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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Day 350: Dawn Of The Dead

Dawn Of The Dead
You should really get that thing look at

Today's review is one of my most requested movies and it was a long time coming. Believe it or not, I wasn't always a fan of horror. Even with this blog, I'm not your typical horror fan. I don't go to conventions, I don't adorn my walls with movie posters, and I don't have a picture with Kane Hodder or Robert Englund. Like any normal child, I was pretty scared of horror movies. I'd shut my eyes real tight when a horror movie commercial would come on during Saturday morning wrestling. The first horror movie I remember really enjoying was Dawn Of The Dead. In a video store (remember those?) my dad bought the VHS and said, “It has zombies in a mall. You'll like it.” He was right.

Dawn Of The Dead is a 1978 zombie movie written and directed by George Romero (Night Of The Living Dead, Day Of The Dead). The movie stars Ken Foree (The Dentist, The Devil's Rejects) as SWAT team member Peter and David Emge (Basket Case 2, Hellmaster) as television worker Stephen. Building upon the events from Night Of The Living Dead, a pandemic of unknown original has caused deceased human beings to reanimate as zombies that crave the flesh of the living. Chaos reigns as the government tries to enforce martial law and people try to escape populated areas. Francine (Gaylen Ross, Creepshow, Madman) is working at the WGON television station which is broadcasting a debate on what to do about the zombies. With the station going off the air at midnight, Francine leaves with her boyfriend Stephen. There plan is to steal the station's helicopter and fly to a remote area in hopes of riding out the zombie pandemic. At the same time, a SWAT team raids an apartment complex in Pennsylvania that refuse to give up their sick and dead. SWAT member Roger (Scott Reiniger, Knightriders, The Other Victim) helps in the raid and tries to subdue a fellow team member who has decided to go on a killing spree. When Roger is unable to stop him, Peter shoots and kills him. Zombies begin to escape out of the apartments and a bloodbath ensues. Roger and Peter escape and meet up with Francine and Stephen in the helicopter. They eventually make their way to an abandoned mall in Monroeville, PA. To make the mall safe from more zombies, Roger and Peter steal trucks and park them in front of the mall's doors. By this point, Roger has become erratic in his actions, throwing caution to the wind. While hotwiring a truck, he is bitten in the leg by a zombie. With the entrances blocked, the group goes through the mall clearing out all the zombies. Peter notices that Francine looks sick and Stephen reveals that she is pregnant. The group enjoys the now empty mall, wearing fancy clothes, playing arcade games, eating decadent food, and simply enjoying themselves as the world around them collapses. The fun only lasts so long as they soon begin to feel imprisoned in their little utopia. Roger eventually turns into a zombie and is put down by Peter. One night, the group receives a radio call from people claiming to be survivors. They are in fact a group of raiders looking to loot the mall. The raiders open up the mall, allowing the zombies to get in. Between the raiders and the zombies, how will the group survive?

Well, that's one way to do it

Dawn Of The Dead is thoroughly and entirely enjoyable, something most movies cannot claim. The movie has so much to like in it that it's almost hard to nail down what it does best. It touches on all the important points of any good horror movie, whether it's a believable story, sustainable action, immense violence and gore, likable characters, and a strong message. Dawn Of The Dead builds upon the initial story from Night Of The Living Dead as the zombie pandemic spreads exponentially throughout the country. Romero keeps things local by keeping the movie in Pennsylvania, mostly filming in Pennsylvania and Monroeville. This helps ground the story and the audience rather than putting it in say New York City or Los Angeles. The events mostly take place in rural America where most can identify with the general surroundings. Most people want to escape the carnage, but there are those, referred to as rednecks, who are having a blast, shooting zombies and drinking beer. It's a funny juxtaposition to the utter chaos spreading throughout the country and perhaps world.


That joy and bliss is revised when the group runs through the mall, enjoying what the mall has to offer. The scene creates some levity in the film and gets the audience to smile and let down their guard. Who among us wouldn't want to be in the same scenario. Just like those rednecks, the group has fun while the world around the collapses. Like all good things, it comes to an end, first by their own feelings and then by the raiders. There comes a point where you just can't have fun anymore and cabin fever begins to set in. It's hard to party when there is nothing to look forward to on the horizon. Romero gives us a heaping dose of social commentary with the raiders breaking into the mall. Zombies are eating people and the raiders just want to steal things. They have forsaken safety in the pursuit of stuff. Like those before them, the raiders have their fun, stealing jewels from zombies and literally slamming pies into their faces. Man's hedonistic desire is on full display in this movie. Romero also manages to take shots at the military, the police, and television talking heads. He manages to capture both the horrific violence and humor over the course of the movie, something that's easier said than done. The acting is good throughout and the diverse cast keeps things interesting. 

"OK. First we hit The Gap, then Hot Topic, then the Food Court."

“When there's no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the earth.” It's one of the most famous in lines in all of horror cinema and is still chilling to the bone. It has shown up on t-shirts, in video games, in other movies, and even songs like the Murderdolls "Dawn Of The Dead". The line encompasses our fear of going to Hell, not resting in piece, and of course, having to deal with the living dead. Makeup wizard Tom Savini uses his skill to create some incredibly violent and gory scenes throughout the movie. There's plenty of guts and exploding heads and enough blood to fill a pool. The zombies look good with a believable pale bluish tinge to their skin. Romero manages to inject some humor into the movie by having a wide variety of zombies including a nun, a baseball player, and a Hari Krishna. The movie was shot in about four months with most of the mall scenes shot at night. The music played over the loudspeakers was the mall's actual music, which is kind of ridiculous if you listen to it. I don't think the mall is still there, which is a shame. There are multiple versions, alternative endings, a recut by Dario Argento, and of course, a great remake. The movie is quite long, so be prepared, but the movie never really lags.

"Dude, did you wash your hands?"

Dawn Of The Dead is probably my favorite horror movie. It just does so much right that any flaws can be ignored. Despite it's long run time, I never felt bored or complacent. There is a lot of action and an extreme amount of blood and gore. Tom Savini is at his best with the variety in violence and sheer amount of exploding heads. There is plenty of social commentary as one would expect from Romero or any zombie movie worth their salt. The acting is good and the direction is spot on. If you haven't seen Dawn Of The Dead, stop what you're doing and watch it now. And yes, I still have the original VHS.


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