Late to the Party: Dawn of the Dead

This week’s blast-from-the-past review is for George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.  Hopefully I won’t piss Kim off too much, ‘cause she’d probably hunt me down and hurt me for saying anything bad about it.  Luckily for me, I quite enjoyed it.

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An epidemic is spreading throughout the world, causing the dead to become mindless zombies whose only aim is to seek out humans to chow down on.  Four survivors discover an abandoned mall and do their best to fortify it against the growing threat of zombies — and what is left of humanity.

Thoughts

I know I had a couple of people ticked off with the review that I wrote for Night of the Comet, which is perfectly fine.  I’m tempted to compare it to Dawn of the Dead, since this was more the type of movie that I was expecting Comet to be, but I’ll refrain.  I’ll just say that I preferred Dawn of the Dead infinitely over Night of the Comet.

What struck me about this movie right from the get-go was the frenzied atmosphere of the opening scenes.  The chaos and panic in the newsroom really got me curious about what sort of scenario I’d just stepped into.  I knew that Dawn of the Dead was a sequel to Night of the Living Dead, but since I’ve never seen that film either, I didn’t know if what I was watching happened directly after the end of Night, or if this was a whole new story on its own.  It was difficult to look away, even to add to my live-tweeting feed, until I had a grasp of what was going on about ten minutes into the movie.

Um, yeah. He can be the leader. He has my vote.

As far as the four protagonists go, Peter was by far my favourite.  He had a good head on his shoulders and always seemed to figure out the most sensible way of dealing with things.  Nothing ever seemed to faze him, except having to deal with a good friend becoming a zombie and flirting with the idea of killing himself before allowing the zombies to tear into him.  Roger was also a favourite initially, but his reckless nature got the better of him and I started to find myself becoming easily irritated by his stupid stunts or slip-ups.

I’m on the fence about Francine.  She started off on the wrong foot with me in one scene in particular, when Stephen was fighting off a zombie and another was approaching them.  She just stood there, looking from Stephen to the approaching zombie without ever panicking or even trying to fend either zombie off.  Who just stands there when they see a zombie getting closer and closer?  And who just stands there when their fiancé is inches away from having his neck gnawed on?  Francine does, apparently.  Later on she redeems herself by taking charge of her ability to defend herself.  She demands to have a gun in her possession if she’s ever left alone, and learns to fly the helicopter, which I probably wouldn’t have thought of if I was in her position. She pulls her own weight and doesn’t expect to be protected just because she’s female (and pregnant, as it turns out).  Near the middle of the movie, Francine loses a few of those brownie points when she lights up a cigarette after the audience learns that she’s expecting.  I don’t care if it was the ‘70s and everyone smoked like there was no tomorrow; it still rubs me the wrong way.

The only character that really bothered me — and there always has to be one — was Stephen, also known as “Fly-Boy”.  It seemed to me that he couldn’t do much of anything properly.  He couldn’t follow directions, wasn’t overly supportive of Francine, was a bit of a crap shot until later in the movie, and had a laughably-slow reaction time in dangerous situations.  I was waiting for him to die for the entire movie and was almost relieved when he met his demise near the end of the film. (Yes, I want people to die in zombie movies.  It’s no fun if everyone survives, especially the irritating ones.)

Well. I think we can all agree that he's seen better days.

Roger’s slow descent into bouts of insanity in the latter half of the movie was interesting to watch.  I don’t imagine many people would be able to keep themselves from going crazy if they were stuck in that sort of situation for a lengthy period of time.  After being attacked and bitten by the zombies, his quick deterioration was almost painful to watch, especially as his sanity slipped away until he was nothing more than a mumbling (and occasionally screaming) bed-ridden wraith.  In one scene, he was talking to Peter about not wanting to become a zombie after he died of his injuries, and was asking Peter to kill him (again) when that happened. One line from that scene really stuck with me: “I don’t wanna be walkin’ around like that […] Don’t do it ’til you’re sure I’m coming back. I’m gonna try not to.”  I wouldn’t even want to be thinking about what would happen to me, and I wouldn’t want to talk my best friend into killing me, but it’d be better than knowing I’d be the one tearing his limbs off after the fact, I suppose.

In regards to the setting of the outlet mall, I was impressed with what the director and screenwriters chose to do here.  The characters utilized the abandoned stock to the best of their abilities, and still managed to have fun every once in a while by going skating or sitting around the arcade for a time.  None of it seemed frivolous or over-the-top to me.  There was nothing overly wasteful about how they used the resources the had, and that pleased the part of me that’s very much about being organized and being frugal when you don’t have a lot to work with.  (Well, they did have a lot to work with, but I think you get what I’m saying.)

I hadn’t expected the protagonists to be set upon by other humans, though, and that would have been an interesting plot point for me if I hadn’t been so tired that I was just waiting for the movie to end.  Should a zombieocalypse ever actually happen (and I’ve no doubt a lot of you wish one would happen), there would definitely be factions of people who take it as an opportunity to rebel and live life by taking what they can and screwing over everybody else in the process.  I wish I had been alert enough to really appreciate the intricacies of that, but at the time I really just thought that scene dragged on too long.  Maybe it did, who knows? Not me.

Going down?

There weren’t many special effects, per se, except for the ways in which people were maimed and killed.  I found the shots of spurting blood rather amusing, as they reminded me of the scene with the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  (“Just a flesh wound!”)  The makeup was a little bit comical at times, since everyone just looked bluish-gray and a little bit mottled, and the blood was a crazy shade of red, but the festering wounds were well done, for the most part. No complaints from me there. Cheesy but spectacular, really.

There was one scene near the end, though, where a man was torn open while he was still alive and zombies were taking out his intestines that really got me.  I was impressed by how grossed out I was by that.  Generally speaking, the human anatomy as it’s portrayed on-screen doesn’t bother me — I’ve been watching ER since I was four and I’ve been exposed to numerous medical procedures through family members in that profession — but there was something particularly visceral about that scene that made me squirm in my seat in discomfort.  I’d been idly snacking during the film and couldn’t bring myself to seat anything for at least ten minutes after that scene.  Props for that, Mr. Romero.

The last thing I’ll touch on is the music.  I’m very touchy about how music is used in movies that were released before the ‘90s, especially horror or suspense films.  There’s either too little music in the scary scenes, too much music in scenes that would really be better off without it, or some awful mixture of the two.  Dawn of the Dead had both problems for me, though the scenes with too much music were few and far between, and actually served for some comedic relief, which I was more than willing to take.  There was also a certain part of the score that I could have sworn was used in part of the opening credits for Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which I plan to watch again in the near future just so I can convince myself that I’m not completely crazy.

The Verdict

Cheesy special effects and all, this is what I expect from a good zombie film.  The only way I could see this getting any better without improving on the makeup and special effects would be to make the zombies move more quickly, which would likely add to the tension during the action sequences.  All in all, I really enjoyed it and was pleasantly surprised by that.  I’d definitely watch Dawn of the Dead again, no doubt about it.

Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
iTunes – Unavailable
IMDB – 8.0 / 10
Toria – 4 / 5

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4 Comments

  1. Ben
    Posted August 11, 2011 at 6:27 am | Permalink

    As always, great review. I have been a fan of Dawn of the Dead for years and I always love going back to it from time to time. The only character I had an issue with at times was Roger because he became a little too cavalier and it ended up costing him big. Stephen (aka. Flyboy) seemed more out-of-sorts and irritable, something I’d probably be if faced with a struggle to survive in a zombie apocalypse, so he didn’t bother me that much. The female characters in Romero movies are usually more fleshed out than the males, and you’ll notice this if you watch Day of the Dead, the third movie in the trilogy.

    The only other area I would touch upon more is the social commentary aspect, which fans of Dawn of the Dead have been lauding for years. The zombies descending on the mall (and the comment that they are drawn to it) was meant to be a jab at mindless consumerism, perhaps something that gets lost amidst the cheesiness. It’s probably less effective today and it does get lost amidst the cheesiness at times, but it’s one of the focal points of the movie.

    Anyway, glad you enjoyed the movie and thanks for the awesome review. Keep em’ coming 🙂

    • Toria
      Posted August 11, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      If I’m being totally honest, I’m terrible at following symbolism and commentary in movies. I take a lot of what I watch at face value because I just watch everything to escape. (Rather shameful for someone who’s writing reviews, but what can you do.) That’s usually why I find it interesting to read other people’s reviews because they delve into that sort of stuff so much more than I do.

      Thanks for pointing that out to me, and I’m glad that you liked the review in general. 😛

  2. Posted August 20, 2011 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    If you enjoyed Dawn of the Dead you should check out Shaun of the Dead starring Simon Pegg. It’s a hilarious piss take of Dawn of the Dead, it’s great if you just want to watch a movie to be entertained and not have to think about it.

    If you dig Simon Pegg (I don’t know how anyone could not like him) check him out in Spaced and Big Train if you haven’t already, hilarity is guaranteed to ensure.

    • Toria
      Posted August 20, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      I’ve watched Shaun of the Dead a couple of times, actually, and it’s definitely one of the better parody movies that I’ve seen. Simon Pegg is a fantastic actor. Love him to pieces!

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