George A. Romero got the original idea for the film because some of his buddies owned a shopping mall. The idea of zombies and shopping went so well together, he wrote a script about it. The theme is not put across subtly, it's rammed down your throat until it comes out of your bum-hole covered in solid gravy. But the message is as relevant, if not more relevant now. Consumerism has surely grown so much larger since the seventies. My mum used to make my trousers. Who does that now? All it needs to bring it bang up-to-date are a few scenes where we see gormless zombies staring at pictures of cute dogs on their mobile phones as they wander around the shops.
The story is possibly familiar to most people, even those who haven't seen the film, so I'll keep this brief. Two SWAT team members Peter (Ken Foree) and Roger (Scott H. Reiniger) join forces with TV executive Fran (Gaylen Ross) and traffic reporter Stephen (David Emge). They head off in Stephen's helicopter and eventually come across a shopping mall that's overrun by zombies. Taking advantage of the situation they hole up in the mall and partake in some retail therapy.
Considering the inexperience of most of the actors (Gaylen Ross in particular hadn't acted before) the acting is surprisingly good. Fran for the most part is pretty miserable (and rightly so) but when she learns how to fly the helicopter and smiles she lights up the screen, and from that moment on you want her to survive. I won't give anything away but one of the actors has the best zombie walk in any zombie film. The inclusion of a gun hung on a finger is inspired.
Dawn of the Dead is fairly comic book in tone, helped along greatly by the colour of the blood. The red stuff flows from the very start when the SWAT team go into a local tenement and continues right up to the end. Tom Savini still moans about the bright red hue of the blood even now. It would look better with darker blood but it wouldn't have eased its passing through the censor's snipping mitts. Savini's effects still look pretty nifty even now (after watching Centurion recently, seeing real blood squirting out of wounds rather than CGI is a very welcome sight). The two signature effects have to be the exploding head and the machete in head incident. Both are effective thirty five years on from when they were originally filmed.
Strangely my favourite scenes are the television interviews with experts on the zombie outbreak. They give the film a very bleak and realistic feel.
There are three different versions of the film on my Arrow Films Blu-ray. The Theatrical Cut and Director's Cut are pretty similar, apart from the score (The Theatrical Cut is actually Romero's favourite). The Argento Cut (Dario helped to finance the film with the proviso that he could edit the film for non-English speaking countries) is substantially different in the way it feels. It is a lot pacier and has the full-on Goblin score. The helicopter zombie is also missing, maybe due to pacing, or maybe because it looks a bit ropey in a Frankensteiny fashion. It's also a little gorier. The UK censors had a dim view of the Dario version and wanted to cut about thirty minutes. Perversely, when the longer theatrical cut was submitted, Jim Ferman only wanted to cut about five due to better characterisation and clearer motivations. If you've never seen Dawn of the Dead before the best order would probably be the Theatrical Cut first, then the Argento Cut and finally the Director's Cut. If you want to find out about the differences in detail go to http://www.movie-censorship.com/report.php?ID=177418.
Dawn of the Dead is a very influential film and for once, a very good film too. It is one of those films that you should probably see at least once in your lifetime (if not more) but it's still not my favourite zombie film. It feels a little slow in places and I can't say that I've ever been that keen on the pie fight. Also, I still haven't made my mind up about the climactic music that sounds more like the Battle of the Planets theme tune. I prefer the Fulci offerings inspired by this very film. As for the remake, I'll come to that soon...
(Average rating for the season so far = 5.8)
If you like this you could also try:
Night of the Living Dead, Day of the Dead, Dawn of the Dead (2004).