Dawn of the Dead (1978)
When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.
Year of Release: 1978
Running Time: 128 minutes (2:08)
Director: George A. Romero
David Emge ... Stephen
Ken Foree ... Peter
Scott H. Reiniger ... Roger
Gaylen Ross ... Francine
David Crawford ... Dr. Foster
David Early ... Mr. Berman
Joseph Pilato ... Officer at Police Dock
Rudy Ricci ... Motorcycle Raider
Tom Savini ... Motorcycle Raider
Taso N. Stavrakis ... Motorcycle Raider
George A. Romero ... TV Director / Nick - Biker in Santa Claus Suit (uncredited)
Donna Savini ... Zombie Girl in Airport Chart House (uncredited)
Mike Savini ... Zombie Boy in Airport Chart House (uncredited)
The corpses of the recently-dead are returning to life & attacking the living, devouring their victims. Two members of the Philadelphia S.W.A.T. team & their friends land in a shopping mall occupied by the living dead. They secure the mall through brutal battles with the creatures, but can they escape both the bandits & the zombies? George Romero returns with the most riveting sequel in horror movie history!
Dawn of the Dead. Produced specifically to metaphorically pimp slap anyone who says no sequel can surpass the original in greatness. Not that often, but it does happen, and Dawn of the Dead is probably the best example in the horror genre. And not only better by the tiniest of margins, no sir. It's immensely better. Not to put down Night, it's simply the reality of the situation. So I think it an absolute necessity to examine what a sequel that's able to exceed the original has to offer in the way of revelation. First, even with a zombie apocalypse going on, television ratings are a critical part of the landscape. And if you have to send people to their doom by listing defunct rescue stations to keep people watching, it's a small price to pay to be #1. Second, those broadcasts clearly do no good, because they've been happening since Night, and only half the world seems to understand that only head shots count. An third, you can take the zombie out of the mall, but you can't take the mall out of the zombie. But here's something we could probably all stand to consider: the stupid are not to be underestimated. Not including the zombies of course, they have little choice in what they've become. No, whom I'm referring to here would be the redneck extermination squad, and even more than that, the mall raiding bikers. While the rednecks don't quite seem to grasp the gravity of the situation, what with all the beer swilling and impressing their attractive cousins, the one thing you cannot deny, is that they're alive. All those folks that think themselves better just because they're toilet trained an literate, where are they? They're the ones out in the meadow, doing the Icky Shuffle an having their skulls caved in. How about the looters? They don't seem to realize that stealing television sets in a world with diminishing electricity and no broadcasts isn't all that lucrative, but they're still alive, now aren't they? A lot of people seem to think that just because someone has poor personal hygiene or a lack of societal awareness, that they must also be incapable of handling themselves when shit hits the fan. Well, in our movie, all those people would trade everything they have in the world (which admittedly is nothing, as zombies don't do much coveting of valuables) to have enough brain power to swig a beer or loot an 8-track player. So the next time someone blows by you in a truck that's 7 feet off the ground with 40" tall tires an a confederate flag painted on the tailgate, as they flip their dip out onto your windshield, remember: someday, the world may be his.
Dawn of the Dead begins in the news room of a TV studio with a group of obnoxious people trying to figure out what's going to keep people from turning off their sets on account of Mork & Mindy being temporarily canceled due to the crippling zombie epidemic. They've thrown together a talk show in which two guys yell at each other all day an accomplish nothing. It's a lot like C-SPAN. Elsewhere, in a far more interesting scenario, a SWAT team is about to raid an apartment building where a gang of armed hooligans is holed up. However, the zombie apocalypse doesn't change much for the gang of criminals, an they're not about to give up their headquarters just because they're hopelessly outnumbered, so they bust out of the building with guns blazing until they're all splattered on the concrete with eyes glazing. With the situation more or less handled, the SWAT team kicks the door in an their racist captain, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Sergeant Slaughter, starts indiscriminately blowing away anyone that happens to be on the other side of the apartment door he's kicked in at that particular moment. So, since Sarge can't seem to tell the blacks in the building apart from the blues, Roger has to kill Sarge to restore some order, only that's when the undead Smurfs make their move an start putting the bite on anyone close enough to sink their teeth into an the team seems to forget the guns they're holding can be used to subdue the zombies an they have to make a run for it. Roger could really use a half-day, an goes outside to scoop up his sanity when Ken Foree shows up an they start discussing going AWOL. Roger knows a guy that knows how to get things, like helicopter rides. Ken agrees that the ship is sinking an that helicopters are extremely useful when the ship's going down, so he an Roger meet up with Stephen an Fran from the TV studio an get the hell out while the getting's good. The next morning, Stephen's asleep at the stick an Ken has to smack 'em around a little bit so he'll get back on the clock. Below, the local rednecks are filling their zombie tags left an right, but no matter how many corpses they strap to the hoods of their trucks, they just seem to keep coming.
Before long they spot a small fueling station an set the chopper down. By this time they're all in dire need of a bathroom an split up so's they can pee in privacy, only Stephen's a complete feeb an gets mugged by one of the angry Smurfs until he's able to brain it with a hammer. The good news is, he no longer needs to use the bathroom. Then another Smurf sneaks up on Roger while he's refueling the chopper, only it gets a little too close to the rotor blade an develops a sun roof. Meanwhile, Ken is sneaking around all clandestine like inside a building when he hears a noise inside a closet an puts a few rounds in the door at around eye level. But that's no good because the undead Smurfs are children an they rush out an start climbing on him an asking him where babies come from until he's finally had it an has to give 'em leadbotomies. Having gotten the chopper refueled, they land on top of a conveniently placed helipad on top of a mall an head inside to see if they can't loot some bell bottoms. The first room they enter is filled with boxes upon boxes of Spam, but dystopia or no dystopia, they're still not desperate enough to eat that crap an Roger an Ken leave Fran in charge an head down into the stores on a shopping excursion. Upon finding the control room, they turn the power on to the entire building, unfortunately, that includes the mall muzak. Also conveniently laid out for them are the keys to all the stores, an they snatch 'em up an make for Toys 'R Us, only they're waylaid by an army of Smurfs an Roger has to cover Ken while he tries to figure out which of the 75 keys fits in the door. They're finally able to get in an get some looting done, after which they head downstairs an lure as many Smurfs as they can to the downstairs window, after which they go back up, claim their booty an make a run for it. Unfortunately, the bungler, Stephen, feels left out an wants to show Fran what a big man he is, so he leaves her alone an goes wandering. He's able to find a floor plan of the mall, but he also finds a hungry Smurf. As bad as his marksmanship is he figures he may as well just shoot at the concrete walls to see if any of the bullets ricochet into its brain, because, lets face it, unless it's within three feet, he's not hitting it. Fortunately, it comes within three feet, an he's able to dispatch it only moments before it eats his face. At this point he's gone through still another pair of underpants an runs for safety, but Ken an Roger show up just as he's about to lead all the ravenous Smurfs up to their hiding spot an threaten to give him a pink belly if he doesn't get away from the door.
Rinse an repeat the aforementioned bait and switch on the zombies to get them away from the direction they need to go. Unfortunately, the Ghandi zombie did go through the door back up to home base an is shambling in Fran's direction. Back downstairs, Stephen tries desperately to show his usefulness by pointing out an elevator shaft that they can climb up through an get back to home base. Once they're up, they grab their wheel barrow full of ill gotten supplies an head for home, only Mohatma's upstairs going against everything he preached against in life with Fran an she climbs up as high as possible an dangles precariously from the roof until the men show up an save her. Then they setup their TV an radio to see if anything besides the snow channel is on the air an discuss whether or not to tie Fran up an abort her fetus without consulting her. Stephen doesn't think that's such a good idea, as she'd probably castrate him in his sleep afterwards an goes to get some shut eye. The next morning, the guys all try to appear interested in Fran's equality speech an are really bummed to discover she's not gonna do their laundry for them anymore. They grudgingly decide to let her into their fort to play house, but Ken tells her she's gonna have to pull her own weight if she wants to be in the He-man Woman Hater's club. After the big nag is done boosting her social standing, the men head outside to execute their grand scheme. They like this place, an they're gonna seal it off by parking trucks in front of the entry doors so the zombies can't get in. It's basically the same thing you see elderly people do in the fire lane at Wal Mart. While Ken an Roger move the trucks, Stephen tries desperately to be part of the gang (realistically, it's Stephen that's not the equal here, not Fran) by flying around in the chopper an expending as much fuel as possible while looking indignant. He gets his big chance to appear relevant when Roger takes his eyes off the prize an flies down low enough for Ken to realize Roger's about to get nibbled on. Ken tells Roger to pull his head out of his cracka ass an screw it on straight or he's gonna have to get rough with the jive turkey. But Roger's cracked, an he's going out of his way to mash Smurfs an he's starting to sound like the audience at an Arkansas Razorbacks game. Fran, too, is trying her best to matter, and has stationed herself on the roof, picking off zombies with a rifle. Unfortunately she's not able to blast the one that bites into Roger's leg as he tries to get in the final truck.
So with Roger's days numbered, Stephen has to start being less of a douche an more of a contributor. So he an Ken stock up on ammunition from the sporting goods store, load Roger up in the wheel barrow an bring Fran along for good measure, cause it's Monroeville Massacre time. Starting from the same location as they had previously, Fran suggests they grab one of the cars an get around that way. The idea is so good they lock her up in the department store so nothing happens to her (in case they need ideas in the future), an leave skid marks all over the mall as they go from one entry way to another, locking the doors from the inside an setting the alarms. Then, with the doors locked, they heroically slaughter the mindless shambling terrors. Back upstairs, Fran tries to tend to Roger but he's experiencing intense pain an generally acting like a four year old that doesn't wanna take cough medicine, an they know it's just a matter of time. Then Ken says this place is gonna start stankin' like butt crack pretty quick if they don't make like the Scrubbing Bubbles, so they sweep all the corpses up into neat and manageable piles an haul 'em off to the meat locker. Kinda seems like they're about as spoiled as they're gonna get, but at least they're out of the way. So, considering they've now officially got it made in the shade, they spend their days ice skating, playing the video arcades, an generally over indulging a la Caesar. But the more things change, the more they stay the same, as the zombies continue to feebly paw at the doors an Roger's starting to resemble Linda Blair in the Exorcist in every way but the spinning head as his mind turns to mush from all the pain. Shortly thereafter he expires, an Ken has to plug him when he sits up an starts lookin' around for some vittles, an they bury him unceremoniously (if practically) in the mall's plastic arboretum. Everybody is seriously bummed, so to take their minds off the situation, Stephen finally teaches Fran how to fly the chopper, only the chopper sticks out like a sore thumb in a world where society is more or less wiped out, and a nearby gang of rowdy bikers take note an plan to storm the mall once darkness falls. But Ken's not about to let his castle walls breach without a fight, an once inside, Tom Savini an the other bikers get more than they bargained for.
Dawn of the Dead is one of the greatest horror movies of all time, if a bit silly and over the top at times. It takes the same situation from Night, an twists it ever so slightly to make it the same, but more controlled, rather than an unfortunate situation that is bungled into. In a sense, they're still trapped, but they've got everything they'll need for as long as they live. The situation is also not nearly so hopeless, in that, they drove the zombies from the mall and took it for their own. So they also have a sense of pride, accomplishment, and self confidence once the cleansing has taken place. For that reason, it's considerably more light-hearted throughout much of the movie, which is neither guaranteed to make it better or worse than the original, only different from it. It's not all that different from Night, in terms of plot. It's basically the same deal, but it's got much better pacing, with something interesting or amusing happening virtually the entire run time. You'd think that with a sequel that's 33% longer than the original, the pacing would be slower, but it's quite the opposite, and holds the viewer's attention from start to finish. The only negative thing I can think of to mention comes from the special effects department, which is something Savini has mentioned didn't come out as intended. I speak, of course, about the blue zombies. Kinda like being mauled by the Blue Man Group. His intention was for them to appear grey, but unfortunately, that didn't come out as planned. Kind of a serious problem, perhaps crippling to any other movie. It can be a really big problem when your special effects look silly, but Dawn has a certain amount of silliness programmed into it, and between that and a complete lack of flaws in any other respect, the blue zombies do surprisingly minimal harm to the movie's overall rating. In regard to the rest of the special effects, they're all great. The bulk of which is going to be wounds an so forth, but Savini didn't become the most famous horror effects creator by inspiring the Syfy Channel, there's a lot of good stuff here. Though, while Romero thought the brightness of the blood fit the style of the movie, I agree with Savini, it should have been darker colored. Course, I also agree with Romero that it works, given the tone of the rest of the movie. It doesn't hurt anything, it just doesn't look quite right. It's the kind of thing only a pro would look back upon with mild regret.
The characters are all well acted and well defined. You don't know too much about them, but there's enough going on with the plot, and they're all distinct enough that those kind of details aren't all that important. We've got some great genre actors here too; granted, this was early in all of their careers, but the movies they did go on to do, even the ones that didn't do many more, are generally in the horror genre. David Emge did Basket Case 2; Scott Reiniger had a small cameo part in the Dawn of the Dead remake from 2004; Gaylen Ross did Creepshow and Madman; and of course Ken Foree, one of my favorite actors was in From Beyond, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3, Death Spa, The Dentist, Dawn of the Dead 2004, The Devil's Rejects, and the Halloween remake. The silly tone the movie takes at various points even helps blend in some of the sillier zombie movements to the point that, if you're complaining, you're missing the humor. The soundtrack is very 70s, an if it smacks of something the Italians would compose, it's because some of it is. The parts that really stand out, anyway. Dario Argento, who helped Romero finance the movie, did so in exchange for getting to release his own cut in Europe. He was already familiar with the band (Goblin), after they worked on Suspiria for him, an he used them again for Dawn. Somehow, this strange, loud music that seems borderline obnoxious when played alone, fits perfectly into the movie. It's not the type of soundtrack I'd ever buy to listen to, but conversely, if it'd been excluded from the DVD release of the movie because of a rights issue, the movie just wouldn't be the same. I can't imagine Dawn of the Dead without that soundtrack, the idea is ludicrous and appalling to consider. The shooting locations, well, you've got a mall, a TV studio, and an apartment complex. Only one of which gets any real screen time. But that's how this series works. If you saw Night and were expecting an episode of The Amazing Race, you might be a redneck. So what I'm saying is, they're adequate. Difficult to do wrong, but don't add a great deal to the movie. Not that it needs it. Overall, Dawn of the Dead is the greatest zombie movie ever made. The best of Romero's "Dead" series, which is itself the best series in the zombie sub-genre. Required viewing for even the casual horror fan, and even enjoyable for people who don't have any special affection for the horror genre.