(Release Date: September 2, 1978 [Dario Argento's Italian Cut as "Zombi"])
(USA Release Date: May 24, 1979)
More blood and 1970s references than Kill Bill!
And the more things change, the more things stay the same! Hence the ease at which George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead was remade in 2004. The plot of a gang of four holing up in a shopping mall while the walking dead slowly lumberingly converge and attack isn't exactly timeless, but it's definitely of the now!
Romero's newer vision isn't so much a chronological sequel to Night of the Living Dead as it is another story happening at the exact same time as the first story. Possibly simultaneous to Ben and Barbara's ordeal at the farmhouse, a TV Reporter, a Helicopter Pilot and two S.W.A.T. troopers board a whirly-bird to escape the ravages of the undead city (keeping all the Cigarettes with them). Their (literal and figurative) flight brings them to a pit stop at one of those huge indoor shopping centers where (like humanity) the Zombies are flocking to from some inner need, without real understanding.
What follows is the gradual conversion of the Mall into a fitting fortress, a Bastion of Humanity against Undeath. With everything from stores of food to every kind of Hardware, Hunting Rifle and Clothing, you can't ask for a better castle to live out the future of humanity in. But as time goes on the forlorn foursome find out that in these apocalyptic, coptic times there just might be one thing out there worse than Zombies!
Ken Foree (of Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling) is pretty damned good as our Action Hero, S.W.A.T. Trooper Peter Washington. Foree adds so much depth and cynical humor to his portrayal that one wonders why his career hasn't soared since that time! Both his wit and his actions are worth your time to check out!
As crack-a-shot as DeMarco is, that's nothing compared to the safety-is-a-four-letter-word antics of Stephen "Fly-boy" Andrews (David Emge)! As likeable as this guy can be, it's a wonder that he managed to get the girl at the beginning of this episode.
She might not be Linnea Quigley, but Gaylen Ross' reporter Francine Parker is a practical and lovely tie to reality as opposed to the caricature that Fly Boy offers! Occasionally she's a scream-queen, and it's clear she's capable of much more, maybe in the vein of Patricia Tallman's Barbara in the Night of the Living Dead remake, but when she takes charge, brother, you listen!!!
Like its predecessor this is more of a Drama (with a Horror Backdrop) that is story and character driven! It delves into some of the same nauseating horror as the original at times, but unlike the first film Dawn of the Dead delves heavily into the action and violence that forced Romero to withdraw this film from MPAA Rating Consideration. There's more blood, dismemberment and exploding heads here than you're likely to find in your average Troma film.
Sometimes the action can be stunningly realistic and cringe-worthy. Other times the blood looks downright florescent whether coming from an irradiated Zombie or just plain old Officer DeMarco. It's more of a Comic Book than an experiment in realism, and in that respect it just plain works. It's one more proof that the presence of Tom Savini as actor, stunt man, and especially Special Effects coordinator was a very good idea!
True, this movie is more violent than the crowd outside a Rage against the Machine Concert, but as the majority(!) of the violence takes place against unthinking, probably unfeeling Zombies it's easier to take. The cartoonish fun and silliness also don't hurt.
It's the Fun and the Funny that really endears one to this movie. The social commentary of Shoppers as Zombies isn't lost on anyone, but the satire isn't ever taken too seriously! Whereas in the original Night of the Living Dead we sympathized with the poor folks who had no idea what was going on or why with these undead assailants and had to make it up as they go along, Dawn of the Dead gives us a group of wired and tapped-in individuals familiar with the rules and the phenomenon. This makes their surroundings no less horrific, but being immersed in this apocalyptic dystopia as they are, it's almost easier to laugh their asses off rather than crying! It's a bleak and pessimistic world these folks are trudging through, and along with Bullets and Knives their weapons are Laughs and "Retail Therapy!" Makes me proud to be an American!
On the downhill side there are a few jump-cuts that makes one wonder if there's a problem with the old DVD Player. In spite of the temporary nature of the title, Dawn of the Dead actually takes place over a number of days and weeks. Romero certainly couldn't give us each and every dead dawn, but some of the time shifts can be confusing. Some of the decisions are a little What-The-Eff-You-See-Kay, which is especially noticeable when most of the film seems so smart. There are other times when one simply wants to reach in and bitch-slap some of the players on screen for their lethargic lack of logic! For the most part though you're dealing with a gory and violent yet remarkably complete and enjoyable Drama. It might make you a little uncomfortable, but it's great, great fun, rather like that nauseous roller coaster ride you took while on Meth!
Three and One Half Stars out of Five for Dawn of the Dead! In Hindsight it might appear to feel familiar from all the imitators (and unofficial sequels), but trust me, this is one of the better Zombie films ever made! You might even find this triumph over tragedy film rather inspiring like a Midnight version of My Left Foot! One word of warning, though, don't try and reenact anything you've seen in this film. I thought it'd be cute to converge in full Undead Makeup with about fifty of my closest friends on St. Vincent Mall in Shreveport, Louisiana stumbling and grabbing at people moaning and begging for brains to eat! I got arrested, damn it all! Then I had to go down to the Police Station, and they didn't even get the joke down there. I guess you'd just have to be there! One of those jokes you'd have to see to get! Some people have no sense of humor. It's like you can't even be a nice guy anymore!
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