DAWN OF THE DEAD

(1978)
With David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott A. Reiniger, Gaylen Ross
Directed by George A. Romero
Reviewed by JB

Note: This review is based on the original U.S. Theatrical Release of the film, not any subsequent re-edit for other markets.

The '70s were not kind to Beach Boy Mike Love     People often talk of THE GODFATHER PART II as the greatest sequel ever made.  And yes, it is.  But we cannot forget DAWN OF THE DEAD, made a decade after the low-budget classic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Whereas NIGHT was a bare bones frightfest, DAWN is a huge, sprawling, funny, gory satire poking fun at American consumerism while still delivering the goods for fans of those slow-moving zombies who like to eat people. 

    In DAWN OF THE DEAD, four people make their way to the local mall to hide from the multitude of zombies now infesting the world, and find that the zombies, who seem to retain some memory from their past non-zombie life, are flocking there too.  Strangely, although the four members of the cast, once again all unknowns, are excellent, none of them went anywhere after DAWN.  A shame, because each of the quartet is attractive, have moderately good acting skills and are completely sympathetic as four frightened but determined people who have their differences but work together for the sake of survival.  They hold our interest even when the zombies are offscreen, which is a good portion of the time.

     The gore and splatter effects, by Tom Savini, are hardly more sophisticated than in NIGHT, and are much more obvious in color.  The thick pink blood is about as convincing as it was in Romero's THE CRAZIES, but the purplish gray skin tones, once you get used to them, help in making the zombies appear otherworldly.  The makeup and effects do date the film, as does the soundtrack music, including the cartoonish ditties that substitute for muzak, and the overly cheesy "heroic" theme in the film's closing moments, a piece of music that simply screams "I was composed in the 1970's!".

    Then again, even the music could be part of Romero's sense of humor.  He was, of course, criticizing American greed with this film, but the film is funny rather than nasty about this particular bug (one of many) that has always been firmly up the director's butt.  However, if Romero truly thought consumerism and urban sprawl was going to destroy us, he makes a very weak case in this film.  The closest he gets to satirizing mindless shopping, aside from equating shoppers with the zombies cluelessly wandering around the mall, is an ill-fitting pie and seltzer in the face sequence.  He never makes us shake our heads at the greed exhibited by the heroes - in fact, I would guess most people watching DAWN OF THE DEAD would agree with their actions: head to the mall, make it safe, grab whatever you can and live your life free from zombies.  Without that huge sprawling mall that Romero wants us to sneer at, it is highly probable none of the four protagonists would survive as long as they do, so American consumerism saves them in a way. ("Greed, for lack of a better word, is good!", as Gordon Gecko would say in WALL STREET). And it is not Mr. and Mrs. Joe Consumer (aka the zombies) or the military/police state (two of the heroes) who ruin everything in the end, but rather a witless biker gang prone to hooliganism who are shoe-horned into the movie's plot late in the game as a way to wrap things up with a bang.  It's like realizing, after all these years, that Ben, the hero in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, was completely, utterly and fatally wrong in his decision to stay upstairs, while the racist living in the basement was proved right in the end.  Because Romero's thought processes are all over the place (and I wouldn't have it any other way, because it is what makes his zombie movies fun), he sometimes appears to say the opposite of what he wants to say.

     Whatever. Whether you take it is as a satire or not, DAWN OF THE DEAD is still one of the great zombie movies.  Not for all tastes, but a classic of its kind, especially since there is no other film of its kind, not even the nifty 2004 remake.  4 - JB

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