Tuesday, December 18, 2012

ZGG Movie Review: Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Dawn of the Dead (1978) written and directed by George A. Romero

"When there is no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the earth." Movie tag line, and just the sort of message you want to say "Merry Christmas" right? Maybe not. Check below the review for other video gift recommendations!

MPAA rating

The movie was released in America without a rating since the distributors (rightly) feared getting an X rating.

ZPAA rating

Adults only

Gore level

10 out of 10--For a while, this movie was in the nine range, with loads of zombie kills of the usual variety. The end, where the zombies get some back, is pretty graphic, and unlike Night of the Living Dead, in full color. Pretty gross, I don't want to go into details. Let's just say zombies don't leave anything to waste when they dine. And we see an awful lot of what they eat. Also, early on the human on human violence is pretty graphic as well.

Other offensive content

Lots of bad language; human on human violence; disregard of private property; discussion of abortion; out-of-wedlock pregnancy.

How much zombie mythology/content

These are the classic, slow-moving zombies, though characters discuss whether they have some vestigial memories of their former lives, like how awesome it is to be at the mall (give them a break, it was the 1980s).

How much fun

Humor pops up now and then, especially as a counterpoint to the horror. Some of the comedy is quite satirical, mostly on how we are all consumers one way or another. One way being stuff, the another being human flesh.

Synopsis & Review

This sequel to Night of the Living Dead by George A. Romero has probably solidified him as the father of the modern zombie movie. If all western philosophy is footnotes to Plato, then all modern zombie movies are footnotes to Romero's first three zombie films (Day of the Dead is the third). They've all been remade and countless spin-offs and imitations are out there.

The movie follows a few survivors in the midst of the zombie apocalypse (though they don't call it that). The action begins in Philadelphia, where a television station is trying to stay on air as long as it can to give people the information they need (and max out their ratings). Even if the information they have is becoming hopelessly out of date. The air-traffic reporter takes his girlfriend (one of the producers at the station) in his helicopter to find safety somewhere else, like maybe Canada.

Meanwhile, the military is trying to round up people and get them to safe locations. This effort is not going well since some people are resisting. The racist members of the military use the situation as an excuse to open up on minorities. This part of the film is probably the most jarring and seems like social commentary thrown in for its own sake rather than for narrative coherence. Eventually a couple of soldiers join up with the TV station staff in the helicopter and head out looking for safety.

As they fly from fuel point to fuel point, the foursome wind up at an isolated suburban mall that still has electricity. No one is around but the zombies. The survivors speculate that the zombies have some residual memories of being at the mall and it being a happy place. Realizing that the mall has everything they could ever need, they decide to clear out the zombies, secure the entrances, and set up a good life for themselves. Naturally plans don't go according to plan (otherwise, where would the drama be?) and their heavenly haven slowly becomes overrun with problems.

The film's best part is the mall sequence, though it takes a good 40 minutes or so to get there. After they've cleaned up the place, they try to live the good life like there's nothing going on outside. Eventually television broadcasts stop so no information is available, furthering their fantasy of isolated security. They try to live happily with all the jewelry, clothes, and electronics they could ever want. The emptiness of consumerism eventually hits them but too late, because new zombies and a biker gang are on their way. Romero is merciless in mocking the low ambitions of all the characters. The drama and the satire are well blended if over the top at times. During the final battle with the zombies, an extended sequence goes comic with, among other gags, the humans throwing pies in the faces of the zombies. I know it sounds like I'm making it up, but I swear I am not! A good five minutes of slap-stick precede the more horrific situation when the zombies get the upper hand and begin to take back the mall and pick apart the living humans (yes, I do mean that literally).

The gore is very extreme. I'm not really a fan of gore though I can take it if the story is interesting enough or the characters engage me. So I did make it to the end of this film, but just barely. The social satire is surprisingly fresh though Romero is a little too pessimistic for my tastes.

Another thing to note--several different versions of this film exist. The American theatrical release is different from the international release (Italian horror master Dario Argento made that cut of the film, apparently with less humor and more music) which is different from the "extended" edition which has another 12 minutes that was reinserted by someone other than Romero and Argento. I'm not sure which cut I saw though judging by the humor and lack of music it was the American cut. I watched on BBC's iPlayer, so maybe it is the Argento cut. I don't think I'll watch it again to find out. The version listed below has all the cuts.

Movie Trailer

Some other video ideas for Christmas gift giving:
  • Zombieland is a fun, low-gore comedy all about the importance of family and Twinkies. With the recent closure of Hostess, Zombieland is clearly the most accurately prophetic zombie film ever.
  • Shaun of the Dead is another, even better, comedy riff on the zombie genre. It's also about family and friends, and the slap-stick humor fits really well, unlike some other movie I just reviewed.
  • Evil Dead Trilogy is Sam Raimi's splat-stick comedy zombie gorefest. The gore gets less and less as the trilogy progresses and the humor becomes more and more prominent. The final film, Army of Darkness, gets points for having medieval zombies! My only question is, why isn't there a box set for these films?
  • Juan of the Dead is the movie to get if you have someone hard to shop for. They probably haven't seen it since it didn't get much of a theatrical release. It's the zombie apocalypse in current day Cuba, with interesting social commentary on Cubans and their odd relationship to their government and their island. It's definitely worth at least one watch!

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