Monday, July 16, 2007

When There is No More Room in Hell, the Dead Will Walk the Earth

I must admit that in the pantheon of horror antagonists, none pleases me more than the zombie. I am a bonafide zombie nut. Throw on a film full of zombies and I obtain a slack jawed blank stare. Try and engage me in conversation and you'll get little less than some grunts and moans. However, the down point to my love affair with the undead is the fact that 99% of all movies dealing with them, well...suck. But there are a few that stand out as truly decent films of their own accord. Which brings me to...

Dawn of the Dead is a 1978 film from director George A. Romero. It is the sequel to the groundbreaking 1968 film, Night of the Living Dead. Dawn picks up immediately where the previous left off. For reasons unknown the dead have returned to life and seek to feast on the living. Despite our best attempts to hold them off, the dead are slowly winning the war. Get bit by a zombie; you become a zombie. Die; you become a zombie. The only way to kill them is to destroy the brain.

The story opens in a television studio that is awash with chaos. Nobody knows where the zombies are coming from, all they know is that their numbers are growing. It won't be long before all the stations will be taken off the air. Seeing the imminent danger, Fran, a producer, and her traffic chopper boyfriend Stephen arrange to steal the station's helicopter and make a run for it. They invite along Peter, a member of the Philadelphia SWAT team who in turn invites Roger, a fellow SWAT member.

Much of the action of the film takes place in a shopping mall which the four find in their escape flight. After killing all of the zombies in the mall they lock it down tight and live out the American dream in an environment where everything they will ever need is right at their fingertips.

Dawn of the Dead stands out against most other zombie films because ultimately it is a film with a message. Romero has an underlying metaphor in the film, satirizing consumerism. Our characters flock to the mall as they can use and consume all the items within. Ultimately they find themselves content with the life they lead. The zombies flock to the mall for the same reasons, they are there to consume. (The living, of course!) Romero also makes the statement that our greatest allies in such an invasion are the gun owners and the hunters. "Those rednecks are probably enjoying this," Stephen points out, closely followed by a scene of hunters and rednecks cracking open beers, sharing coffee, and making a game of killing the undead.

The film was no stranger to controversy in its time. Upon submission to the MPAA it was given the dreaded X rating, with warnings that substantial cuts would have to be made to achieve an R. Romero eventually had to cut 13 minutes from the film to get the R rating. Because of this and also because of investment in the movie from Dario Argento, multiple cuts of the film exist. The recent Anchor Bay DVD release of the film recognizes this and as such contains three completely separate edits of the film, all with scenes not present in the others and also with different musical scores.

Though the gore in the film is cartoonish and tame by today's standards, this is still a film worth watching. Despite its story, themes and content, this is actually a good movie. Almost everybody I've shown the film to, horror fan or not, has agreed that it is well made, well acted and thoroughly entertaining. As a personal aside, I find that the "Extended Cut" is the superior version of the film. This was the original cut submitted to the MPAA.

A few fun bits of trivia about the film:

In the dock scene early in the film, one of the people that Stephen encounters is Josef Pilato, who would go on to play the role of Captain Rhodes in Day of the Dead.

If you are watching the Extended Cut of the film, the music that plays when they set the alarm prior to the biker's arrival is the same bit of music that opens Monty Python and the Holy Grail. (Romero is notorious for using stock music in his films.)

The original ending called for Peter to shoot himself due to his unwillingness to leave the mall behind. Upon hearing the shot, Fran jumped into the spinning blades of the helicopter and decapitated herself. As the credits roll we would have heard the helicopter running. As they drew to a close it was to sputter and run out of gas. Romero denies filming this sequence, but makeup director Tom Savini has produced behind the scenes photos of them doing so.

The television show Robot Chicken uses one of the songs from Dawn of the Dead as its closing musical number...clucked by chickens.

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Ole Blue The Heretic said...

I am more of the Lesbian Vampire lover myself. ;-)

E said...

I highly recommend the film "Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter", then. In said film they are suffering a critical lesbian shortage due to vampirism. Jesus has to come and take care of business.

Invisible Woman said...

I actually liked the remake as well, it was a lot different than I'd envisioned it would be...what did you think?

E said...

I enjoyed the remake as well. I certainly wouldn't rank it as highly as the original, but it certainly had its good points. I must say that I'm not fond of fast moving zombies. However, the first ten minutes of the remake showing the initial outbreak were pure genius.