Dawn of the Dead, 1978
Directed by George A. Romero
Starring Ken Foree, David Emege, Scott Reigner and Gaylen Ross
TV news chopper pilot Stephen, his girlfriend Francine and SWAT team members Peter and Roger, attempt to find a place to hole up in the midst of a zombie apocalypse spiralling ever more out of control. Seeking refuge inside a shopping mall, the quartet find themselves unable to avoid the temptations that the mall’s many stores throw at them as they decide to make the building their new home, creating themselves a safe haven, or quite possibly a prison.
Have you ever found yourselves experiencing a sense of déjà vu when watching news footage of Black Friday events?
You know Black Friday? That day after Thanksgiving where Americans go absolutely mental over one day only bargain deals on televisions, toasters and all manner of stuff, grabbing and clawing like a mob of psychos, or more appropriately zombies.
Not a particular original observation I know, but it does provide a helpful link to the subject of today’s review, George A. Romero’s 1978 classic Dawn of the Dead – not just a enjoyable zombie film, but also a very well presented piece of social satire.
The principal quartet is all well cast, with the actors doing serviceable jobs in their respective roles. But without a doubt in my mind, the best of the four is Ken Foree as Peter, a man of such badassery he could kill zombies in his sleep -a role performed to perfection by the effortlessly cool Foree.
The most memorable and often overlooked character comes courtesy of Richard Frances’s Dr Rausch, an eye patch wearing TV pundit, who attempts to wax philosophy about the thinking behind the flesh hungry ways of the zombie, all the while screaming “DUMMIES” at anyone who disagrees with him.
The film’s special effects brought to us by the maestro that is Tom Savini are gruesomely spectacular. What begins with a shocking a bloody heat shot in a SWAT raid gone wrong, eventually leads up to a veritable orgy of guts and blood when the zombies find themselves snacking on a group of bikers who thought it a good idea to release them back into the shopping mall in the film’s gory climax.
As with the previous instalment in the series, Night of the Living Dead (1968), Romero imbues the undead horror with an element of social commentary; in the case of Dawn the commentary and satire is much more prominent and focused, with the target of criticism being the excesses of consumerism and capitalism, as emphasised by the primary location of a shopping mall.
The zombies are drawn to the shopping mall, not because of the possibility of human survivors to feast upon; they populate the mall long before our heroes arrive on the scene. Instead, the film suggests that the zombies are massing to the mall due to a kind of vague memory bubbling away in their undead brains. They remember the shopping mall because they frequently visited it before died, or as Stephen says the mall “was an important place in their lives”.
Obviously, this satirical view that all people in shopping centres are like zombies has only become more timely as we see Black Friday every year, as mentioned in the opening. Seriously, just watch the final massacre at the end of this film as the zombies feast upon some bikers, and then look at shoppers clawing each other over a television on Black Friday, it’s near identical. Albeit the zombies have at least a sense of decorum not to violently punch each other.
Those who perhaps found Night of the Living Dead a tad boring and light on action will enjoy Dawn a great deal more. Coupling a much faster pace with a greater amount of action, we have various enjoyable set pieces, ranging from a high speed drive through the mall, ducking and weaving through hordes of zombies, or a bullet strewn gun battle for the mall itself with the undead caught in the middle.
The film is complimented by a memorable score from Italian rock group Goblin, co-composing the music with Italian director Dario Argento (who co-produced the film). The music adds an extra layer of atmosphere to numerous scenes, such as a tense fuel stop where things are perhaps a bit too quiet, or adding a very funky sounds to the action sequences. Those with more perceptive and careful ears may have some fun recognising more than a few tracks that would be eventually feature in Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s love letter to the zombie flick Shaun of the Dead (2004).
With a fine leading cast and an absolute badass holding it together, and a fast pace loaded with action and impressive special effects, Dawn of the Dead is one of the finest horror films around. It masterfully uses the zombie once more as a means of holding a mirror to society, condemning it for its various excesses and flaws, albiet in an inventive, fun and gore splattered fashion.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★