Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Director: George Romero
Scott H. Reiniger/Roger
In this follow up to George Romero’s classic "Night of the Living Dead" (1968), the undead are pretty much ruling the world while displaying endearing and fierce flesh-eating tendencies. A group of fine folks try to escape the insanity via helicopter and wind up hiding out in a huge ass mall. Once there, they face an army of ravenous Zombies, low IQ bikers and most importantly...their own human flaws. Shop smart, shop S-Smart!
"When there's no more room in hell, the dead shall walk the earth."-- Peter
There are many reasons why "Dawn of the Dead" is considered by many to be "the" most influential and important Zombie party in our solar system. Having just viewed the 139-minute cut of Dawn again, I was still crazy impressed by all that Romero accomplished with this film. We get it all here: well written characters, strong acting by all, a gnarly Goblin score and graphic Zombie mayhem galore communicated the way it should be: through chunky red gore (take note Paul Anderson).
To make everything even sweeter, these goodies are dipped in a thick, thought-provoking subtext that had me grinning with delight like Hugh Hefner popping Viagra and nailing yet another set of Playmate twins. Romero makes a very accurate and hard hitting statement about consumerism and our attachment to all that is material through this picture. How many Zombie movies can claim that? Here’s a memorable dialogue exchange that pretty much nailed the flick’s key theme to a T. Francine says (referring to the zombies and the mall): Why do they come here? Her boy Stephen answers: Some kind of instinct. Memory, of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives. The last block of this whack trip; when the rambunctious bikers start looting the mall, was responsible for bringing that point home “full impact” for me. I mean, what good are valuables in a world that’s crumbling under the weight of the dead? Are we so obsessed and brainwashed into owning “things” that we’ll want them even at the dawn of Armageddon? In this film’s opinion, the answer is “yes” and I sadly agree (Note to self: go to mall, buy new clothes-- not because I need them, because I want them).
Then there’s the film’s grounded, yet sometimes "out there", comedic edge. In this cut of the movie (they are many cuts of DOTD out there), Romero isn’t afraid to tap into the macabre humor of the circumstance. Sometimes he does it while supporting the message of the film; like showing us clumsy Zombies lumbering aimlessly through the mall, which pretty much echoes any mall in the world on a Saturday afternoon, and other times he just does it to be bravely humorous. For example, the unexpected “cream pie in the Zombies' faces" scene. Holy shite! I didn’t see that “type” of scene popping up in such a bleak ride! But I have to hand it to the man...it worked. Not just any schmuck could’ve slapped such chuckles into a harsh narrative without upsetting the overall balance of the piece. But King Romero made it happen and I tip my arrow to the man.
Now...although the many potent suspenseful scenes (I was on the edge of my seat more than once), the incredibly violent carnage, the groundbreaking special effects (by master and hipster Tom Savini), the shop till you drop angle and the many enthralling action scenes all contributed in making me an extremely happy horror enthusiast, the more piercing hook for me was witnessing the peeps’ varied reactions to the severe dilemma in which they'd been placed. For example, the rednecks who decide to crack open those beers and use the Zombies for target practice, the female lead who eventually becomes the voice of reason (don’t they always-- gotta love women) and the occasional infantile male “territorial” instinct kicking in to overcome commons sense in any given situation (hey...it’s happened to me). I really boogied on the psychological layers of this baby.
My only minor pet peeve with this live morgue (and I stress the word "minor", so don’t bust balls) is the handling of the abortion issue. The movie brought it up and I found it to be a particularly fascinating question, especially taking into account the state of the decaying world in which the characters were living (would you bring a child into this?) But sadly, the film never really brought conflict to that question, feeling satisfied by solely bringing it up and swiftly letting it go. A more in-depth exploration of that issue would’ve been nice. Then again, maybe I’m just being a greedy horror buff. Who knows? Who cares!
In the end, "Dawn of the Dead" still gleamed like a polished diamond today and continued to bear the crown of most accomplished Zombie movie ever (in my opinion, of course...my word isn’t law). This treasure is a powerful combination of social commentary, action, comedy, horror, drama-- while at the same time jabbing our skulls relentlessly with its no holds barred splatter. All that in one movie, guys! WHAT ELSE DO YOU WANT? A BEATING? Let’s split some Zombie heads open with joy and take out that VISA...we’re going shopping!
How do you want your steak, kids? FUCKING BLOODY, POPS! YOU GOT IT! We get messy headshots, gory bullet hits to the body; blown off heads, chunky Zombie bites, ravenous limb chewing, bone gnawing, gut eating and severed limbs. For dessert, we get a helicopter blade chopping the top of a Zombie head off, a screwdriver in the ear, run over Zombies by vehicles, a beheading, a machete in the face and was it me or was that Hari Krishna undead one creepy motherfucker or what? Brrr...no donation for you beeyatch!
Ken Foree (Peter) underplays it and is all presence. The man's stare can kill! Nice work dude! David Emge (Stephen) gives a credible performance and hits all of the right emotional notes. Scott H. Reiniger (Roger) handles his progression from sane to a little "off" like a trooper (pun intended); I really dug him. Gaylen Ross (Francine) finds her place in this sea of testosterone and turns in a strong show. Tom Savini (Blades) is at his Savini best as the happy-go-slaughter biker. Good shite, Tommy!
T & A
It's ladies night tonight. They get buff Ken Foree shirtless. We get Gaylen Ross topless, but no thanks to the lighting...we can’t see shite. Real sneaky George…real sneaky.
George Romero is a not as flashy a director as say...Dario Argento. Here, his style is mostly to serve the story and not to show off. He does slap in a couple of stylish zooms, scene transitions and angles though, while at the same time masterfully building up the tension and cleverly communicating the humoristic situations. Well done, Master!
The Goblin score is pleasurably schizophrenic, tapping into many “types” of vibes. Much like the movie itself, it's at times scary, offbeat, aggressive, low key or in your face. A solid score in a solid film. NOTE: The score varies from cut to cut in regards to the many versions of Dawn of the Dead that are floating around.
Distributor: Anchor Bay
Sports the U.S. Theatrical Version (127 Minutes).
VIDEO: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen
AUDIO: Dolby Digital 5.1 – DTS - Dolby Surround 2.0 - Mono
Audio Commentary: George Romero (Director), Tom Savini (Make Up Effects Guru), Christine Romero (Assistant Director and George’s wife) and Perry Martin (Anchor Bay DVD Producer and Moderator) all come in to give us lots of insight on the shoot, the making of the special effects, comments on specific scenes and more! The chemistry between all was genuine while the commentary was delivered with energy and humor. Good stuff!
We also get: Trailers (2) - TV Spots (3) - Radio Spots (9) - Poster And Advertising Gallery - George A Romero Bio and a Comic Book Preview.
Home runs the Extended “my favorite cut” Version (139 Minutes) .
VIDEO: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen
AUDIO: Dolby Digital 5.1
Audio Commentary: Perry Martin (Anchor Bay DVD Producer and Moderator) asked all the right questions, getting Richard P. Rubinstein (producer) to expand upon how the flick got off the ground, the justification of the violence, the nature of the many DAWN versions out there and more! A meaty and appealing listen!
We also get a Monroeville Mall Commercial (trippy stuff; love those 70’s) and Still Galleries (Production Stills - Behind the Scenes – Memorabilia).
Wines and dines us with the European Version (118 Minutes).
VIDEO: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen
AUDIO: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround 2.0 and Mono
Audio Commentary: Actors Ken Foree, Davis Emge, Scott H. Reiniger and Gaylen Ross erupt in this animated, trivia-filled and charming commentary. An entertaining and effortless track that felt a lot like a jolly family reunion!
We also get Trailers (1 Italian Trailer and 2 German Trailers)) - TV Spots (2) and Posters/Still Galleries (Lobby Cards, Pressbooks, Soundtracks, Video Covers).
The Dead Will Walk (75 Minutes): George Romero, Chris Romero, Gaylen Ross, Dario Argento, Tom Savini and many more who were involved in the production come in today to yap-yap about their experience on the film then, and their feelings about the movie now. It was grand to see how the cast members currently looked and to hear their present perspective on that little film they worked on eons ago. A groovy feature!
Roy Frumkes’ Document of the Dead (92 Minutes): This psychedelic and dare I say “experimental” documentary was shot in 1978 and offered an in-depth and detailed look into Romero’s cinematic background and all that was the "Dawn of the Dead" adventure. What an odd, yet satisfying, viewing experience…get the “Bong” for this one!
On Set Home Movies (13 Minutes): Undead extra Robert Langer, narrated the home movies (16 mm) that he shot while on set during the making of Dawn. Sweet little vintage bit that gave me some trivia and a random look at what it was like to be on the Dawn set!
Monroeville Mall Tour (12 Minutes): Reunited cast and crew hit the mall where Dawn was shot with a video camera to explore and reminisce at specific locations. Although "all over the place" and low on info, this feature was kool and answered the age old question: What would happen if you let Ken Foree loose in a mall with a video cam on his ass?
This DVD pack also came with a Booklet containing info on the various versions/extras and a slick Dawn of the Dead Comic Book .
What can I say? I’m all “Dawned” out and craving to chew on raw meat! This is, without a doubt, the definitive “Dawn of the Dead” DVD! If you’re a fan of the film, you must own it! If you don’t have the dough, hit the mall and steal it! Yes...it’s that fulfilling! When there’s no room in hell, this DVD will kick your ass!
In my world, "Dawn of the Dead" is the "be all, end all" of Zombie movies. The flick made me think while at the same time, highly entertaining me. I truly believe that no undead opus will ever top it in terms of its depth, delicious violence and overall quality; it's one of a kind. Now let’s get ugly; I have to get this off my machete: To the “individuals” working on the Dawn of the Dead remake as we speak...WE DON'T FUCKING NEED IT! Write your own material or better yet, slap that green Romero's way so that he can get the fourth Dead installment off the ground already! Come on, guys! Isn’t there anything sacred left in Hollywood anymore? Where’s the respect that Romero deserves? Sometimes the big wigs disgust me. I’ll end on a positive note by saying: Keep up the good fight, Mr. Romero and if you need some muscle, I’ll back you up any day.
This film was made on a $2 million dollar budget and filmed in Monroeville Mall, Monroeville, PA.
The two zombie children that Peter is attacked by in the Charthouse were played by Tom Savini's real niece and nephew.
Joe Pilato, who played Captain Rhodes in Day of the Dead, appears as a policeman at the boat dock.
Among the many cuts of Dawn of the Dead that are out there you’ll find: The American theatrical version (126 minutes), The Long Version (aka Director's Cut- 139 minutes), The Italian Version (edited into a more action-oriented film by Dario Argento- 115 minutes), The R-rated Version (which sports over 50 cuts). Which is the best version?