The Laurel Group/1978/Directed by George Romero
Available on DVD/Blu-Ray
In 1968, writer/director George Romero released Night Of The Living Dead, which is widely considered to be the first modern zombie movie, and a decade later he unleashed Dawn Of The Dead, his color follow-up. While fans hail both films as classics of the horror genre, Dawn Of The Dead is celebrated for its unabashed violence and gore, bleak cynical tone, and keen wit. It remains favored by fans, despite being stylishly remade by director Zack Snyder in 2004.
The central story of the film revolves around a small band of survivors during the undead apocalypse who find refuge in an abandoned shopping mall, while the population outside becomes ravaging, flesh-eating ghouls. At first, the survivors perceive the empty mall as a paradise, with every material item they could possibly want at their fingertips. It soon becomes apparent, though, that their sanctuary is to be short-lived. The undead hordes break their way into the mall, along with a few hostile humans intent on taking over the survivors’ refuge, and an all-out war for survival ensues.
The film itself is bleak and cynical, and underneath the blood, gore, bullets, and zombies is a stark statement about mass commercialism in America, ringing as pertinent today as it was in 1978 when the film was released. George Romero has always put these subtexts in his films, but it seems most obvious in Dawn Of The Dead. Romero had some help developing this movie from none other than Italian horror master Dario Argento (who released his own cut of the film in his native Italy, titled Zombi, while Romero was free to release his version in the U.S.), best known for his surreal shockers Suspiria, Tenebre, The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, and Deep Red.
Dawn Of The Dead is a splatter-filled, gore-tastic orgy of special effects, in no small part thanks to Romero’s frequent collaborator throughout the seventies and eighties, Tom Savini. In addition to creating the effects for Romero’s Day Of The Dead, Martin, and Creepshow, Savini also lent his dark talents to such seminal horror classics as Friday The 13th, Maniac, and The Burning. Dawn Of The Dead was one of the first films to usher in the “splatter” era of horror movies. The film may look very dated, but it revels in showing its’ audience gore and violence the likes of which many movie-goers had never seen before. These things may seem clichéd today, but Dawn Of The Dead was the film that set the standard of zombie horror for all movies that followed. Often imitated but never dethroned, it stands as the king of all zombie films, which is why it needs revisiting often (particularly at Halloween-time).