Released in 1978 “Dawn of the Dead” is George A. Romero’s follow up to the highly successfully masterpiece, “Night of the Living Dead” (1968) (If you haven’t read my review of that, click on the link and get yourself across there!). While this film has none of the original characters in it, this sequel ramps up the chaos which was introduced in the first film and shows how the zombie outbreak is affecting the wider world.
Brief Plot: A small group of survivors seek refuge in a mall from hordes of the undead.
Detailed Plot: A zombie apocalypse has decimated the planet, millions have died and in America the National Guard are on the street working with any enforcement agency available and anybody that can fight against undead flesh-eating zombies. When a clearing out a residential building descends into chaos with a racist officer shooting anybody of a different ethnic origin, Roger and Peter plan an escape with Stephen who works for a TV station. Stephen is Roger’s friend and along with his colleague Francine they know the whereabouts of a helicopter that could allow them to leave the madness. Using the helicopter, the four people flee and find a shopping mall that could act as sanctuary for them. While clearing the mall they get reckless and Roger is bitten. Their existence in the consumer heaven will be put to the test when a motorcycle gang also need refuge in the mall. As events unfold the original four do not just have the walking dead to contend with but also angry bikers that want to the treasures that the mall can offer.
Film Stuff: With a vastly bigger budget than the first film at $1.5 million, Romero pushes the boat out with this film and delivers another masterclass in horror. Written in collaboration with Italian film maestro Dario Argento, Romero is this time permitted time to step back from working on every role within the film’s production to bring his vision to life (although he did work on the editing). The inspiration for using a mall in this film came from a visit with a friend, Mark Mason, who’s company owned Monroeville Mall. While looking around some of the places that the public do not get to see, Mason joked that somebody could survive in a mall if an emergency struck. Romero had this at the back of his mind while writing. Argento entered the fold as Romero and his producer, Richard P. Rubinstein, could not get domestic investors. News of a potential sequel reached Argento who was already a massive fan, he agreed to help in exchange for international distribution rights. With this came the access to help cut the foreign language versions of the film, thus while Romero is credited with editing the English versions, it is Argento’s hand that has been at work on other non-English versions. For this reason, depending on what version you watch, it may be a 139 minute version or a 119 minute version – or anywhere in-between. Argento also had a hand in the music department of the non-English versions too. Romero’s featured music from the De Wolfe Music Library as well as a song by the Pretty Things. Argento used the Italian rock band Goblin for most of the soundtrack.
Special effects maestro (the sultan of splatter) Tom Savini, who was offered work on the first film but couldn’t commit due to being drafted in the Vietnam War, was able to make his debut here. He already had experience and knowledge under his belt but his work here was plain to see for all. His time serve in the Vietnam was opened up his eyes to the brutality of combat, and this is something he was able to add to his work in creating the blood and gore. Due to the effects he applied some of the zombies were easily identifiable and received nicknames – such as Nurse Zombie, Sweater Zombie, and Machete Zombie.
Cast: The main four protagonists that we follow are Stephen (David Emge), Peter (Ken Foree), Roger (Scott H. Reiniger) and Francine (Gaylen Ross). Stephen and Francine are TV station workers reporting in the city while Roger and Peter are special police officers charged with dealing with unrest. All four play convincing roles and take the audience on a rollercoaster of emotions. Their performance, along with a tight script and plot really help to explore some themes of modern society ranging from racism to consumerism.
Legacy: If the first film created a legacy for how zombies act, then this film broadened it some more. There are instances of zombies that run in this film, albeit a mistake at the time. Rage driven zombies like the ones in films like “28 Days later” (2002) tend to be more aggressive and run. In this film two zombie children, played by Donna and Mike Savini (the real-life nephew and niece of Tom Savini), are the first in Romero’s “Dead” films who don’t just do the “Zombie shuffle”. Another development is that some zombies in this are able to recall past-life knowledge, a prime example of this is when Stephen remembers where the hidden entrance to the safe-place in the mall is and tears it down for the zombie horde to gain access. FTR – Peter is the first person in the franchise to openly refer to the undead as “zombies”.
Like the first film, this film was updated many times. Also like the first film this has been rebooted in modern times with Zack Snyder directing a 2004 version which starred Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames and Jake Webber. It also had cameos from original cast members Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger and Tom Savini.
Wrap Up: If you read my review of “Night of the Living Dead” (1968) you will know that I gave it 10 out of 10. It was a masterpiece of film and it made an impact that changed horror scene and changed me too. In my opinion, the sequel is nothing short of brilliant too. While the horror is still the same and the undead are still the big threat in the film, it was carried off wonderfully and had lots of messages embedded in it, much like the interpretations that could be took from the first film. This film has political and social commentaries that includes things like consumerism, racism, isolation, the brittleness of society, claustrophobia, mass hysteria, selfishness of man, the collapse of dominant society norms including authority and the family unit, and plenty more that individual audience members can dissect for themselves further. It is hilarious, it is disgusting, it is absurd, it is scary, it is exciting, it is intelligent… it is so much more than just a zombie film. It really is the end of the world, something that DOTD captures brilliantly right from the off with news program at the beginning deteriorating, staff leaving their posts, questioning whether expert advise is correct and a feeling that civilization is breaking down – to the point that a later news report shows the anchor drinking on the job and with scientists advocating the use of nuclear weapons. The fall of civilization is juxtaposed in a few ways from there, both rural and urban. Groups of vigilantes in the country doing what they need to and then in the cities residential blocks showing absolute carnage. Even the church is up against it, demonstrating that even religion can’t quash the apocalypse when it comes to it.
The ramp up in effects shows on a massive scale. The first film had budgetary restraints, but in this film, with Tom Savini (“the sultan of splatter”) and a clued up effects department (as well as colour film), the dead are, for want of a better description, really brought to life with gruesome reality. Not the kind of film you should put kids in front of, maybe not the kind of film you watch with your mother either. If you enjoy horror and can put the 70’s fashion on the back-burner then what you have here is a fantastic film which is owed so much credit and did lots of things to set up modern zombie films – nay, not just zombie films, but horror films that look at desolation and apocalyptic stories, horror that has isolation and confinement, horror that has little to no hope. My friends, I firmly believe in this film and I am more than happy to give this a solid 9 out of 10.