Day of the Dead 2:  Contagium

Day of the Dead 2:  Contagium - Zombie

Day of the Dead 2:  Contagium

Zombie Nosh

Zombie Doctor

Contagium: The causative agent of a communicable disease; contagion.
[Latin contagium, contagion, contamination, from contagio].

DAY OF THE DEAD 2: CONTAGIUM was filmed around the same time as the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake, but has nothing to do with that particular film. It is marketed as a prequel and sequel to George A. Romero’s DAY OF THE DEAD (1985) - but apart from the title and logo, it has nothing to do with that film either.

The film opens in Pennsylvania, 1968 (the year of Romero’s seminal NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD), where a crashed Russian spy plane is the source of a mysterious viral outbreak at a secret US military hospital. Before the effects of the virus have time to spread beyond the hospital walls, a ruthless Special Forces unit is called in to eliminate all those infected, destroy the installation and to cover up the incident. A bloodbath ensues.

After the credits, we cut to the present day, and the former military site is now the location of a civilian mental institution. One of the inmates, whilst engaged in a therapeutic quarry-clearing exercise, has unearthed a vacuum flask containing a vial of the deadly virus. When the virus is accidentally released in the presence of a doctor and a group of his patients, those exposed to it begin to suffer from peeling skin, random instances of collective telepathy (ala VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED) and a ravenous craving for flesh. Unable to resist their hunger, they succumb to devouring the flesh of their fellow inmates and the medical staff.

Romero’s original 1968 film laid down the rules of subsequent zombie films, and his latest film LAND OF THE DEAD, takes them a step further. Whilst CONTAGIUM claims to be inspired by Romero, it ignores almost all the rules. The zombies are created by exposure to a virus, Romero had hinted at a space virus, but this idea was never elaborated upon. The viral theme later featured in Romero’s THE CRAZIES (1973) and more recently in 28 DAYS LATER (2002, d. Danny Boyle). In fact, CONTAGIUM has more in common with the off-shoot zombie film RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985, d. Dan O’Bannon) than it does with Romero’s work. The film doesn’t feature the walking-dead in the usual sense, but rather contaminated humans, or, if you like, toxic zombies - to steal a term from an earlier cheapo ‘zombie’ film elevated to the status of video nasty, FOREST OF FEAR (1980, d. Charles McCrann).

After the victims have been exposed to the virus, they exhibit the combined symptoms of flu and sunburn, before developing a craving for human flesh. Once they have consumed flesh there is no stopping the transformation. Some of the victims, however, stave off the cannibalistic urge and remain at an intermediate stage of the disease. This phase has a parallel in O’ Bannon’s film which features victims who suffer from rigor mortis whilst they are still ‘alive’. Presumably at this stage the disease is still curable, as Dr Heller infers. A cure for zombies, what nonsense! (I will personally bite the first person who mentions RESIDENT EVIL).

With its inmates philosophising about love and life amidst all this mayhem, the film plays out like a bizarre crossover of RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST. If you then add to this concoction a bunch of female inmates who seem to have wandered in from a WIP movie, and a dash of romance, you have the makings of a very odd film. Having said that, a touch of romance in a zombie film is nothing new, just check out Jean Rollin's ZOMBIE LAKE (1981).

The film was shot on video, a feature that usually puts me off watching some films, but really DV should be looked upon as an equivalent to16mm film, a cheaper choice of medium for independent filmmakers. It does lack the aura and special quality of ‘reel’ film, but if cost is going to be a major factor on whether or not a film gets made, then so be it.

Talking of finance, a third of the film's budget was spent on the special effects, i.e. the first ten minutes, and last half hour of the film. The remainder of the film is taken up by the story of the inmates and their doctor. Clearly, a lesser portion of the budget was spent on the actors, most of whom are dreadful - apart from a couple of the inmates. Dr Heller is easily the worst, with his Eastern European accent seemingly styled on Udo Kier in BLOOD FOR DRACULA ("The blood of these wirgins is killing me!"), but ironically, he does make the best zombie. I presume he was originally cast as a zombie, the filmmakers forgetting about the fact that he would be required to portray a human beforehand.

The film probably would have benefitted more by distancing itself from the Romero series, and instead marketing itself as a black comedy, more SHAUN than DAWN. The black humour seems to be influenced by Stuart Gordon (REANIMATOR)and Peter Jackson (BAD TASTE). There's a splendid vomiting incident in the canteen, and a great scene where Dr Heller, expresses concern over Dr Donwyn's health, thinking he may have a cold - Donwyn's skin has peeled off, and his eyes have turned black.

For all its faults it’s an entertaining 90 minutes, and at least it’s not a remake or a computer game adaptation.

Special Features:

Behind the scenes featurette.

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