Friday, March 8, 2013

Dawn of the Dead (1978) Review

A follow-up to my Night of the Living Dead review. When I get around to seeing Day of the Dead, I'll probably review that too.

George A. Romero's second zombie film picks up right where its predecessor, Night of the Living Dead, made ten years earlier, left off. Why he waited this long to make another one, I'm not quite sure. As far as I know, Night was pretty dang successful, spawning an entire horror subgenre and creating a whole new list of horror cliches (which Dawn added to immensely).

I think one reason Romero waited a decade for the sequel is that the Living Dead films are social commentaries as much as they they are zombie films (which is why so many other zombie films fail. Most big-budget zombie films can't hold a candle to Romero's low budget 60s flick, and that's because Night has substance... something a $60 million gorefest does not have, nor will it ever).

But I'm getting off track here. What I'm saying is, Dawn is a social commentary about the times (well, those times-- the 70s), so it makes sense to wait a decade for the next installment. Night covered themes relevant in the 60s, and Dawn updated the series for a 70s audience.

And I think that's why this is such a well-received film, even now. It makes many Top 10 horror lists, despite being dated and (a little) flawed. It says something very true about the times. Which is funny. When you think about films with symbolism and relevant messages, you'd think pretentious art house garbage. Who would think a 70s grindhouse zombie film would do it better than 90% of dramas, overly long stageplays, and war movies?

But enough of that stuff. This may be a social commentary, but it's also a zombie film, and that's what keeps new fans coming.

So as a zombie film, does it stand as one of the greats? Well, yeah. There isn't much competition here. One of the greatest horror films? Again, there isn't that much competition when you get down to it. I mean, let's face it... aside from the limited amount of truly great horror, everything else is either mediocre or terrible. The bar is so low for horror that yes, this is definitely much better than a lot of other films. It's entertaining to this day, despite its longer runtime (by today's standards, at least) and it's pretty gory (even by today's standards).

I'm sure you probably know the story by now. I mean, who doesn't? Even if you haven't seen it, chances are you can guess. A zombie epidemic has gotten out of hand, and now four people (a news reporter, her boyfriend and two S.W.A.T. troopers) seek refuge from zombies. It's a format pretty much every zombie movie has followed since. Here, they're in an abandoned mall. Or maybe it's not abandoned, if you count the horde of zombies outside.

That's them.
The four lock themselves inside the mall with only some glass to keep the zombies out, which leads us to the first real issue of the film: the zombies weren't very threatening. They spent most of the film feebly pounding on the glass rather than actually breaking in. And while it does get pretty intense when a hundred zombies are piling up on the only exit, they still aren't as threatening as, say, a fast zombie, or a strong zombie.

But as it is, this is still an effective film. It could almost be played as a dark comedy, with characters riding through the mall on dirt bikes, bashing slow zombie skulls left and right.

(Like I said, gory even today.)

And that's the other issue. The gore itself just isn't great. I get that it's an older film, but still... the blood is bright red, almost orange, and the flesh is too rubbery. For such a big part of the film, this aspect is particularly disappointing. Still, I give the filmmakers props for getting this brutal, because up until this film, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was about as gruesome as you could get, and anyone who's seen that knows how un-graphic it actually is.

So overall, this was a very solid film, and unlike pretty much every other grindhouse horror film, this is well-written, well-shot, and well-acted. There's a lot to like here... from zombie hunting hillbillies to the big, empty mall scenes (almost like The Shining before there was The Shining).

Not to mention, this is a two hour zombie movie with a majority of slow survival scenes, and almost forty years later, it still keeps our interest. Most two hour action thriller movies can't do that.

Recommended if you're into zombie films, or horror in general. Actually, scratch that. If you're looking for a good story, this is it.

No comments:

Post a Comment