Dawn of the Dead Review
Hello, Baryonyxaholics. I’ve written before about being a horror fan from Pittsburgh- that this city’s history manages to make us a different breed from splatterpunks the worldwide. I’m not putting you down if you’re from Kansas or something (and to be fair, you have your own low budget traditions there) but being from this city is sort of like hitting the jackpot as a horror fan. Every major city has a low budget heritage; we just happened to get the best of them.
So today we’re looking at Dawn of the Dead. This isn’t the 2004 “fast zombies” Ving Rhames vehicle that, on paper, sounds like the best movie ever made, but the 1978 original. And even to say ‘original’ is sort of a weird term, because it’s a sequel to the 1968 Night of the Living Dead, also by George Romero and concerning much of the same geographical area. That said, if you were in Italy (of course) during this time period you would be under the impression that this is a standalone movie, since over there it was released as Zombi which then spurted off its own line of sequels. That’s life in spaghetti splatter, kids.
1970s. Look at that shirt. Even hipsters wouldn’t touch that today.
So despite being made a decade later and having fashion and themes that embody the 1970s, Dawn begins immediately after Night of the Living Dead- it might be minutes, days, or weeks after the outbreak has begun. My intuition is that it’s probably a week or so after the dead have returned to life. The dead are all kinds of pissed off, walking around and biting people because fuck em. The main problem seems to be that people can’t stop arguing enough to come up with a solution. Given this backdrop, a man (Steven) and his girlfriend (Francine) decide to hotwire a helicopter and get out of dodge, inviting their friend Roger who, for whatever reason, feels compelled to invite his friend Peter. Roger and Peter are SWAT team members in what I believe is Philadelphia, so they’ll be useful to have around.
As they take off to head west, they observe rednecks having a hunting party for zombies below them. (Maybe it’s the Allegheny mountains in me, but I never saw the problem with that). They begin to realize that the situation is out of control, and that the outbreak is everywhere; their next move is to land on a shopping mall (“What is it?!” one asks, alarmed at the sight of it) and to stop for supplies. But maybe they have a good thing going there in the mall…
Before I talk about the deeper meanings in the move to stop at a mall, let me assure anyone who has never been to the mall in question (Monroeville Mall) that I wouldn’t stop there today in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Consumers won’t stop there during a typical day, either, which is why the building is going under and is mostly unrecognizable from 1978. What a mall symbolizes to me in 2013 is a lot different than what it meant in 1978, too; while it seems like a lot of malls today are failing or fading, in 1978 the mall was a one-stop consumer heaven. And it’s this idea of stuff, and the ability to own so much of it in one place, that makes the mall appealing as a post-apocalyptic playground.
But the zombies (“They’re us” quips Peter) keep returning to the mall. Why?
"Something important in their life" is suggested by Roger, but I would point to Peter’s opinion as a better read on the situation. As advertisements periodically play to the now non-existent mall shoppers, we might gain a sense that the real zombies are indeed us- the continual drive to own more and more in the pursuit of happiness. Don’t feel alarmed or ashamed if you see yourself in that picture, because it is culturally recommended and even completely mandatory to a successful capitalist economy. There’s nothing wrong with owning stuff. There’s nothing wrong with wanting more. But are you willing to die for a bunch of televisions that don’t have any purpose anymore? Don’t answer; you won’t need to know until the zombie apocalypse.
Until then, we can all be one of these guys.
And while so much gets written on the deeper meanings and themes behind Dawn, stylistically it’s just as appealing. The blood used is bright red, looking as much like candy as actual blood. It looks, you know, nothing like real blood, but for the comic book / action genre this movie fits into, it’s perfect. Heads explode, guns are fired, and even children zombies aren’t spared. And so this film, too, went unrated just as Night of the Living Dead did, but I often wonder why. Wouldn’t it have been easier to get the theme across without massive head explosions? Couldn’t this film be cut down to an R? Maybe, but there’s something lost to this movie without the gore; maybe the film cuts it close to action-adventure, but unless you can really see just about every incidental character get offed in a horrible way, I don’t think you can appreciate the depth of the shit our heroes are in. If you’re not much of a gorehound, you’ll be turning your head away quite often. I guess for me it’s more about trying to figure out what Tom Savini and the other effects artists did to make the trick so convincing.
It’s been said that Dawn of the Dead is the most imitated zombie film of all time. I’ll agree with that statement, even if the Italians shockingly went in a different direction from the Americans. While Dawn of the Dead was the movie that made sure that most American zombie films would stay within familiar territory to us- the mall, our homes, and lately strip clubs- the Italians would actually often move back to the Caribbean or other exotic far off islands, seemingly more interested in the Haitian roots than George Romero’s vision. And hey, whenever they did stay home, it was in Italy anyway.
It’s not much of a closing statement, buttake it for what it’s worth. Dawn of the Deadis often called the best zombie movie of all time. It’s not my favorite, but the living dead were never highlighted in such fluorescent colors as they were here. You watch the movie, but how you feel afterward might just be determined by how you watched it- and I guess it’s ultimately about whether you’re a zombie or not.