The next movie on the list is “Dawn of the Dead”. While this one isn’t much in terms of Halloween, it’s a good horror movie and in this day of zombies in mainstream media, is there any better way to get people hyped about the season? Personally I’m much more of a “Night of the Living Dead” fan, but this one has more action, more gore and more mass appeal than it’s black and white predecessor. So what’s left to be said about “Dawn of the Dead”? It’s gained a boat load of notoriety in the last fifteen years, and especially in the online community. But I seached far and wide, and still never found anything written by me on the subject. So here’s my two cents.
While “Dawn of the Dead” was certainly not the first zombie movie, and is probably not the most famous, it’s definitely the one you most associate with the genre. It’s funny, calling zombies their own genre, but these days they truly are. It seems like every other piece of horror media you see is about zombies, from movies and television to video games and books. They are very successful in society as a bad guy because they are us, only hungrier. They are the dead, but mobile, and savage. Stories revolving around zombies are very simple and highly mutable, which leads to a plethora of different situations that anyone can get into. But I digress, and hard. “White Zombie” introduced us to voodoo zombies, which are very different than the zombies you see today. There were several more films in the 40’s and 50’s, but the next big jump in zombie iconography was “Night of the Living Dead.” This film was absolutely iconic and for more reasons than the new formula for zombies, but that is for another review entirely. “Night” gave us a preview of the slow, unrelenting, flesh eating zombie we have come to love. The fact that you can’t kill them. That they are deterred by fire. “Dawn” took that idea, multiplied it by a thousand, dipped it in technicolor and put it on the big screen for the world to see. And a lot of people feinted.
“Dawn”, like any good zombie movie, offers us a simple premise. A group of survivors land their chopper at a mall to resupply. They find that the mall has everything they could ever need and decide to stay a while. Who wouldn’t? They spend their days killing undead, “shopping”, eating and generally enjoying life. Once rid of the zombies, they start to have fun with the place. There’s so much to do in a mall with only 4 people in it. The only problem is that a group of roving bikers decide they want to get in on the fun as well. With them come more zombies. Cue all hell breaking loose. Romero gets a bit preachy at points, but if you’re drinking a beer like you should be you’ll hardly notice it.
A note to all you new viewers out there: When you pick up a random copy of “Dawn of the Dead” you never know what you’re going to get. When I first snagged this movie, it was at the dawn of the DVD and nearly impossible to find. No, Amazon did not have it. Best Buy and Wal-Mart would laugh you out of the store. I think I got it second hand on eBay in the end. But I had to get it, and I had to get the right version. Since it was not exactly the most well received movie in history, there are several versions out there, with differences ranging from run time and story content to music and score. You can do a little research for yourself online, but what I’ve found is that the US theatrical cut is the overall winner. It’s a good bit shorter than some of the director’s cuts (yes I said ‘some’, as in more than one; Romero was really trying to get this one right), but what you lose is the fluff and the boredom. You lose some plot points, but no big deal. You also get at least two different endings, depending on which cut you get. Music is another big factor, with one version getting a pretty solid soundtrack by ‘The Goblins’. I most recently watched it on Blu-Ray, which happened to be one of the director’s cuts. I won’t tell a lie, I got a little bored. I appreciate debauchery in an empty mall as much as the next guy, but this is why we edit films.
“Dawn of the Dead” is remembered for a lot of reasons, but the main one is the gore. Even today, this game is nasty. People bleed a lot in “Dawn”, and due to technicolor or recoloring or whatever, that stuff is red. People are getting ripped apart, bitten, shot, cut, stabbed, you name it. All in the interest of survival, after all, but it is fairly shocking. I won’t make any comments into the special effects of the day when it was made, but I know it was revolutionary if only for its content.
So it’s not the first, not the best and not the most famous, but it’s got the biggest balls. “Dawn of the Dead” set a precedent that people have been trying to live up to for more than thirty years now, and it still holds. We compare everything to what we saw in “Dawn”, even if we’ve never seen “Dawn”. How many kids make the distinction between Danny Boyle’s lightening fast zombies in “28 Days Later” and “traditional” zombies without ever seeing “Dawn”? Tons. Like “Halloween”, you have to give credit where credit is due. You might not be the best looking guy in school, but if you’ve got the biggest dick, people know. They have no way of knowing, but they know. That’s like with zombies. From your first interaction with horror, zombies, as you know them, are the bad guys featured in “Dawn of the Dead”. The first time you see “Dawn”, you will probably be surprised at how non-lethal they come off as. But just like the zombie plague spreads from human to human, getting stronger and gaining strength, so does the zombie mythology as it goes from movies to books, ever expanding. There had to be a patient zero, and that guy was “Dawn of the Dead”.
Fun Factor: 7