Friday, October 7, 2016

The ORIGINAL Day of the Dead (1985) Script!

What was going to be the third installment in Romero's revered zombie trilogy was very, VERY different from the movie we actually saw in 1985. And yeah, it would have been WAY more awesome, for sure. 

By: Jimbo X

In hindsight, there was really no way Day of the Dead (the 1985 version, not that atrocious 2008 straight to DVD "remake") could have been anything other than a big old disappointment. I mean, after the one-two knockout combination of Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, how in the world were George Romero and pals supposed to outdo themselves? The expectations for the third installment of the epic zombie opus were sky high, and it is downright ridiculous to assume they could catch lightning in a bottle three times in a row. 

Still, it's pretty hard to look back at the 1985 trilogy-capper and consider it anything other than a big letdown. I think everybody was expecting, essentially, Dawn of the Dead 2, especially in the wake of the spectacular Return of the Living Dead (which, really, did more to shape our cultural perspectives on the zombie archetype than even Romero's first two Living Dead outings.) So when Romero eschewed the wider, more open-ended atmosphere of the ’78 flick for a darker, danker, and more claustrophobic movie more reminiscent of the ’68 film, a lot of people were mighty - and understandably - miffed.

The thing is, Day of the Dead was originally plotted out as a much different movie. The characters were entirely different, it had a new locale, it introduced different villains and the entire zombie mythos was carefully rewritten to make the creatures a little less brain-dead than they were in the first two Romero films. The scope of the film was much more ambitious, but the backers of the film were hesitant to pump so much cash into a production that was almost certain to get an X rating. So, ultimately, they gave Romero an ultimatum: they would give him all the moolah he needed to make his vision come to life, but only if he scaled back the gopher guts and exploding heads. Naturally, Romero told them to take a hike, so he wound up reworking the script into its scaled back cinematic incarnation we recognize today.

Thankfully for film historians such as ourselves, it's not too hard to go out there in Internet-Land and retrieve Romero's original script. While it bears some resemblance to the 1985 movie, it is nonetheless a drastically different movie, which all things considered, almost certainly would've resulted in a much better motion picture than the one George and pals actually wound up producing. Wondering what could've been? Well, wonder no more, cretin and degenerates, as The Internet Is In America takes a look at the ORIGINAL Day of the Dead screenplay ... 

All right, so the film proper begins in the year of our lord 1987 in the great state of Florida. It's been five years "since the dead first walked," the pre-title crawl tells us. There are gators everywhere in the city streets, with human skeletons (including skeletal children, still locked in their car seats) strewn all about. A hanging, rotting corpse falls from a tall building and shatters on impact with the sidewalk below. 

Now we meet five "guerrilleros" named Sarah, Chico, Miguel, Tony and Maria from somewhere in the Caribbeans (I'm guessing Cuba, but the script never describes which country, exactly, they hail from.) The show up in boats and try to siphon gas out of all the stationary vehicles, on land and on water. Naturally, they wind up getting into a gunfight with fellow survivors down by the docks. One is bitten by a zombie so his comrades hack his arm off at the elbow and torch the wound to keep zombie mania from running wild in his cerebral cortex. Another gunfight breaks out and one of the pirates is mortally wounded. He comes back as a zombie and eats Maria, leaving Sarah, Chico and one-armed Miguel to hit the high seas until they locate what they think is an uninhabited island of the main peninsula. 

So our trio of survivors eat coconuts and almost shoot a gator while Miguel is slowing going nutzoid from the zombie bite. They find a giant elevator to an underground military base where zombies, apparently, are being trained to be soldiers. You see, the humans use these cattle prods to keep 'em in line and feed them human remains out of ice chest as rewards for good behavior. We are then introduced to the Sergeant Barnes and Sergeant Elias of the film, the sadistic Captain Rhodes and the bleeding heart researcher Toby Tyler. The normal zombies attack the pirates, so Rhodes sends his "red coat zombies" to investigate. Miguel keeps screaming "kill the priest, burn the church" over and over again when he is confronted by Rhodes, who pushes a button on his belt to signal his zombie troops, whom promptly kill Miguel by shooting him in the heart. Rhodes captures Chico and leaves him hanging from a giant rope, demanding he tell him if anyone else followed him and where his base is. Rhodes lets us know that he feeds dead soldiers to zombies, and to demonstrate his sick streak, he stuffs a grenade in a disobedient zombie's mouth and cackles with glee when his head explodes. Chico's body falls from the rope - looks like somebody mercifully shot him in the back of the head. Of course, Rhodes thinks Toby did it, so he's put on "trial" for his misdeeds. 

Meanwhile, Sarah encounters yet another gaggle of survivors. They include John, a black man from the Caribbean who speaks in jive talk that only white writers thinks exists; a whiskey-drinking mechanic named Bill (who reminds me of that guy from Jade Empire who was always drinking wine, for some reason) and a small deaf woman named Spider, who is described as being "armed to the teeth" at all times. The tribe refers to zombies as "bees" and they tell Sarah the island is actually called Gasparilla, named after a pirate who sailed the waters near Florida hundreds of years ago. Oh, and the states's head honcho, Governor Dickerson, has assembled his own private army and set up a fortress compound there. The quartet make their way through underground caverns littered with zombies, with John telling Sarah to not worry about the "bees" just as long as they are wearing the same uniforms they are (you see, they've been conditioned to not shoot or eat people wearing uniforms with giant circles on them.) After a zombie gets macheted to death, John and Sarah have a discussion about the root cause of ZombieMania '87, with Sarah stating it's a parasite infection and John believing it's some kind of biblical curse. This offends Sarah, so she says "fuck you Moses, I'm outta' here" (no, for real) and runs off into the night. 

Of course, Sarah falls into alligator and snake infested waters immediately and is attacked by a zombie with a pole sticking through its gizzards and one of its eyeballs dangling out of its skull. Big John saves her before she gets eaten, though, and takes her back to his underground refuge. From there, we travel to the subterranean military base, where there are TV monitors and old-ass computer equipment everywhere. The undead are being shown videos of people in orange vests not being shot, so they "learn" to not go after their superiors. Enter scientists Julie Grant and Mary Henried. Rhodes walks into a zombie jail cell with a bag of severed heads, and we meet a gaggle of the living dead troops. They have names like Tonto, Fatso, Samson and Bub because ... well, take a guess. Rhodes rolls one of the zombie heads on the floor and the shit is still blinking and breathing and moaning. So he shoots it and freaks the hell out of the female researchers. By the way, Rhodes keeps bragging about having sex with Julie this one time, and keeps referring to her as "Miss Science."

So Julie is walking around the underground fortress, evaluating all of the debauchery going on. There are hookers fist fighting each other, dudes shooting up heroin and snorting coke, and even one guy running around with a dildo glued to his head. Meanwhile, Toby is sentenced to Stalag 17, where a pregnant woman solicits him for sex and a drunk fat dude pukes on him. Then, we're introduced to Dr. Logan, a brain surgeon with some expertise in zombie-neurology. John and the gang come up through the planks and get some ammo (and whiskey refill) from his office. Then they go down to the underground hospital (where people are having sex and doing drugs in the waiting room) and we watch Tonto and Bluto eat human brains with forks. You know, because they are becoming more civilized and whatnot.

Mary goes down to the underground shooting range. While all the other "redcoat" zombies have a hard time hitting targets, Bub is nailing the bull's eye like he was John Wayne. In an underground council meeting, we meet Gov. Dickerson, who for some reason, wants to be referred to as "Gasparilla." Romero describes him thus: "He's a fat man with a handlebar mustache that makes him look like Pancho Villa. As an indication of rank he wears a military jacket but underneath is a Hawaiian shirt with a bold flamingo and palm tree pattern. Around his neck, nestled in the rolls of fat there, is enough gold to stake a small business."

All the prosecutors are his golf buddies (Rhodes among them.) They sentence a guy accused of swiping a government radio a year in the stalag for hard labor. Mary walks in and tries to tell the governor that Toby is innocent and Rhodes is doing all sorts of nefarious stuff. The governor promptly tells her to STFU, but not before he invites her to his "secret workout chambers" later that evening.

There, the governor sits in a neon-tube bedecked tanning bed, with topless harem jogging beside him on treadmills. Servers bring them sushi, coke and weed. He's drunk and tries to goad Mary into doing some lesbian stuff and jokes about the hors douveres being brains. Mary says there are signs that some human survivors have made outposts in Philadelphia and Detroit, but the governor remains convinced that his island kingdom is the last remaining homo sapiens stronghold on the planet. He then spits out this maddened monologue: "There's no place like this place. Warm climate. This facility. Christ, there ain't nothin' like this no-damn-where! Even the Feds knew that. That's why they stored so much o' their shit down here. It's all mine now. All mine. Just let 'em try ta come after us down here, which they will some day...take a likin' ta what all we got an' come after us. They'll hafta get past my army! An army that ain't afraid ta die...ha ha ha...'cause it's awreddy DAID! HA HA HA HA...."

For no real reason, Rhodes decides right then and there is as good a time as any to blow away some people on the hospital cots while Sarah, John, Toby, Dr. Logan and the rest of the gang uncover a cache of weapons for a potential uprising. Huh, the luck there, eh? 

The rub there is, Dr. Logan has kind of gone psycho. He's made some synthetic nitrogen and reveals to the gang his plans to hit the facility's reservoir of gun powder, which, I am sure you guessed, means the whole underground fortress will go ka-boom. There's an argument about the attack claiming innocent victims, but after awhile, everybody agrees to disagree and we all sally forth. 

The ragtag band of zombie island revolutionaries find some "daturas," a nightshade type plant they plan on using to knock out some guards. We also learn that Dr. Logan put the nitro inside Spider, and is leading her through the marshlands to be used as a suicide bomber. He is attacked by zombie lugging a steel hook, but he survives (relatively) unscathed. 

Julie helps facilitate the inside job and the gang gets inside the inner workings of the subterranean fortress. They immediately dispatch two guards and a security alarm sounds. The gang enters the main communication room and shut down the control system, so all of the doors to the outside open swing open and redcoat zombies start pouring in. At this point we learn the fortress does have some semblance of being a real society, with families and children all residing in fairly decent underground apartments separate from all of the military happenings and drug-fueled orgies. 

Dr. Logan sounds the "feeding siren," which of course draws pretty much every zombie on the island towards the wide open compound. He offers himself as a "communion" offering to the undead and is literally torn asunder by the zombie hordes. And now it's all out anarchy, with the zombies devouring everybody. Rhodes and his men find themselves fighting a two-front war, with the human rebels on one end and the living dead on the other. And then? The zombies breach the governor's chambers.

Mary runs into Bub, and she thinks he is going to ear her, but he gives her a military salute instead, allowing a gaggle of nurses and children to escape the zombie apocalypse. She then tries to teach all of the "trained" zombies to start shooting people wearing vests with the orange circles. Now Bub and his fellow military corps(e) are in hot pursuit of Rhodes and his men. 

And here's the part when the zombies get a hold of the governor. Let's let Romero himself paint the picture for us, why don't we?
MONTAGE: as ALL OVER THE ROOM THEY STRIKE. This is it, gore fans. The gross finale. The intestine-tugger. THE ZOMBIES GET THEIR SUPPER. THEY FEAST AMONG THE PILLOWS, like Romans at an orgy. MUSIC still plays over the gymnasium speakers, rock-a-billy in a gleeful tempo. GASPARILLA has retreated into his tanning-coffin but a pudgy arm and a leg are dangling outside. ZOMBIES CHEW HUNGRILY on the juicy morsels. From inside the coffin, where ultraviolet glows brightly, come the piercing, agonized screams of the fat general.
Rhodes gets bitten and Bub shoots him a couple of times. The survivors make a run toward the escape boats, with John declaring "Damn you, island, damn you ta' Hell and worse!" 

Bub chases Rhodes down and they have a very wild west-like "gunfight" finale with the zombie beating the sadistic general to the punch. Dramatically, a zombie throws a test tube at Spider right as Rhodes goes down, and ... kablooey. As the walls begin to crumble around him, Bub does a military salute before he is engulfed in a fireball.

The refugees (which also includes a few surviving kids) find a remote island. John baptizes the young ins (get the symbolism?) and they bury one of the fallen military men. John eulogizes him thus: 
"Satan ain't sent this man back. Not yet, anyway. So we all hopin' that maybe he's up there with you, Lord. This might be the first decent soul we been able ta offer ya in quite a few years. That's a fact. We just gonna... pray, Lord. We gonna pray that what seems ta be happenin' really happenin' ... and I'm gonna take the chance and speak these words that I ain't been able ta speak for so long ... May he rest in peace."
And the grand finale? Rather than paraphrase, I'll let Romero describe it in his own words: 
EXT. THE BEACH - NIGHT THE CORPSE lies in the MOONLIGHT. NIGHT CRITTERS SCREECH AND BURBLE in the jungle behind the sand. It's an eerie scene. SARAH is sitting up, her RIFLE ready in her lap, watching the body. JOHN steps in behind and she startles.
JOHN: Just me. I'll take the next shift.  
He settles easily down beside the woman. The two stare together at the shrouded corpse.  
SARAH: How long do we have to watch him?
JOHN: Forever, darlin'. Forever.'Til he turns ta dust and blows away on the wind. 
THE BODY lies silent, rigid under the KHAKI ARMY BLANKET that rises and falls, rises and falls with the Gulf breeze. Suddenly ... A LOUD MUSIC CHORD! A SUDDEN MOVEMENT! It's the movement of RED LETTERS that spin up off the head of the corpse and settle before our eyes. The letters read: "THE END (I PROMISE)"
Oh, George, you kidder, you. Ending the whole Living Dead trilogy with a self-reflexive in-joke that also doubles as an ultra cheap jump scare. Corny scriptwriting of the sort fully explains why you never won an Oscar, but totally makes it clear as day why you were a Fangoria Hall of Fame first balloter.

Romero's original script, without question, was WAY better than the one that was actually filmed. I'm not quite sure if it would've resulted in a genre masterpiece on par with Dawn of the Dead or Night of the Living Dead, but it at least would've given us something that felt a little fresher and more thoughtful than the '85 Day. Of course, quite a bit of stuff from the first screenplay did indeed make it into the final film, but at the expense of nearly half the cast and a whole lot of downsizing. Eventually, we would see some elements of the original script recast in the 20-year-late sequel Land of the Dead, and the whole "militarized zombie" theme was indeed used as the backbone for Return of the Living Dead 3. Still, as ambitious and inventive and gore-soaked and paranoia-gripped as the plot was (remember, this was penned around the same time as nuclear holocaust porn Threads and The Day After), one can only wonder what a bigger budgeted, plot-faithful Day of the Dead would've been like in the mid-1980s. 

Would it have been all-time awesome? Eh, most likely no, but it certainly would have been quite a few degrees more awesome than the Day we did get. Which sort of begs the question: now that zombie-mania is all the rage and studios would give Romero all the money he wants, how come he hasn't taken a stab at bringing this script to the big screen, in all its gory, high-concept glory? 

1 comment:

  1. Ambitious, yes. Better, maybe or maybe not. Also Day is a great film so I have no idea what you're on about.


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