 hours of an undead invasion.” It was always intended as an ode to Romero, who pretty much pioneered the entire genre. “Night of the Living Dead was in 1968, and we’re still, every time zombies come up, we talk about Romero,” co-showrunner (with Jed Elinoff) Scott Thomas said during the panel. “He established what we know as the modern zombie… and he did it in a way that also added social commentary. Every single zombie movie or TV show or graphic novel owes Romero for his legacy.”
Judging from the trailer, we’ll get our share of zombie-fueled gore: limbs torn off, disembowelment, and of course, the consumption of tasty brains. There will also be Easter eggs scattered throughout the series for eagle-eyed fans, per Thomas. Personally, I’m hoping to see Bub again (with his mocking salute), and maybe even makeup/special effects master Tom Savini, a crew member on the original trilogy. (Savini made surprise cameo appearances as an actor in last year’s NOS4A2 and Locke and Key.)
That said, the series will also depart significantly from those classic Romero movies. For instance, it looks like there will be a lot more humor. And while the show will feature the classic Romero “slow” zombies, Thomas said that the zombie invasion will not be the result of an outbreak that starts turning everyone into zombies. Rather, it will be a scenario where the dead start coming back to life and eating the residents of the small town in which the story takes place. (In that respect, it resembles the premise of 2019’s The Dead Don’t Die.) And the zombies cannot be killed as easily by a simple shot to the head, according to Thomas, which should up the stakes even more.
Day of the Dead premieres on SyFy in October 2021. The cast includes Natalie Malaika as Lauren Howell, Keenan Tracey as Cam McDermott, Daniel Doheny as Luke Bowman, Morgan Holmstrom as Sarah Blackwood, Miranda Frigon as Paula Bowman, Deejan Loyola as Jai Fisher, Kristy Dawn Dinsmore as Amy, Christopher Russell as Trey Bowman, Matty Finochio as Bobby Hart, Kevin O’Grady as Rhodes, Lucia Walters as Logan, Stefanie von Pfetten as Cindy, Darryl Scheelar as Magnum, Trezzo Mahoro as Trent, Caitlin Stryker as Nicole, and Marci T. House as Captain Pike. One assumes a few of those cast members will end up as zombie food.
Listing image by YouTube/SYFY