Sometimes there are characters in genre pictures that are so darned righteous and awesome, you can’t stop thinking about them or their amazing feats long after the movie is over. This column is dedicated to those cinematic bad-asses that keep us coming back for more. And one that deserves all of our respect (and then some) has to be Sarah, as played by Lori Cardille in DAY OF THE DEAD.
When it comes to the zombie films of the legendary George A. Romero, everyone has got their favorite. Some tend to stick with the original holy trilogy consisting of NIGHT, DAWN and DAY. Others like his more modern satirical takes with LAND, DIARY and SURVIVAL. For me, it’s always been his 1985 gorefest DAY OF THE DEAD that has stood out as my personal favorite. And in retrospect, if you revisit the film now, its plot, characters and situations are directly responsible for AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD. Hell, Greg Nicotero, who was one of the principle FX artists on DAY (and played one of the soldiers), is a director and exec producer on the hit weekly zombie series, so its influence runs far and deep! But it’s really having Lori Cardille at the forefront that makes DAY the unique & remarkably special entry in Romero’s filmography that it is.
NIGHT is unarguably a horror masterpiece, one that deserves to be seen, broken down and over examined again and again. DAWN is also a classic in its own right and is the quintessential movie about consumerism. Both had strong black characters at the forefront as the heroes. DAY has a strong willed, level headed, amazing and beautiful woman in the lead.
By the time we reach DAY in the trilogy, all hope is lost. Out on the streets, the dead have overturned the population of the living. And the remaining group we follow are seeking refuge in an underground military bunker. Being in a confined space with a group of short-fused soldiers is the last thing anyone would want. Rhodes (played with extra sleaze by Joe Pilato) and his men are ready to leave and blast as many zombies as they can in the process. Dr. Logan (played by Richard Liberty), often referred to as Dr. Frankenstein is making leaps & bounds in his research primarily because of his star pupil Bub the zombie (Howard Sherman in the best zombie performance ever). But tempers are running high and patience is low. Things are ready to implode. As usual, the worst threat that people face in zombie movies isn’t the zombies, but the other people, themselves.
In the middle of it all is Sarah, someone that has skills in all avenues, but who is starting to slowly side with pilots John (Terry Alexander) and McDermott in their assessment that they should just jump in their helicopter, find a deserted remote island and start society over again! But Sarah has Miguel, her boyfriend (or is it husband? They never clarify, but they both wear wedding bands) whom has slowly begun cracking up from the pressure of the world they now live in. Sarah is quick not to back off from a confrontation with the soldiers, nor is she afraid to assist on scavenger missions that directly put her in the path of the dead, but what I love about her is when shit goes down, she acts. And usually in a cool, calm, collected manner.
Her shining moment (and the inspiration behind today’s column) is when Miguel is bit by a zombie and frantically runs off screaming. Like in the majority of the other scenes in the movie, when something like this happens, Sarah is shocked for a moment, but then springs into action. Here, she clocks Miguel over the head and without any hesitation chops his infected arm off and cauterizes it in an attempt to stop him from transforming into one of them. This sequence is common place in all zombie movies and television these days, but this was the first one to do it, and it’s still as jaw dropping and awesome as it was the day this movie came out!
The one thing that these early Romero “DEAD” pictures have in common is that we often only follow one group for the duration of one adventure and in the next film we follow a completely brand new group. We don’t get to see what happens next with these characters, which was part of WALKING DEAD creator Robert Kirkman’s inspiration for his comic book series. What if a Romero movie never ended and we just kept following these characters we love? I want to know what happened to Sarah, because I loved that character.