George A Romero's seminal horror picture DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) is a film that (with its predecessor, Romero's 1968 NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD) has spawned an entire subgenre of horror and a teeming cottage industry of works that, with very few exceptions, in no way approach the brilliance of Romero's. No doubt I'll, um, cannibalize this capsule rant when I cover DAWN at more length for a future piece on my all-time favourite flicks.
Some Thoughts on DAWN OF THE DEAD
(The Only Version That Matters)
by Henry Covert
Romero's epic of survival in a world overrun by the living dead could be the most ambitious - and successful - attempt at using the horror film genre as powerful and multi-leveled social critique. Our quartet of hapless protaganists sequester themselves in a massive shopping mall, all the consumerist needs of their past lives fulfilled, despite one of them slowly dying from zombie bites, and the two in a relationship (one pregnant) finding it as impossible to get along in this manufactured world as in their previous lives.
It falls to SWAT officer Peter Washington (an Oscar-level turn by Ken Foree - as if Oscars really held much credibility to me), one of the great heroes of horror or action cinema, to keep his cool and keep thinking, even when faced with his friend's zombification, and the zombies ultimately breaching the mall due to a renegade army of looting bikers. Peter almost manages to deal with it all and get out alive with pregnant Fran (Gaylen Ross), but there's a final twist - but one that makes Peter's struggles worthwhile.
If you have yet to see this, see it now! Much imitated, never equalled, with brilliant performances, a tight (and highly quotable) script that shows Romero thought out every angle of his premise. And the interesting thing is, no one ever learns exactly why the dead walk - it's just happening, and they have to deal with it. I could write on and on about the meanings and subtext at play here, but I leave that to the individual viewer. For the gorehounds (who no doubt have, uh, devoured this flick numerous times, but just in case), the intestine-ripping, gut-munching splatter is on hand in copious amounts. As with its premise and approach, this movie broke ground to become the benchmark for gore films from here on, largely due to Tom Savini's savagely realistic makeup effects.
Finally, if you've seen neither version of the film (not counting the several cuts of Romero's original), please, I beg you, eschew Zack Snyder's pointless DOTD remake. Watch the real one first. I don't hate the remake, but for the most part it's imminently forgettable and misses most of the points Romero was making. So much for "re-imaginings".
"When the dead walk, we must stop the killing... or lose the war".