Monday, February 1, 2010

Dawn of the Dead

Note: This blog is referring to the classic 1978 original and not the remake.

This is the sequel to one of the most successful films ever made, George Romero's 'Night of the Living Dead'. Dawn of the Dead was filmed 10 years after the release of 'Night', but is set in the weeks following the first film. For those who don't know, 'Night' is the story of zombies and their rise in rural Pennsylvania. Zombies are human beings who have died and returned to a new "life". They have no emotions, little coordination and lots of hunger for human flesh.

Our film opens upon a television station that is attempting to cover the rise of the zombies. The personnel are laboring to show this event and provide survival information for the station's audience. But society in general and the station in particular are breaking down. The pressure of a world in which the dead rise to attack and devour the living is too much for most to bear. Dawn of the Dead focuses upon four individuals looking to survive; 2 SWAT team policeman, a traffic copter pilot and his tv executive girlfriend. These four fly off in his helicopter for Canada. They hope to escape the horror that has spread across the U.S.

They eventually decide to take respite in a large shopping mall. The four decide to land and look for supplies. But upon reflection they realize that they have no where to go. The mall will become their home. A battle with the zombies that inhabit the mall and then with a gang of thugs results in the deaths of some of the party and the attempted escape of others.

I remember walking out of the theater, in 1978, after the debut of this film. I was eager to see this sequel, having so respected and enjoyed the first film. Upon exiting the movie I turned to my friend, Jordy Long, and said "this is one of the best statements on America's consumer society I have ever seen". After watching the film again this week I come to the same conclusion. Writer/Director George Romero uses zombies and science fiction/horror to share a viewpoint on the commercial nature of American society. In the film the zombies are compelled, by some unknown instinct, to return to the shopping mall. As is said in the film "instinct, memory, this place was important in their lives". The zombies have died and returned to life, but they want to return to what was important-The Mall.

For me, the final credits make the point. After some of the survivors escape the mall the final credits roll. They overlay a shot of the interior of the mall. The zombies are wandering the stores, looking for nothing. They don't sleep, care about their appearance or need anything, but they still wander the mall. This metaphor for our consumer society could not be more evident. Just change the make-up and the zombies become some of the people wandering any mall. Looking for something, but they don't know what.

Tom Savini is credited with the make-up and cosmetic special effects for Dawn of the Dead. Much of his work is trailblazing and is still being copied today. His work makes this film the "apocalyptic horror masterpiece" that Leonard Maltin so appreciates. The real gory parts come mainly in the first and last 20 minutes, but pop-up occasionally in the rest of the film. Dawn of the Dead is not for the squeamish! Even though I know it's a movie, and I have seen it before, I still cringe when the zombies start eating a person's intestines while they are still attached.

Romero also goes for the dark comedic effect. The sight of the blue-skinned Hara Krishna zombie, with his tamborine, is a riot. He does not take things too seriously. It is, after all, a movie. Also, George Romero should be credited for creating a cottage industry. There have been dozens of zombie movies, tv shows and books. 2009's 'Zombieland' film and bestselling book 'World War Z', among many others, owe their success to Mr. Romero.

Filmed in 1978, directed and written by George Romero, starring David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger and Gaylen Ross. Look for a cameo by George Romero. He plays the television director in the opening sequence.

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