Face-Off: Night of the Living Dead vs. Day of the Dead

Disagreements and the manipulations of outside elements splinter the ranks of the MCU superheroes in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, a film I am greatly anticipating. As I look forward to that movie, I've been thinking of other films that feature intense conflict among a group of characters, and the two that stand out to me most strongly as being Face-Off material are both parts of George A. Romero's DEAD series: the classic "upstairs or down?" battle in 1968's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and the tyranny of the military characters in 1985's DAY OF THE DEAD. I'm putting these films up against each other for this week's Face-Off, but the focus here is solely on the arguments featured within them, the differences of opinion that boil over into violence.
#TeamBen or #TeamHarry? As the world around him descends into the chaos of a zombie apocalypse, Ben does his best to keep his wits about him and stand up to the challenge of surviving. On the opposite end, we have the cowardly, stubborn Harry Cooper, willing to let anyone around him perish as long as he's safe. While characters gravitate toward Ben, no one likes Harry, not even his own wife.
It's #TeamSarah vs. #TeamRhodes. A civilian scientist working for the military in an underground bunker, searching for a way to end the zombie apocalypse, Sarah is a strong, smart heroine who makes the mistake of thinking that being reasonable and logical will get her anywhere with Captain Rhodes, a raging, hateful man who has just become the commanding officer of the bunker's Army troop.
Ben has tried to make a safe haven out of the entire farmhouse they've sought shelter in. He has boarded the windows and doors, he has a radio and TV to keep track of what's going on outside, he has a gun and ammunition to fight back against the zombie horde with. This is all too risky for Harry. He thinks they should be boarded up in the house's cellar, which requires that only one door be secured. Ben sees the cellar as a death trap - it has no other exit, no windows, no way to escape if the zombies got in. He does want the option of having the cellar as a fallback, but Harry refuses to share it. Join him now, or be locked out for good.
The civilians don't have the right equipment or the right conditions to accomplish anything they're trying to, the scientists still can't figure out how to handle the zombies, and Rhodes isn't interested in helping out. Tired of wasting time, of being in the bunker, of the soldiers having to risk their lives to accomodate the civilians, he's ready to blow away every zombie he comes across and ditch the researchers. The time spent in the bunker has stripped all of his testosterone-driven subordinates to their ugly cores; these guys are some of the worst (what's left of) the human race has to offer and the civilians are scrambling to pacify them.
The more time they spend together, the more unpleasant Harry becomes and the more tired Ben gets of him, lashing out in anger at nearly everything he says. After Harry's cowardice nearly gets him killed, Ben doles out a beating, deepening their hatred for each other and setting the stage for even greater violence to flare up when the situation worsens. Harry has a plan, and it is antithetical to Ben's safety.
Tension levels in the bunker are already high when Rhodes takes over, and he immediately becomes a tyrant, the bunker his kingdom. Rhodes has his men pulling guns on the scientists during the first meeting he presides over, and the threat of violence looms throughout the film. Rhodes and his followers are very dangerous men who could snap and start executing people at any moment.
Here we have the earliest examples of the flesh-eating walking dead. The unburied dead have risen with a taste for human flesh and their numbers are constantly multiplying. Anyone who dies becomes one of them. Anyone they bite soon dies and turns into one of them. The only way to stop them is by destroying their brains. These zombies are slow and dopey, but they are capable of learning. Of using tools to bash their way through obstacles. If they want to get to you, they will find a way to eventually.
It's the end of the world as we know it. The zombie outbreak has gotten completely out of hand, it's estimated that the living dead outnumber the living 400,000 to 1 at this point. New zombies arise every day as people get bitten or pass away, but a lot of these zombies have been around for quite a while, allowing special effects artist Tom Savini and his crew to create some very gruesome ghouls. The zombies are also getting smarter, some displaying such a capacity to learn that they regain some humanity.
The great irony is, Harry Cooper was right all along. Ben's safety measures fail, the zombies invade the farmhouse, a character has to fall back into the cellar... and they survive the night by being in there. Unfortunately, or luckily, depending on your viewpoint, Harry isn't there anymore to celebrate his victory. If Ben and Harry could have remained calm and reasonable, most (if not all) of the characters could have made it until morning.
It's clear from the beginning that the situation in the bunker is going to descend into bloodshed. There's no chance Rhodes will come around, so either he and his men are going to do something terrible to the civilians, or the civilians are going to have to fight back. It all culminates with some wonderfully gory comeuppance. Rhodes and his men try to feed our heroes to the zombies, but instead end up zombie chow themselves.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and DAY OF THE DEAD are both ranked very highly among my favorite films of all time. I find both the conflicts between Ben and Harry and Rhodes and Sarah to be completely enthralling, but as delightful as it is to watch the gory demise of despicable characters at the end of DAY, NIGHT ultimately pulls off the win with the irony of its ending and the thought of "If only..." that it leaves lingering in your mind. That movie could have had a much happier ending, if only...

Are you #TeamNight or #TeamDay? Let us know by leaving a comment below. If you have an idea for a Face-Off you'd like to see in the future, suggestions can be sent me at [email protected].



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