Dawn of the Dead (1978)
dawn of the dead | george a. romero | david emge | ken foree | scott h. reiniger | zombie | sequel | thriller | italy | united states | zombies | night of the living dead | tom savini | gaylen ross | dario argento | goblin | david crawford | david early | richard france
Film: Dawn of the Dead
Director: George A. Romero
Writer: George A. Romero
Starring: David Emge, Ken Foree and Scott H. Reiniger
This film is one of my favorite films of all time. I grew up watching this film and liked it for what I saw, but it was going to college and starting to analyze films that really made me realize how much I love it. For those that don’t know, this is the second film in writer/director George A. Romero’s Dead series. The official synopsis is following an ever-growing epidemic of zombies that have risen from the dead, two Philadelphia S.W.A.T. team members, a traffic reporter and his television executive girlfriend seek refuge in a secluded shopping mall.
I have to give Romero credit in how he introduces the characters. Francine (Gaylen Ross) wakes up in the television station that she works at because this epidemic is running so rampant that they have to be there. The station is trying to host a show that will give information to their viewers and one way to getting people to tune in is to run the list of rescue stations. Francine is upset the list is outdated, but her boss wants her to keep running it to get ratings. Her boyfriend, Stephen (David Emge), tells her that they need to flee. He is a helicopter pilot and that is what they are going to use.
It shifts to a project building where a group of people are holding up. They don’t want to leave their home, but they are being forced to evacuate. Roger (Scott H. Reiniger) tries to comfort a newer officer when the armed men come out of the building, guns blazing. Things go crazy as there are infected residents and an officer goes mad with killing anyone in his way. He is put down by another officer. Roger goes to the basement to get away from it and meets that other officer, Peter (Ken Foree). He invites him to join his crew that is fleeing that night.
They end up holding up in a mall where they decide to seal it off and create their own society. There are complications along the way, the worst of which a motorcycle gang that is out to loot without care for anything around them.
It is an excellent zombie film and one of the best in this genre. I think a lot of that for me is the social issues that are tackled with it, along with an interesting look at this group as they try to survive. There is the need to recreate society, but then we also see the worst of this people. That isn’t to say though there aren’t flaws.
There are some parts that are unrealistic and things that happen wouldn’t probably happen in real life. The blood is a little too orange and some of the ways people are bit couldn’t happen, but it doesn’t affect the film too much for me. I can forgive this in part to movie magic. Without ramping up the tension with some of this, the movie would be boring. It is actually a sign of the times and it does give the film a bit of a comic book feel.
The most important thing to me is the issues that Romero tackles with this film. A big one is that the zombies come to the mall after they turned and it takes a look at us as a nation, in that we are slave to commerce. The film makes it seem that even after we are dead and return as a zombie, we will still go back to what we did without really knowing why. It is also brings up that zombies might have some residual memories that are drawing them there. Another issue I didn’t catch on to until more recent viewings was the television show in the beginning. The man running the studio is more worried about ratings as the world is ending than sending people to closed shelters. It really shows where some people’s priorities are.
There is also an issue of sexism, a little bit of racism and there also is a look at the degeneration of society. I do like that Francine stands up to be respected like one of the men and Stephen resists her in this endeavor. I do like that she doesn’t stand idly by though. Peter though would be the best character here is that he listens to her, but also tells her how it will be.
Now the acting in this film was done by mostly unknown people and many of them haven’t done much after this. The person that I’m impressed by the most is Foree. He did go on to become a famous horror film actor and has done some other things, but he is the glue that keeps everyone together. He is the hero and this is an example against the stereotype of this character dying first. He allows Fracine to talk, listens to her and gives in to her demands, because none of them are unreasonable. Ross as I have slightly touched on is similar to Foree in that she is a minority as a woman. It turns out that she is pregnant as well. She stands up to Stephen at every turn, which I like to see since he does boss her around. It is even better that he proposes in this film to her and she shuts it down immediately. She isn’t as vocal as Peter, but she is strong willed. Reiniger is also great to me because mentally he starts to lose it from the opening scenes he is in. We see when it finally snaps, I love it as it complicates things. Peter notices it and tries to keep his head in what they’re doing, because it is jeopardizing not only himself, but everyone. He does a great job in this portrayal. I also thought Emge does great. We see that he’s not really being able to handle himself. He makes things more difficult and Peter doesn’t like him. He does become an asset as the film progresses. The rest of the cast round out the film for what they needed.
I also wanted to touch on that the editing of this film was also done by Romero, and I like what he did. The shots and how they are put together are great. Now there are some errors that occur during this, like women zombies changing into men so the stunts could be done, but it doesn’t ruin the film. I didn’t even notice some of these until viewing the film as many times as I have. For being a 2 hour film, it doesn’t feel like it.
The bigger thing is the soundtrack. It was done by Dario Argento and the band Goblin, who did a lot of films soundtracks with the Italian director. It has crazy sounds, but also adds creepiness. I think it really enhances the film for me. This is one of my favorite soundtracks and I listen to it regularly. Depending on the version being watched, there is some studio, royalty free music that I have nostalgia for. It fits for what the movie needed.
The last thing would be the practical effects that were done by Tom Savini for the film. I personally love them. As stated though, the blood is a little bit too orange, but I personally don’t mind it being from the 70’s where vivid color was a big thing. I love the gory ending and what happens to those that the zombies actually get their hands on. There are some problematic things the zombies do, but this is something else I’ll chalk up to movie magic.
I would highly recommend this film. It is a great zombie flick and a really solid film in general. This one does have a longer running time, but I don’t think that affects it. I thought the tension builds as the world ends around them. The acting is great, the action is as well and the story itself is amazing. There is a gory finale and there is a good amount of blood in general. The editing was well done and I personally find the soundtrack to be amazing, to the point that I own it. This is a film is a solid view and I recommend it. A rare horror film that is good, but also looks at some issues that are still relevant today.
My Rating: 10 out of 10