The third film in George Romero‘s original dead trilogy is the only one I got to see in the cinema. It was not popular at the time but I really liked it from that first viewing.
A woman stands alone in an empty room with only one feature, a calender on the wall with most of the days of October crossed off. She approaches it and crosses of another day when arms burst through the wall to grab her and she suddenly wakes up. Sarah (Lori Cardille) is in a helicopter with soldier Miguel (Anthony Dileo Jr.), electronics expert Bill McDermott (Jarlath Conroy) and pilot John (Terry Alexander). They are flying around a city looking for any sign of living people amongst the hordes of walking dead. They don’t find any living people but they do find out that Miguel is cracking up with the stress.
They go back go the base, an underground government storage facility in a disused mine that has been adapted into lab to investigate the zombie problem and trying to find a cure or some other solution to the problem. Sarah is one of scientific team and they have small squad of soldiers to keep them secure. While they were gone the base commander Major Cooper was killed and now Captain Rhodes (Joseph Pilato) is in charge. Steel (Gary Howard Klar) and Rickles (Ralph Marrero) need Miguel’s help to get zombie specimens from the holding pen. Sarah tries to tell them that Miguel is too tired but they are short-staffed and he’s needed. She offers to help instead but Steel doesn’t want a woman involved. Sure enough when Miguel has a zombie held secure by a noose on a pole he drops the pole and the zombie almost manages to attack Rickles but Sarah steps in and grabs the pole. Steel grabs Miguel by the throat and holds him over the zombie pen threatening to kill him for his carelessness until Sarah uses her machine gun to make him stop.
Sarah takes Miguel back to their shared quarters (he is porking her and the other men hate him just for that). She sedates him then goes to talk with Fisher (John Amplas), another scientist, about what happened while they were gone. He is arguing with Rhodes about the poor conditions they have to work in. Rhodes argues back that his men take all the risks and there’s been no progress to show for it. He can see that the scientists need the military but he can’t see what the military need the scientists for.
In Logan’s (Richard Liberty) lab he has dead bodies everywhere. His research is gruesome and very wasteful. He has a zombie on a bench with most of the head removed and only a brain-stem left. Apparently a similar operation can pacify other zombies. Logan seem oblivious to how obscene it is and Sarah is even more upset to discover that the body is Major Cooper’s.
Rhodes has called a meeting of everyone so he can shout them all at once and show them how Captain Stick-up-the-arse is going to run things. Bill reports that he can’t find anyone on the radio which might mean there’s no-one else out there, at least not in range, or that their radio equipment is knackered. Logan hasn’t appeared so Rhodes abuses Sarah about his absence and the lack progress. He raises the subject of Miguel and how their relationship is threat to discipline. When he threatens to have Miguel removed out of the way so they can all ‘get a go’ Sarah had enough and starts to leave. Rhodes orders her to sit back down or he’ll have her shot.
There are some who argue that Rhodes was not really the villain of the film but this point is clearly where he does become the villain with his implied rape threat against Sarah to try to intimidate her. Since Sarah has still not sat down he then orders Steel to shoot her. Steel thinks this a joke and makes a gun with his finger makes a shooting noise. Rhodes flips out and pulls his gun on Steel and orders him again to shoot Sarah. John, Bill and Fisher beg Sarah to sit down and she does, to Steel’s relief.
Rhodes launches into a “why you all suck” speech, talks about packing up the whole operation and that’s when Logan appears apologising for being late and looking for food. Logan bluntly points out there is nowhere else to go so there nothing else to do but keep looking for an answer. He’s quick to rubbish Sarah’s search for cure and boasts of the progress he’s made and has bold predictions of how long it will take him. Sarah interrupts, clearly remembering the charnel house lab and Major Cooper’s body, she says its hard to say how long results will take. Rhodes agrees to give it more time but he threatens them all that he will execute anyone who challenges his command. The meeting breaks up and John warns Sarah to be careful, that Rhodes is seriously dangerous, especially to her and Fisher.
Later Logan shows Sarah and Fisher his progress with Bub (Sherman Howard), his prize specimen, demonstrating that the zombies still retain some memory of their old lives by giving a razor, a brush and a book. Fisher remains unimpressed but Sarah notices how calm Bub is around Logan. Rhodes appears with Steel and Logan continues the demonstration for his benefit. He gives Bub a telephone a prompts him to say “hello Aunt Alicia”. Bub makes a mumbling attempt to speak then he sees Rhodes and salutes him and this only succeeds in freaking out Rhodes. Oblivious, Logan caries on with the demonstration by giving Bub an empty gun. Bub demonstrates how much he knows about guns by pointing it at Rhodes and pulling the trigger. Logan has to jump in front of Rhodes’ gun to stop him from shooting Bub. The demonstration has only confirmed to Rhodes his view that they are just wasting their time.
The soldiers are catching another two zombies and Miguel screws it up again, one zombie bites a soldier in the neck and his gun goes off and kills a second soldier. The other zombie gets free and bites a chunk out of Miguel’s arm and Miguel runs off. The soldier that was bitten begs Steel to kill him and he does then goes off after Miguel to do the same to him. Sarah has caught Miguel at Bill and Jon’s quarters. She quickly amputates the arm above where he was bitten. The soldiers arrive and there is stand-off with John and Bill armed and ready to defend Miguel. Rhodes backs down since he doesn’t care about Miguel if they want to keep him but it is clear that battle-lines have been drawn.
Bill and Sarah return to the lab to get morphine for Miguel. There they find tape-recorded notes that record Logan’s descent into madness. They also see the animated head one of the recently dead soldiers. Logan is training Bub to operate a tape recorder and they see him rewarding Bub with something for doing well. Zombies only eat one thing – human flesh. Sure enough in the freezer is a headless corpse of a recently dead soldier that Logan has been using to reward his specimens. Rhodes and his men come in and see all this and Rhodes shoots Logan several times, killing him. They disarm Bill and Sarah and with Fisher force them to John and Bill’s quarters. Rhodes threatens to kill them if John does not agree to fly him and his men out of there. He shoots Fisher dead to prove he’s serious then gets his men throw Sarah and Bill into the Zombie pen. Having thrown away all his bargaining chips Rhodes still can’t get John to agree to fly them so gets Rickles and Steel to beat him.
While all this was going on Miguel has gone totally crazy. He takes the elevator up to ground level then opens the gates of the compound and lies down on the elevator while zombies rip him apart and he operates the control to take the elevator back down. This crazy behaviour is just what the film needed to bring about a climax of zombies over-running the compound. The sirens that went off when the elevator is operated had interrupted John’s beating as Rickles and Steel leave to investigate. John easily overcomes Rhodes and Torrez and takes their guns. Then he jumps into the zombie pen to rescue Bill and Sarah.
The zombies run amok around the compound and Rhodes flees and abandons his men. They get taken down by zombies one at time. In the lab area Rhodes gets chased by an armed Bub who shoots him and then as he falls into the hands of a mob of zombies Bub salutes him and leaves.
The film ends with Sarah, Bill and John flying away and relaxing on a beach of an isolated island. It is a low key ending but it fits.
I think the acting is really great but the best has to be Sherman Howard’s Bub. The scene where he’s trying to talk into a telephone seemed quite startling because I had totally bought in to Romero’s reality, where zombies don’t talk. The climax did seem a little bit forced with Miguel’s mad turn and Rhodes’ sudden yellow streak coming more from story demand rather that character developments