Dawn of the Dead (1978)
by Hans A. Carpenter
Director: George A. Romero
Release date: Jan. 1, 1978
This week, for a change of pace (and without the theater to turn to), my fianceé, Jessica Metcalf, and I decided it would be fun to introduce each other to movies that we love which our significant other definitely wouldn’t have picked to watch on their own. This week, I chose the George A. Romero classic Dawn of the Dead. You’ll be able to read Jessica’s view of this gory zombie flick, and next week she’s picking our movie. Wish me luck…
Mr. Marquee says: Legendary
A zombie plague has ravaged the world. Francine (Gaylen Ross) and Steven (David Emge) steal a news helicopter and escape with National Guardsman Roger (Scott Reiniger) and Peter (Ken Foree). With the helicopter low on fuel, the group hides out in an abandoned shopping mall as they plot their next move.
This is the gold standard of zombie movies, and it’s much more than a good zombie movie, this is a true horror classic. The zombie subgenre has become saturated to near destruction with the shambling corpse that is The Walking Dead stinking up TV in its later seasons and every variation of the trope possible on the big screen. There was a time when there was no zombie sub genre, just Romero and the visceral horror of the death of death.
Night of the Living Dead brings the Red Scare to life with a group of random people (led by a black man in the 1960s, which was unheard of at the time in film) boarded up in a farm house as hordes of the undead randomly spring to life. Any ordinary person could be one of the living dead. Dawn opens weeks later, and the early scenes hit close to home with everything going on in the world right now. Clueless talking heads argue on TV while flashing up government rescue sites that producers know are no longer active. The National Guard clashes with communities who refuse to surrender their dead loved ones for destruction.
Once the gang is boarded up in the shopping mall, we get Romero’s not-so-subtle satire of consumerism as zombies mindlessly walk the mall, in scenes that really aren’t that different than a regular shopping mall. Maybe with more grunting, and in 2020, more people. Romero doesn’t have to beat you over the head with his critique and plays things just straight enough to keep things from devolving into comedy. If that’s your speed though, check out Shawn of the Dead. No, really, it’s also a classic.
Now, Mrs. Marquee and I don’t see eye to eye on the makeup (so sue me, I peeked at her review). The advanced rot of shows like The Walking Dead take me out of the moment, as I spend more time wondering “why do the zombies feed when that guy clearly has no guts” or “how is that zombie walking with no tendons” instead of thinking “man, it would stink to have all those dead guys chasing me.” Dawn’s simple blue makeup, classic red as a firetruck blood and gore effects from the Legendary Tom Savini somehow feel more real in the stylized b-movie world than modern overly elaborate zombie effects. The blue hue of a freshly dead walking corpse with a blank stare fills me with more dread than the bells and whistles.
This is the grandaddy of all zombie films, and as fun as the first half hour of Zach Snyder’s remake are, nothing will touch the king of the dead.
Mrs. Marquee says: this isn’t gory…wait, wait, there it is
The Dawn of the Dead, follows four characters struggling to survive in a zombie apocalypse. Romero makes an excellent small scale story of survivors in a large scale global event. There are all kinds of theories of surviving zombies, but few of them include getting on a helicopter and flying away.
This escape plan sounds fool proof until you run low of gas and take shelter on top of a deserted shopping mall. However, the deserted mall has lots of mindless zombies because even the undead suffer from consumerism.
It does not prove to be a bad choice; however, the mall provides endless supplies and is deserted of human life minus the four characters. I will say, I love the characters in this movie. You have a pregnant woman named Francine (Gaylen Ross) who wins world’s worst mother award for smoking and drinking alcohol while pregnant. I know, I know, it was the 70s. She is accompanied by a naive father to be who leaves a pregnant lady alone in a zombie apocalypse without a gun. In his defense, Steven (David Emge) is facing the worst, slowest, mindless zombies who come in shades of blue and purple.
In several scenes, Peter (Ken Foree) and Roger (Scott Hale Reiniger) push and shove past these zombies like children running urgently down the hallway when they are late for class. These zombies aren’t terrifying in most ways. The way I like to describe it is like cutting your finger on a butter knife. It doesn’t do too much damage but it hurts. I think this is a side effect from most of the bites in this movie being almost more flesh wounds or small chunks of skin except the occasional gory scene.
These characters mesh well because they are a team of equals. Granted, Francine and Steven have to develop a back bone before becoming equals. Plus, Francine does stay behind on a lot of missions since she is pregnant.
One aspect I found unusual about this zombie flick is there is less fear of the zombies and, instead of each move being essential to the plot, there is more loneliness. I mean, sure they have each other, but they are also a ticking time bomb until the zombies learn how to get in. Don’t get me wrong; there is danger, but is it learning that around every corner and with every move being a flight or fight response? Not really, I love that about this film. Most zombie films these days make you have a knot in your stomach and clenched teeth while watching. This film offers this in doses versus constantly. To be honest, I love this film and almost gave it five stars. I was held back by the make-up job. I was perfectly okay with the slow moving and mindless zombies, but they made one zombie in this movie look truly terrifying while the rest were just blue and purple. Which zombie character looks terrifying? Check it out for yourself.