Skip to main content

Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Dawn of the Dead has a strange dual honor. It is at once one of the best horror movies since the classic universal era, and one of the best American satires since Dr. Strangelove. It involves a small group of SWAT sharp shooters, a helicopter pilot, and a news reporter as they attempt to etch out a living in the post apocalyptic hell that has occurred an unspecific amount of time after Night of the Living Dead. They eventually make it to an abandoned mall where they find themselves in a virtual consumer heaven, and have to defend it from raiders, zombies, and there increasing loss of soul.

If I was to describe Dawn of the Dead in one word, it would be ferocious. Everything from the moment it opens is complete balls to the wall cool. In the first scene which has to be one of the coolest horror set pieces ever shot, a SWAT team invades a ghetto tenement which unable to accept facts has been hording their dead. When the hapless team battles there way in, all hell literally breaks loose. Zombies break through the walls, floors and decimate the team. It’s a claustrophobic piece of horror that works in equal parts because of Tom Savani's awesome gore make up and the sheer tenacity of the attack. The fact that its the least of the many excellent set pieces that occur in the movie speaks volumes for the craft that went into the film.

However, if Dawn of the Dead is intense in its horror, it is even more daring in its dark comedy. Many have wondered why George Romero has never become more of a major force in mainstream movies. It’s simple: He's too damn fearless. In this film he does not merely cross the taboo line, he drags us across it with him and shoves us into the arms of a waiting corpse. As the undead stare vacantly at department store specials, munch on body parts, and stumble up escalators and across ice rinks to the tedious strains of "muzak" the critique on consumer culture is not hard to see. However, it’s one thing to go after society as a whole and another to go after those who are supposed to be its guardians. Which is why there is a special dark glee in watching Nuns, Buddhist Monks, Nurses, Doctors, and Cops indulge in their new found taste of human flesh.

For the B-movie that it is, Dawn of the Dead features some pretty good performances. When Peter stares over the multitude of the dead and rumbles "When there's no more room in hell the dead will walk the Earth" you believe him despite the inherent cheesiness of the dialogue. In fact nearly all the characters are well drawn aside from Francine. While her character is refreshing in the fact that she actually learns to fight and fly, she is just generally annoying and unlikable. Despite being pregnant she smokes like a chimney and drinks like a fish.

In the end Dawn of the Dead is a true classic, a film full of viscerally unrelenting horror as well as intelligent and funny satire. Effectively and even artfully directed by George Romero, this dark film raised the bar for horror movies so high that many would argue that it has never been reached again. Really nothing to speak of. The Disc I watched had the director's cut of the film and a trailer. This is a shame because this is a film that not only deserves a cool package but would easily lend itself to one.