31- Dawn of the Dead(1978)

dawn-of-the-dead-1978.jpg  “What are they doing? Why do they come here”

“Some kind of instinct. Memory of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives.”

George A. Romero’s seminal horror film Dawn of the Dead, a classic of the genre since its release in 1978, has been imitated countless times in the past three decades – from The Evil Dead and Re-Animator to Return of the Living Dead and 28 Days Later…. As Adam Rockoff writes for the DVD, “Immediately after Dawn‘s 1978 release, its bastard offspring began to claw their way through the fresh earth and onto screens all around the world.” However, most of these films ignored the subtext of racism, media cynicism, societal decay, and perhaps most importantly, the scathing attack on consumerism that were so integral to Romero’s vision.

It can be argued this is the best of the zombie classics, and for my this is the ultimate of the zombie apocalyptic genre, And yes a modern viewer may well look at this movie and see flaws, the zombie make up for one, but what we see here is a progression in the genre, here we see the survival instincts of a few, and every child at one point has fanatsised about being locked in a store over night and being allowed to run riot.

Dawn of the Dead begins where Romero’s Night of the Living Dead ended ten years earlier (albeit allowing for the advancements in technology, filmmaking techniques and societal progression in the ensuing decade). Romero is not content with rehashing the first films plot, like so many modern-day sequels, he expands on the concept and establishes a universe for not only his franchise, but for the many films that would come afterward. Zombies have continued to multiply and feed on the living, and while they may have not completely taken over, the stage is set for a final showdown between the living and the undead.

Again with this movie, like Night of the Living Dead, I have the problem that so much has been written on this movie how do I bring anything new. What we can do is celebrate the film and realise its place in the genre, if this film had not been made would we have the apocalyptic films, zombie films, or tv series like The Walking Dead today? Absolutely not. Dawn of the Dead is one of the key films in this whole genre, and should be celebrated.

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In the movie we follow two SWAT cops who team up with a fleeing news helicopter pilot and his pregnant girlfriend, together the four of them occupy a shopping mall which the proceed to make their home. Romero takes a far more tongue in cheek approach here than in Night of the Living Dead but it only adds to the social commentary and enjoyment factors. The action is upscaled here too, and on-screen we have a great duo in Ken Foree and Scott H.Reiniger , their fearless and enthusiastic attitude towards zombie killing infects the film with an irrepressible sense of fun. Again without this on-screen attitude to zombie killing would we have Zombieland with its kill of the week?

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The jackpot “dream” of being holed up in a shopping mall from the hungry zombie hordes is short-lived for Dawn‘s four protagonists. Peter and Stephen “hold up” the Shopping Mall’s bank of its money, now rendered meaningless. Later, a hapless ghoul is found sat in a wish fountain, struggling to make sense of the coins spilling from his cupped hands. The quartet start the film dressed and ready for action in combat gear but by the end, they’re smothered in opulent fur coats and chewing on expensive (pilfered) cigars… Roger, who gets chomped early on, is left a soppy faced half-breed zombie grinning at videogames and slurring “…I’m goooonna tryyyy … not to come baaaack” and sadly doesn’t. Most significantly, in the artificial trappings of a romantic meal between young lovers Stephen and Fran, Romero slams the door on any notion of reality within the walls of the mall when Stephen’s half-hearted proposal of marriage is rebutted…

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 Romero’s consumerism metaphor in this movie, the mindless zombies wandering in a shopping mall, is probably even more relevant today than it was in 1978, a fact captured by that the mall it was filmed in was one of the worlds largest at the time, but looking at it now, it is no bigger than your average mall. . Consider that our current times are characterized by terrorism, wars, financial scandals, and economic and political turmoil. Romero’s apocalyptic vision looks more like prophecy than fiction.

Look past the zombie make up, and the strangely orange blood of this movie, and you will see one of the most important films of the apocalyptic genre, and a seminal film on this list, this was definitely the Dawn of the Dead.

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3 Responses to “31- Dawn of the Dead(1978)”

  1. Like it, nice conclusions – you pretty much marry up with my thoughts in a post I put up the other week. I know the effects look a bit dated now – but back then they were spot on, Tom Savini was a trailblazer in that respect! Romero always had problems with blood colour as well, that’s why he did “Night” in B and W.

    • Thank you cor1olanus, I think its viewing these movie now we appreciate just how important they are to the modern zombie and horror genre, their importance cannot be underplayed. Thank you again for your comment, really appreciated

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