In my opinion, George Romero's Day of the Dead contains an effective story. Upon analysis, I was surprised to find out exactly what that story was. I believe that it's a story of letting go of fear, your past, human corruption, hatred and cowardice and letting love be your only motivating force.
The main protagonist is Sarah. She is accompanied by fellow protagonists John, who represents sloth and Billy, who represents gluttony. Their ultimate goal is to let love survive and let go of everything else. The antagonists are many. The zombies represent time, mortality and the inevitability of death. Sarah's husband represents fear. He is a part of Sarah that she must let go of in order for love to survive. Rhodes represents cowardice. The rest of his soldiers represent hatred, anger, ignorance, lust and greed. Dr. Logan represents a form of love, but tarnished with a tortured past that he can't seem to escape. He puts his hope and love into Bub who is also a protagonist. Bub is a zombie who represents the fact that death is not evil and does not lack love. It is merely shackled by our twisted understanding of it. Bub is literally chained by Dr. Logan. It is only once he is free of his chains that he is able to destroy Steel and his cowardice.
Since Day of the Dead is the last of a trilogy of films, the status quo actually took place in the first film, Night of the Living Dead. It was the world before zombies. The inciting incident actually happens in the very first scene. Sarah is in a white room. There is a calender on the wall. This is one of the human constructions that must be left behind in order for love to conquer. When she approaches the calender, zombie hands penetrate the seemingly solid wall and reach out to grab her.
The call to action takes place in the scene where Rhodes almost has Steel shoot Sarah for disobeying an order. What this starts is a chain of action in which the research that Sarah and her fellow scientists begins to crumble. They are trying to figure out if there's a way to get the world back to the way it used to be. The obstacles are many as the soldiers continue to threaten the scientists. All the soldiers want to do is get out of the underground facility and escape to safety.
The midpoint is a scene where Sarah, John and Billy sit around in lawn chairs sipping drinks and talking about what's going on. John points out that this underground facility is a storage place for all of humanity's junk from the past. It has historical files, every movie, book, song and records of all of humanity's accomplishments. He suggests that we should start society afresh and forget the past. Sarah chides him for not helping her accomplish what she is trying to do. He doesn't want to figure everything out. He just wants to relax and enjoy life. The crisis occurs when Sarah's husband brings the zombies into the underground facility.
Each of the protagonists has a moment of transformation. Sarah has a scene in which she apologizes to John for complaining to him about not helping her in her research. It is at this point that she gains the freedom to escape the facility and move on with her life. She has forsaken her fear and her reliance upon science. John has a scene in which he decides to take a stand against the soldiers who want him to fly them out of there in the helicopter that he pilots. He overpowers them, takes their weapons and goes to help Sarah and Billy who have been stuck in a cavern with the zombies. He has forsaken his slothfullness. Billy, who has done nothing but drink throughout the movie, drops his flask when a zombie attacks him. When the zombie is killed, Billy retrieves the flask, but it is now empty. He leaves it behind without a second thought. He has forsaken his gluttony.
Bub's chain becomes detached from the wall. He goes to show Dr. Logan, who he finds to have been shot. Throughout the movie, Dr. Logan has been secretly feeding Bub human flesh in order to pacify him. It is thought by Dr. Logan that this "reward" for good behavior is what keeps Bub from wanting to eat him. When Bub discovers that Dr. Logan is dead, he actually weeps in mourning for the loss of his friend. We find that he has actually developed a capacity for love. He then goes on to avenge his friend's death by killing Rhodes.
The climax is when Sarah, John and Billy reunite and make their way to the helicopter in order to fly off to freedom. They will start a new world in which the seven deadly sins are no longer an encumbrance to love. The restoration of the status quo is when Sarah wakes up to find herself on an island with John and Billy fishing. She is holding a calender, but looks at the two men and smiles. She is no longer a slave to human conventions. She can now relax and enjoy life.
Each of the characters exhibits gestic actions. Sarah tries to help her husband survive a zombie bite by amputating his arm. John refuses to fly the soldiers to safety, despite threats of violence. Billy helps Sarah to get clear of some fighting soldiers and brings her to the mock island paradise that he and John have constructed in their little corner of the underground facility. Rhodes shows his cowardice by locking a door to keep the zombies away from him even though his soldiers are still in there with the zombies. Dr. Logan keeps talking about "rewards" for good behavior and there is even a scene where a tape recording of his voice shows him having an imaginary conversation with his mother in which he whimpers that he will "be a good boy." Sarah's husband has a scene in which his guts literally fall out of his abdomen and he is depicted as gutless. Bub has a scene in which he interacts with Dr. Logan, listening to music, reading a book and even talking on a phone. It doesn't even occur to him to attack the doctor. Sarah even comments that Bub doesn't look at the doc as food.
The setting of the underground facility is appropriate because humanity's past is to be left buried and never dug up again. The theme of the movie is love vs the seven deadly sins. The question is which will survive? The climax answers that by showing each of the characters either sticking with their sins and dying or letting them go and living.
The scene with the mock island paradise shows that even John and Billy don't fully understand what freedom means. This is a symbol being used to reinforce the theme of love vs the sins. They mistake sloth and gluttony for freedom. It is not until their love for Sarah and for each other motivates them to fight against the soldiers and the zombies and gain their actual freedom. The island they go to is no mockup. It is a genuine island paradise. It is freedom that has been fought for and won. It is true freedom.
There is also the symbol of Bub's chain. He wears it throughout the movie. The chain is what is thought to be keeping him from going and killing people and eating them. When it comes loose, he does in fact, shoot a man, but it is out of vengeance for his friend and not in order to eat him. Love is his motivation. Now that he is free of his chains, he can show himself to be of stronger character than the soldiers. He doesn't actually kill Rhodes. He just shoots him and lets the zombies, which represent the inevitability of death, kill him.
This story is not a tragedy or a comedy. Yes, it ends with a lot of death, but this is symbolic of the passing of negativity so that positive energy can live on. The protagonists have set aside their tragic flaws. This movie does not experiment with form. There are dream sequences, but those are fairly commonplace in cinematic as well as theatrical productions.
Day of the Dead was the least popular of the Dead trilogy, but it has always been my favorite. It is, in fact, my favorite movie of all time. I never understood why until now. It is a movie about the human flaws that we all have. What it shows me, however, is that we can each overcome our flaws and that we each have the capacity for love. Other than Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, which has almost the exact same plot line, I don't know of another movie that has depicted that theme so clearly. By the way, Willy Wonka is my other favorite movie.