Day of the Dead 2: Contagium (2005) (part 1 of 6)
Isaac’s compatriots in mental illness, this guy suffers from… uh, I don’t know, actually. He’s nerdy and awkward and obsessed with bad horror movies. He got institutionalized for that? Crap, I’m in trouble.
Well, I knew I was going to regret this. I’d run across a few bad reviews of Day of the Dead 2: Contagium online, and by “bad” I mean “looking back on Batman & Robin with fondness” bad. But none had the kind of detail that my morbid curiosity requires. Someone had to do a recap.
I was primarily motivated by my love of George Romero’s legendary series of zombie movies, which started with Night of the Living Dead. The original Day of the Dead was the third entry in that saga, and due to how the licensing worked, we somehow got this sequel to a sequel. It makes about as much sense as doing Rocky II: Part III, or Batman Begins Returns, or Christmas Vacation 2 (except they actually did make that last one).
But hey, George probably gets some kind of money from this, and we did get the rather good Dawn of the Dead remake out of the deal (and eventually a Day of the Dead remake too, though I won’t be saying much about that one. At least, not for now.)
If you haven’t seen the original Day of the Dead, it doesn’t really matter, because this film really has nothing to do with it, and is just trading on the brand. The original is about a team of scientists and soldiers living underground, who work to defeat a plague of zombies that’s taken over the world. It’s kind of talky, but still entertaining. This movie, on the other hand, is about a bunch of people in a mental hospital who unwittingly unleash some kind of alien zombie virus thing on the world, and it’s terrible.
I’ve seen a few bad zombie movies in my day, and to its credit, Day of the Dead 2: Contagium has a good idea or two, and even tries a few new things with the genre. But the presentation is completely amateurish, and the movie is alternately slow and completely incoherent.
It was written by Ana Clavell, and directed by Clavell and James Glenn Dudelson, and surprisingly, they both have prior filmmaking experience. Mind you, said experience consists of other no-budget horror films and softcore cable shows, but even that should’ve taught them something. (And despite their backgrounds, there’s no sex or nudity in this film. But given the cast, this is probably a minor blessing.)
The movie opens on a building with a sign saying “Ravenside Military Hospital”. To help clarify this, a caption reads “1968 – Ravenside Military Installation – Pennsylvania”. The period detail for this extended flashback is possibly accurate, but it’s also vague enough that we could be in Guam in 1948, or London during the Blitz.
Inside, doctors and nurses run down the hall, while a voice cries out in Russian. I know it’s Russian because the subtitle helpfully starts with “(In Russian)”. This actually made me check to see if I accidentally turned on the closed captioning. On further examination, there doesn’t seem to be any closed captioning at all, so deaf people, relax. You’ve been spared.
So we’ve got a guy ranting in Russian about something horrible being unleashed. The atmosphere is fraught with pedestrian lighting and awkward blocking.
Inside an operating room, doctors and nurses are trying to (I think) restrain the Russian guy, who’s covered in blood. Even in retrospect, I’m not sure what’s going on here, but I did notice a small animal skull on a side table, for no reason whatsoever. A thing happening or being somewhere for no good reason will be a recurring motif.
Also on this table are a number of weird cylinder thingies. In the confusion, a twitchy-looking aide steps in and picks up one of the cylinders. He sneaks out with the item, while an indistinct struggle rages behind him.
Outside, a mix of real and CGI jeeps pull up, accompanied by a CGI helicopter, and an unidentified sergeant gets out and deploys an entire gaggle of soldiers (that’s the collective term for soldier, right?). It’s actually quite a large group, when you consider that most of these guys should probably be off fighting the Vietcong right now.
Twitchy Aide goes to his locker and looks briefly at a picture of his wife and kid. He then slides the cylinder inside a thermos, and naturally, it’s a perfect fit. He has dialogue with a doughier looking aide, but it’s the same generic “things are going bad” stuff we could already gather from earlier events. He blames things on a guy named Sgt. Teller. (Presumably Sgt. Jillette was uninvolved.)
The soldiers enter the hospital, and start shooting everyone in the head. They start with the receptionist and some guy sitting in the hall, who manages to get his brains blown out without even an entry wound. Must be one of those particle bullets.
Even though the soldiers are obviously trying to quarantine the area with extreme prejudice, they ignore the twitchy aide as he slips out. A doctor and a couple of nurses run awkwardly (and bloodily) out of the operating room, while the doughy guy from before enters. Doughy Guy is quickly attacked and strangled by the burned, mutilated, and probably-zombified Russian patient. (There’s an obvious reference to be made here, but it’s currently eluding me.)
A whole bunch of zombies start shuffling out of the hospital, towards a locked gate. But it’s not at all clear where this is happening relative to the rest of the action. The zombies are, to put it nicely, made up to varying degrees of believable. (Why does that sound familiar?) And the gore is equally inconsistent. Some of the blood is actually brown.
Snipers outside shoot anyone poking their heads up—possibly history’s first incidence of spawn camping.
The twitchy aide sneaks—actually, he just casually walks—past a couple of soldiers setting up explosives. One of them cuts his finger on a wire, and his comrade immediately shoots him. So, either a virus is on the loose, or the Army really hates paying for tetanus shots.
Sgt. Teller walks into the operating room and declares, “Jesus, this is just like Florida.” Day of the Dead took place there, so good on them for managing an in-joke, but the line fits so poorly that I had to rewind a few times to figure out what he was getting at. Florida will have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the movie, by the way; those guys got the good zombie film.
A soldier notes that one of the “containers” (apparently, the weird cylinder thingies) is missing, and Teller orders them to find it. This directive will be ignored.
The next few minutes are just zombies shuffling around, soldiers shooting at them, and a couple of people getting eaten in the process. It’s action, but with no sense of purpose. I’m sure it’s meant to entice us to stay with the movie during the relentless non-action to follow, but since we don’t care about anybody or anything here, and we’re wondering why this prologue is taking so damn long, it’s just noise. And when soldiers fighting zombies doesn’t work, your movie is already out of tricks.
The twitchy aide manages to make it outside the building. He’s running across a field when two guards finally catch up to him. He falls and drops the thermos into the bushes, then stands up and smiles, and black bile oozes from his mouth. I think that’s what that is, anyway. It’s dark.
Needless to say, he gets shot in the head, but the soldiers totally overlook the thermos, so it stays hidden in plain sight.
And while all this has been going on, the military has been setting up explosives. Eventually, they blow the hospital up, and the massive explosion immediately takes us to the opening titles. So ends the least productive massacre in military history.