“When there’s no more room in Hell the dead will walk the Earth.”
Spontaneously scary blood and guts, visually ravenous, and a sly commentary on our consumerist programming embedded in our human nature. Dawn of the Dead (1979) is the gory classic you must see at some point if you’ve bothered at all sorting through the zombie genre. It begins at a hysterical TV station on the heels of perhaps a final broadcast. The zombie phenomenon has taken over the country, but it isn’t quite all omnipresent… yet. TV technician (Gaylen Ross), her helicopter boyfriend (David Emge), and some guys from S.W.A.T. (Scott Reiniger and Ken Foree), aerially travel and land at atop a shopping mall. Why there? Because a mall has everything you need to live off.
Some zombies stagger about, but they’re easy for S.W.A.T. to pick off. “Why do they come here?” The answer: “Kind of instinct. Memory. What they used to do. This was an important place in their lives.” You should laugh when you hear this deadpan line. The heroes as well get too dependent on the shopping mall resort and never want to leave. A motorcycle gang (led by Tom Savini, who was the film’s makeup artist) wants some of the spoils too and desires to break into their safe haven.
Depraved humor includes amputations and torn veins, the zombies munching on lost limbs. The humor is also mocking, for I look at some of the undead who were unfortunate to die in the clothes they last had on themselves (take a look at the one Hare Krishna). These stumbling zombies are too slow to be an immediate threat against tactical firepower. But when the zombies attack in hordes, only so much ammunition can hold them off. I hope I don’t spoil it by saying there is a survivor at the end who options suicide at the prospect of losing the mall. Without the mall, what else is there!
Most of the acclaim director George A. Romero received in his career was for his first film “Night of the Living Dead” (1968), which employed black & white cinematography to achieve a spooky, heightened claustrophobic feel – but frankly its’ ideas are limited. Romero cranked out a few other horror thrillers after it, nothing memorable, until he returned to zombies. “Dawn of the Dead” is the best of his [six] zombie movies, and a precedent for the countless spawns that came after. It’s his most socially metaphorical zombie picture, and the most entertaining. At the time it was considered the bloodiest movie ever made (no one under 17 admitted at the time). Today, it simply stands as the best of the zombie genre.
The 2004 Zack Snyder remake was a stampede of thrills, but lacked any social paradoxes and subtle ironies. Recommended, but make time for Romero first. Romero’s “Dead” played at the 1978 Cannes Film Festival with a 139-minute cut. A European version with more gore but excised scenes is 118-minutes. The official preferred director’s version and 1979 U.S. theatrical cut is 127-minutes. Seek out and own The Anchor Bay company “Ultimate Edition” which features all edited versions.
Director’s Cut: 127 Minutes. Rated R.
THRILLER / CREATURE FEATURE / SATURDAY NIGHT GOOSEBUMPS
Film Cousins: “Night of the Living Dead” (1968); “Zombie” (1979); “Day of the Dead” (1985); “Dawn of the Dead” (2004).