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Original Vs. Remake: Dawn of the Dead

03.26.2014by: Mike Catalano
Yes, a remake did defeat an original for the second time in a row with our last Original Vs. Remake. Funny enough, it was pretty tough to disagree with the outcome considering the superior craftsmanship with which The Last House on the Left remake was handled.

Today's O Vs. R feels like it's upping the game. What we're dealing with here is a beloved classic and an unexpectedly embraced re-imagining. Zombies are supposed to only move slowly, right? Why would anyone decide to make them run super fast? That became the great debate centered around the two films we are about to compare and contrast. Prepare your brains to comb through 1978 and 2004's Dawn of the Dead!

Story
An absolutely brilliant social commentary on racism and consumerism. A bunch of survivors during a zombie outbreak barricade themselves inside a deserted mall, hoping to use it as a safe haven until they can be rescued. Once inside, the group members at times clash over what to make of their new galleria domicile: temporary safe haven or permanent home?
A wonderful update on the original's script by genre genius James Gunn pits a larger, more colorful group of survivors in the same mall setting. Though not as heavy on social commentary, this one goes more for intense shocks, hence the much faster zombies. It definitely moves along at a brisk pace, but it doesn't quite come close to the master story of the original.
Special Effects
Dawn '78 is very fortunate to have the pioneer of horror film effects, Mr. Tom Savini, serve as its make-up and FX coordinator. Because of this, every gunshot blast, decapitation, evisceration, and innards presentation is delivered in disgustingly real fashion. It's a glorious gorefest and hits you like a helicopter blade to the head!
With faster zombies comes faster bursts of gore. Hence, the camera never lingers too long on the arterial damage being done. However, the look of the zombies here definitely has a distinct flair of fearsome grue. With that said, the zombie baby does come off as a little silly.
Acting
All four main characters do a superb job expressing the fear and desperation one would feel while trying to survive a zombie apocalypse. Lone female, Gaylen Ross and genre legend, Ken Foree certainly are standouts. Though because of the time period, a tiny bit of cheese exists, especially within the looting bikers at the end.
Every actor involved with Dawn '04 gives a first class performance. With such a large group in such a small space, chemistry amongst the performers was key. Thankfully when the shit hits the fan, everyone meshed and clashed well. Of course, Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, and Jake Weber get special mention for their stalwart portrayals.
Intensity
Dawn '78 definitely takes its time setting up scenarios and scares. The apartment building standoff and escape at the beginning definitely has its shares of frightening urgency. The finale with the bikers is definitely a worrisome scenario as well. I'd like to say that the middle offers some intense zombie moments, but because of their slow pace, it's never too crazy.
Intense is the name of the game when you're dealing with ridiculously fast zombies. I mean, your heart is pounding less than five minutes into the flick! When Sarah Polley and her man get attacked by that zombified little girl! The unexpected palpitations continue throughout as Sarah escapes to the mall with her group only to encounter a couple of ill-intentioned security guards. And once the zombies gain access to the mall? Watch the f*ck out!
Hot Chicks
We just get Miss Gaylen Ross, who definitely fits the bill as a late 70's hottie. However, she has to deal with being preggers for the length of the movie, which doesn't leave time for many gratuitous instances of hotness. I guess when in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, you can't be too picky.
Sarah Polley makes for a wonderful leading lady scream queen, especially in that white tank top. Plus, she plays a nurse which only adds to the appeal. Lindy Booth also ups the cuteness quotient exponentially. Factor in Kim Poirier and Inna Korobkina (who still looks hot despite being 9-months pregnant) and you've hit the zombie apocalypse shelter jackpot!
Directing
What can I say? George A. Romeo is the master of the zombie horror film. He basically invented the genre. Yet, I bet no one expected after the success of his original Night of the Living Dead that he would deliver yet another masterpiece with its sequel. The parallels he draws between the zombies traipsing through the mall and commercialism are spot on and hilarious. He also orchestrates zombie mayhem with such organic style, you can't help becoming immersed in the madness.
Yes, Zack Snyder definitely has an eye for imagery. He did an admirable job updating Dawn for today's audience. The flick moves along at a rapid fire pace, there are wonderful montages set to perfectly chosen songs, the action set pieces are top notch. He is just a tad lax on the emotional investment when compared to the original's deepness.
IT'S A TIE!
Well, shit, it looks like we have our very first tie here on O Vs. R! I'm usually not a huge fan of these bastards ending in ties, but I have to stay true to the process and call 'em as I see 'em. And I really am a fan of both versions of Dawn of the Dead. However, I can't wait to see what all ya'll have to say on the subject. Have my brains been eaten out of my skull? Or are there stalwart qualities in both Deads. Please, blast them shotgun bullets below! And if you have any flicks you'd like to see in this column, give me a shout at mikecatalano@joblo.com.

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