The surprise success that was Night of the Living Dead kick started Romero’s horror career, but he didn’t return to the zombie scene again until 1978 with his release of Dawn of the Dead. This film is many things: horrific, satirical, and darkly humorous. It also happens to be the ultimate zombie film that still hasn’t been topped.
Three weeks after the events of the previous film, the undead epidemic is getting worse and society is rapidly crumbling out of stress and sheer panic. Four survivors decide to escape Philadelphia and make their own way. These people are: traffic reporter Stephen (David Emge) and his executive producer girlfriend Francine (Gaylen Ross), and SWAT members Roger (Scott Reiniger) and Peter (Ken Foree). These four survivors take refuge in a shopping mall where they not only have to deal with the undead onslaught, but also a group of violent bikers and their own sanity.
If one were to show this to people today who have been jaded by films like 28 Days Later and Zombieland (both of which are very good movies, in my opinion) may find this film boring. Sure there is a lot of violence and gore, but it’s nothing too over the top or shocking compared with what is shown today. For the time, however, seeing blood spray all over the wall and limbs being torn off was new and jaw dropping.
It’s been debated what this movie is truly about. The racial commentary is still here and arguably more overt than last time. A major theory is that this is about the brainwashing effects of consumerism. The zombies come to the mall in the movie because it is a strong remnant memory of a place that they love and have a desire to be. There are even great scenes of zombies walking around and looking at stuff, which reminds me of how some people look while they are shopping. It’s funny and true at the same time. Other people say that this is looking way too deeply into the movie, and it’s just about zombies. I guess that’s up to you to decide.
This movie is a big step up from Night of the Living Dead in all aspect. The action, acting, script, and pacing all have made great leaps forward. Gone is the choppy editing as well which is a real joy. The make up and gore effects by Tom Savini look fantastic, and I love how the blood has a bright red look to it. Savini wasn’t a fan of it, but Romero said that he liked it because of the “comic book” style of it.
Dawn of the Dead is the epitome of zombie films and it’s not going to be very easy to top it. I should mention that i did see Zack Snyder’s remake, and while i did enjoy it for what it was I’m still going to have to stick with Romero’s original. It’s funny, gory, and scary when it comes to the zombies and to society. If you love zombie movies, chances are you’ve seen this, but if not give it a watch.
I’ll be continuing my Romero “Dead” series review with his 1985 film Day of the Dead.