Dawn Of The Dead (1978) - A splashy colorful comic book adventure.
Plot - The world has become overrun by flesh eating zombies in just the matter of weeks. All of the major cities in America are falling apart, and everything is complete chaos. Two Philadelphia S.W.A.T members, a traffic reporter, and his television executive girlfriend take off in a news helicopter only to seek refuge in a massive shopping mall.
Lowdown - It sorta stuns me that it's honestly taken this long for me to truly take the time in covering George A Romero's epic follow up to Night Of The Living Dead. One of the greatest sequels and greatest zombie movies of all time. The colorful "fun" film in the original Dead Trilogy. The movie that got me into Romero's zany way of filmmaking in Pittsburgh, as well as makeup effects. This of course being...
Dawn Of The Dead.
I can't exactly say when I first really saw Dawn. I believe I either rented or bought it as a blind buy. I was young, and the story on the back of the tape caught my interest. I was just starting to really get into horror at the time and branch out into what I liked. Dawn was a movie that instantly caught my interest, and was the main reason why I found Day Of The Dead (my personal favorite) shortly afterwards. If it hadn't been for Dawn I wouldn't have discovered so many other classics, as well as ones involving zombies. I can't even begin to tell you how many times I wore out that old VHS. So many people say that Dawn is a depressing movie. I disagree. Now I may get some major hate here from saying this, but I've never truly been a huge fan of the original Night Of The Living Dead. I loved the 1990 remake, but really never truly fell in love with the first. Dawn and Day on the other hand, HUGE staples in my growth as a massive horror fan. I think Dawn is the lightest film in the entire trilogy. It can be light hearted at times, as likeable characters, it's colorful (gotta love that orange blood and blue zombies!) and the few moments that make you chuckle, or feel like you're watching an epic adventure. The best by far has to be when the four leads are trying to lock down the mall, jumping into one of the cars, and shooting away at the zombies. Thanks to Goblins' electric sore, it seriously is a stunning visual piece of artwork splashed on film.
This movie was a favorite of mine, and thanks to watching this I befriended a ton of people back at school when I went to Savini's school. This is a fun film to watch with a huge group of people, mostly if they are all ready massive fans of the original films. Thanks to Romero, this just isn't some gory zombie movie, but yet another film that deals with heavy issues that reflects on the time it was made in. It was 1978/79. They dealt with racial issues, the downfall of society, abortion, woman's rights, and of course the buyer beware underline tones with the new indoor malls. How everything you need is under one roof, and how the zombies still flock to them in massive crowds, remembering that they want/need to be in here. I love showing how quickly the leads grow bored and stir crazy under the roof of the mall, and how it has twisted them into being zombies themselves. How having all this stuff, honestly isn't everything. I could go on for hours about the underlining meanings in this movie, but to sum it up, this is honestly a smartly written film that captures moments that makes you think more about what exactly your seeing.
The film's setting/score/and leads are what truly makes the film.
The setting is by far the best in all of the films. First the farm house in the middle of nowhere in Night, and in Day the underground bunker, the mall on the other hand is one of the perfect places you would think about going if zombies did in fact take over the world. The only major issue I had with the 2004 remake (which I loved) was how neatly and quickly the leads took over the mall. It was as if they didn't even have to work at it. There was "shatter proof" glass, and all they did was lock doors. Really? In this film it's much more realistic with them getting the trucks to block the exits, sounding the alarms, killing the zombies inside, storing the bodies, and of course making sure that the living quarters they live in are blocked off.
Also the four of them were great characters. You got Fran, who many may argue was the "weak" link in the group. I disagree. She was a huge step up from the Judith character from Night who just sat there crying and screaming the entire film. Fran first comes off as frightened and weak, taking a backseat while the guys all bond together on making the mall their own. Fran after being left behind more than once, and coming across as weak and useless speaks up after the truth of her pregnancy is revealed by her boyfriend Stephen aka Flyboy who's trying his hardest to prove/earn his keep among Rodger and Peter. She straight out tells them that just because she's pregnant doesn't mean she wants to be treated any differently. Second, she wants to be treated as an equal, as in knowing what the plans are, and lastly she doesn't want to be left without a gun. I do like how Peter straight out tells her that he thinks everything she said is fair enough, but as for being allowed to go out with them she needs to learn how to handle herself. In fact I really like how Peter honestly as the strongest member of the group not only physicaly but mentaly keeps his head the entire time, having to speak with the others at least once. Which is what I'll move onto when I reach his character. Fran on the other hand is logical, she sees the mall right off the bat as being "too good to be true" and quickly learns how to handle herself by practicing with a weapon and speaking up that she wants to learn how to fly the chopper just in case anything ever happens to Stephen. I love how despite the fact she's wounding her boyfriend's ego, she really does make a good point. If you listen to the cast commentary (which is one of my favorites) the actress who plays her remarks that George and her agreed that Fran should never scream, and slowly start to come out of her shell as a stronger character. I love the moment months after being in the mall how she sees they have made themselves their own zombies by being trapped in this mall.
Stephen, my favorite character gets a lot of shit for being such a clumsy useless character. Many people have pointed out that Stephen acts like what pretty much almost anyone would if this was happening in the world. If you ever or rarely had practice with weapons and guns you would have a hard time being a good shot, and making foolish mistakes. You would most likely trip, fall, make stupid mistakes, and try your hardest to prove to your group that you weren't completely useless. Stephen or nicknamed "Flyboy" for his one main use as being able to fly the chopper, really does come across as the every day Joe of the group. There's more behind his character, how he tries so hard to fit in with Peter and Rodger, and is able to logically figure out problems and listen to Peter after he clearly believes that he knows best. After the Rodger are wounded, Stephen steps up, like Fran practicing his shooting, and showing he was truly just starting to become a great fighter and protector. I love the scene where Peter asks him if he wants to abort Fran's baby, and how he simply just shakes his head. How it's clear his relationship with Fran is very complex (the heart breaking marriage proposal) or how he swallows his pride and ends up teaching Fran how to fly the chopper. Sadly due to seeing the home he worked so hard to taking over get destroyed, he falls victim to a tragic death. I always thought Stephen made one of the best zombies in the entire trilogy, and just love his shuffle walk getting out of the elevator. Long before Bub, he was a zombie that showed big signs of memory by slowly remembering where his living quarters were, and slowly limping back to see his pregnant girlfriend one last time. I would love to get Flyboy tattooed on me some day since he is by far the most attractive zombie out there.
Rodger plays a smaller role, but seems like another down to Earth friendly likable guy. How he's kind enough to try and watch out for his fellow S.W.A.T members, and how fast thinking and calm he is in the beginning. I loved his relationship with Peter, and hated his stupid tragic downfall. Who doesn't forget his epic line "We got this by the ass!" It's so heart breaking seeing him get weaker and weaker in the mall, not even able to truly enjoy the pleasures of it before transforming into one of the living dead. His returning scene is one of the most haunting.
Peter, another strong African American in the trilogy is like I said one of the strongest physically and mentally. I love how he quickly puts Stephen in his place letting him know that the old way of life is gone, it's all down to surviving. Or how you never point a gun at a man unless you plan on killing them. How he's the only one to put Fran in her place when she finally speaks up, letting her know that everything she said is far, but he won't have her go out with them until she's able to handle herself. Or last but not least when he speaks to Rodger who seems to be getting too carried away while moving the trucks. Here is a man who clearly is smart, and always stays level headed. Just little things such as not trying to shoot at the store gates, or how they should go about making the mall safe. I love how while during the raid he's smart enough to know to stay put, and after everything hits the fan he kicks the most ass. A good friend, Peter is a very likable character who hides the fact that he barley hanging on, yet is able to escape the mall and have a happy ending as unknown as it is.
These characters were a huge reason why this film worked. How you follow them escape the city, find the mall, make the mall theirs, become over taken by it, and then watch as the bikers destroy everything they have worked for. I feel the final chapter with the raid be a little more epic (more bikers should have gotten eaten!) but never the less this is a great smartly written elegant horror film with deeper meanings, characters you become attach to, memorable moments, gray and blue zombies, and some truly amazing moments.
I urge anyone to see this film. Not only is it a horror masterpiece, but also a film you could watch over and over again without getting sick of it. Now mind you, Day is my all time favorite, but Dawn is a lighter out look of the 1970's that in my eyes is one of the greatest sequels of all time!