Monday, 15 October 2012

08/10/2012: Dawn of the Dead [1978]

This weekend I got around to re-watching one of the most exciting and terrifying social commentaries ever made, George A. Romero's satirical film about consumerism. With an epidemic of zombies rising from the grave and society as we know it collapsing, four people seek refuge in an abandoned mall as they try to survive against the living and the living dead alike.

Unlike the last time with my Tombs of the Blind Dead review, I was being entirely serious in my opening paragraph; Romero's Dawn of the Dead really is a social commentary on consumerism. This Thanksgiving weekend, while visiting my family I put on Dawn of the Dead, at which point most left simply thinking it was just a zombie movie. My mother however, watched it through and later that day I made a comment on how appropriate a movie on consumerism was for Thanksgiving. The look of disbelief on her face as I tried to explain how Dawn of the Dead is more than just a zombie movie was evident; so I pulled up a couple of articles and essays on the web to disprove her. After reading through some, I think she is a little more convinced. Now if I can only get her to watch The Walking Dead.

I'm not going to continue to turn my review into a debate on the meaning and symbolism in Dawn of the Dead, but below I will link you to a couple of interesting articles and essays on the topic. If you are having trouble believing that a movie about zombies could have anything to say on consumerism just think of the setting; society collapses and people seek refuge in a mall. Why do you think the zombies keep returning to it, a point so regularly brought up in the film? Also, if you think that perhaps one intelligent horror movie is just a fluke, there is an article on how horror films reflect society's fears and anxieties at the time. Both articles are a very interesting read, and hopefully will make a few people think twice next time they look at a horror movies and think of them as trash.

The guy in the back right really wasn't into it.

Onwards to Dawn of the Dead, which is Romero's follow up to the classic Night of the Living Dead. Known as the "Godfather of zombies", Romero's Dead series has many of the best movies in the zombie genre. Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead easily find slots in my top zombie movies, and while the latest couple of entries have been a little disappointing I can't wait to see his next. While Day of the Dead is my favourite, Dawn of the Dead is without a doubt his best. The zombie epidemic he uses as a plot device is fun and entertaining, but the resulting excuse to take four strangers, and place them in a survival situation is genius and  the movie's strongest aspect.

After the outbreak of zombies, four strangers, composed of two Philadelphia SWAT team members (Peter and Roger), a traffic reporter (Stephen) , and his television-executive girlfriend (Francine) join up and take a news chopper out of the city, eventually ending up at a shopping center. Seeing the opportunity, they lock down the mall and clear out the zombies as they settle in, listening to the emergency broadcasts in hope of some sort of rescue that may never come. As the 139 minute (Director's Cut) film unfolds, the zombie action becomes something you watch in the background, in favour of watching the character relationships build, and we learn about their personalities, and watch how they cope with the situation. The characters are extremely well written, and the actors do an amazing job such that as cliched as it sounds, you really care about what happens to them, and the horror comes from knowing and dreading that it can't possibly be a very happy ending.

Nothing tires you at like a day at the mall. Luckily there was a sale on bandoliers.

When it comes to the special effects and action in Dawn of the Dead, I have no complaints. Tom Savini does an excellent job on the special effects, along with trying out pretty much every role on set aside from the director's chair. As the main special effects man, his blood and gore are well done, if a little over the top for some. The blueish grey skin of the zombies makes a great contrast to the fluorescent red blood, even if Savini himself didn't really like the effect. Beyond the blood and gore, Savini and a friend also volunteered to perform all of the stunts, with Savini nearly missing the boxes when he dived over the mall railing. But the stunt double moment isn't his only appearance as he shows up acting as a member of the biker gang. Beside Romero, Savini definitely contributed the most to the film.

Other performances of note are of course the zombies, with many fan favourites being given names, and with a few of the actors being praised for their convincing performances. The crew particularly complimented Clayton Hill, who was described by a crew member as "one of the most convincing zombies of the bunch" citing his skill at maintaining his stiff pose and rolling his eyes back into his head, including heading down the wrong way in an escalator while in character. (Yes I stole that from Wikipedia) The escalator comment also indicated that Dawn of the Dead features a significant amount of humour and black comedy, which really picks up during the middle when we time-lapse through the survivors living out their lives in the mall. All of which occurs to a interesting choice of soundtrack which doesn't seem to fit properly but is definitely very memorable.

The Christmas shopping season can be hell.
Dawn of the Dead is simply one of the best horror movie the genre has to offer, and is also just a great overall movie. It combines a lot of thrills and chills with a movie full of meaning and social commentary if you so desire. If you just want to watch it for the entertainment, you get more than your values worth, but when you're done, you can analyse it as much as you wish. If you are wondering what version to watch, I'd recommend the director's cut, although Romero prefers the original theatrical cut. If you pick up the Ultimate Edition you can watch both as well as Argento's Euopean cut. So, if you're looking for a zombie movie to watch this October, check out Dawn of the Dead, or any of Romero's Dead series. Or just any of the other horror movies I've reviewed this month in celebration of the holiday.



  1. Very cool article. One of my favorite zomnbie flicks The four characters in this one have more dynamic then the remake. I also love the social satire as well.

    1. I really need to rewatch the remake as well, but yah, I don't remember them being as well done. Probably because there was more than just 4... I think.