Dawn of the Dead (1978) Film Review 5/5

Before there was “Dawn of the Dead,” there was a very low budget movie filmed at night in a shopping mall in upstate Pennsylvania. Using a crew of no-name actors and random passers-by slathered with blue/gray pancake makeup, super director and ICON George Romero managed to make what is, arguably, the best zombie movie ever made. If you have a problem with that, you can take up the discussion with my fists, because that’s how you earn a Ron-sized beating.

The hardest thing in the world to do is make a sequel that’s good. Anyone can suck the teat for a few more million bucks to churn out Fat Angry Black Bitch 2, but to make a movie outside the Hollywood system, release it unrated, make a sequel to a bonafied five-star classic flick, and manage to be even better than the original five-star classic flick is a hell of a fucking accomplishment. That, ladies and gents, is why George Romero is and will always be worthy of ICON status.

It’s only a few short hours since the events of “Night of the Living Dead,” and the situation is rapidly getting out of control. In the slums and barrios of the inner city, where people still have respect for the dead, instead of complying with federal orders like good minorities, those dumbass Negroes and Catholics are actually administering Last Rites and stuff to their flesh-chewing relatives! What the fuck, man?

Peter (Ken Foree) and Roger (Scott Reiniger) are two cops who’ve had it up to their necks with zombie eradication. They just want to get away from it all, and thanks to Roger’s friends Stephen AKA Flyboy (David Emgee), the local news station’s traffic chopper guy and his girlfriend Francine (Gaylen Ross). They’ve got WGON news credentials, after all, and thusly, they can fly that whirly bird just about anywhere they need to go with no questions asked.

With a free ticket anywhere they can go, why not go all out? After a night of heavy flying, they decide to… go to the mall, of all places. Just like the President said in the days after 9/11. Who knew Bush knew his old horror movies? Apparently he didn’t snort all of the 70’s up his nose, and good for him, because this is important stuff to pay attention to. You could do a lot worse than to pay attention to the politics within George Romero movies.

This film is carried, not by the zombies, but by the actors. Romero draws out his movie over 128 minutes (or longer, depending on your cut), which gives you the chance to really get to know and empathize with the characters, while never really letting you get fully at ease with their self-contained little world. The zombie threat is omnipresent, and when the zombies finally break into the mall, with the help of a bunch of marauding bikers (including Tom Savini, who exudes awesomeness in his awesome death scene).
Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoyed the remake (linked above, so go read that when you’re done here), but it just can’t hold a candle to this flick. This movie actually takes its time, develops characters, orchestrates a real sense of dread, and what it doesn’t have in terms of cool make-up it totally counteracts with far superior gore and legitimate social commentary that still holds true today.

George, we bow to your zombie masterhood and we eagerly await both “Land of the Dead” and “Diamond Dead.” Remember us when you’re giving out screeners.

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