Syfy’s Day of the Dead Gives SDCC 2021 a First Look at TV’s Newest Zombie Tale

Syfy’s Day of the Dead Gives SDCC 2021 a First Look at TV’s Newest Zombie Tale
The opening-credits zombie in George A. Romero's 1985 Day of the Dead. (Screenshot: United Film Distribution Company)

Even the most diehard horror fan can be forgiven for forgetting (or not even realising at all) that George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead is becoming a TV show. It was first announced in February 2020 and, well… a lot has happened since then. But today’s San Diego Comic-Con @ Home panel, featuring the first trailer from the Syfy series, aimed to bring the new take on the zombie classic into the spotlight.

Right off the bat, the title of the panel — “Day of the Dead: Adapting a Legend” — signalled that all involved realised they were working with a beloved genre property, adapting the third film in Romero’s esteemed trilogy that also includes Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. Back when the show was announced, Deadline reported it would follow “the intense story of six strangers trying to survive the first 24 hours of an undead invasion,” a logline that suggested it would not be taking story inspiration from Romero’s 1985 film (which is set on a military base amid the chaos of an ongoing zombie outbreak).

That’s basically all that was known about the series, other than the casting, until today’s panel — which featured showrunners Jed Elinoff and Scott Thomas, director Steven Kostanski (The Void), and cast members Keenan Tracey and Natalie Malaika. The panel featured a sneak peek at the show (watch it starting at 1:55 below) that revealed this Day of the Dead — a modern story that takes place within a single day in one small town — will have a bit more comedy than we expected.

“Night of the Living Dead was in ‘68, and we’re still, every time zombies come up, we talk about Romero,” Thomas said of the show’s inspiration. “He established what we know as the modern zombie now in Night of the Living Dead, and then Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead and everything else. And he did it in a way that also added social commentary, it spoke to the times that these movies were made — you know, they’re classics … every single zombie movie or TV show or graphic novel owes Romero for his legacy.” When given the opportunity to create a new story in Romero’s world, Elinoff said, they felt two things: “Immense excitement … and a sense of responsibility, because we’re taking on somebody’s legacy and here’s a chance to do something really special, and you don’t want to screw it up.”

The show aims to strike a balance between paying homage to Romero and the original Day of the Dead movie and its characters (there will be Easter eggs sprinkled throughout the series) while bringing a fresh perspective to the material — no small feat considering how many zombie-themed projects we’ve seen over the years. “I’m a huge horror fan,” Thomas said. “And I think we kind of took inspiration from a lot of moments in zombie history to go, how do we sort of present a zombie that maybe isn’t on TV right now? We made a decision to go with slow zombies … and we also wanted to go, this is not necessarily an outbreak that turns everyone into zombies; this is the dead coming back to life. So what is happening here is the dead crawling out of graves. In a morgue, the dead coming back … this really is the dead rising up on their feet and then coming to eat everyone.”

Day of the Dead also tweaks some of the established zombie “rules” — for instance, shots in the head (a go-to since Night of the Living Dead) won’t kill them easily, and zombie bites might not have the same infectious quality that we’re used to seeing. “The thing you have to worry about is: these are animals that want to kill you,” Thomas explained. “For me, that’s the thing that’s scary about zombies … that they want to rip you to shreds.” And it sounds like there’ll be no shortage of that; as the SDCC panel gleefully discussed, you can expect to see blood and gore galore — including lots of practical effects — when the show arrives later this year.

Day of the Dead, which will run 10 episodes, arrives this October on Syfy.

Editor’s Note: Release dates within this article are based in the U.S., but will be updated with local Australian dates as soon as we know more.

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