Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Posted: February 3, 2013 in Movie Review
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Dawn of the Dead

Directed By: George A Romero

Starring: Ken Foree, David Emge, Scott Reiniger, Gaylen Ross, Tom Savini

Subgenre: Zombie

Synopsis: A group of people take refuge in a mall while trying to survive a horde of zombies.

Thoughts: After a handful of movies that were not as well received as Night of the Living Dead (some of which will be reviewed this month), Romero returned to the world of the walking dead.  Instead of filming a direct sequel, Romero elected to build on what happened in the first movie and show the city of Philadelphia in the middle of the zombie outbreak.

Dawn focuses on a group of four people that decide to make a run for it and look for safer ground.  This group, played by Foree, Emge, Reiniger and Ross, are the core of the movie.  Although packed with plenty of zombie action, this movie is really about the characters.  The group eventually ends up in a mall and are able to carve out an exisitence for themselves, finding just about everything they need in the mall. While they make themselves at home, the audience really gets to know them and care about them.  I think this is the strength of the movie.  The characters draw you in and make you care about them.

I’ve said before that one of Romero’s strengths is his character development, and Dawn is probably one of the greatest examples of that. On top of that, Romero chose perhaps one of the greatest locations for a modern horror movie ever.  Having the majority of the movie take place in a mall was genius.  The cast and crew actually filmed in a mall at night, after closing time.

Italian horror maestro Dario Argento played an integral role in the development of Dawn as well.  He helped secure financial backing in exchange for the International distribution rights and even had Romero come to Rome to write the script.

Dawn of the Dead also marked the debut of horror icon Tom Savini.  Savini’s effects are legendary and would inspire an entire generation of Special Effects gurus.  Savini was still honing his craft during Dawn of the Dead where most of the zombies had the bluish gray makeup in lieu of what we would see in his later movies.  There are still some pretty graphic scenes, but to compare it to Day of the Dead, the third in the series, really makes Dawn look tame.

Dario Argento made so significant changes to Romero’s movie for international release, including music by genre favorite Goblin and some tighter editing.  Argento also changed the title to Zombie, which would forever connect Argento and Lucio Fulci, who was making a zombie movie himself and distributors change the name to Zombie 2, creating a sequel in name.

Dawn of the Dead would be remade in 2004 by Zack Snyder.  While the remake utilized the mall setting, Snyder changed many things, including more characters and much faster zombies.  Snyder’s version is widely considered a successful remake and generates praise from fans of the genre.

There are numerous versions of Dawn available on home video, but for my money, nothing beats the Anchor Bay Ultimate Edition, which has multiple versions of the movies and the Documentary “Document of the Dead.”  I suggest picking this up when the prices is right.  I’ve seen it as low as ten bucks on Amazon before and this is a movie well worth having in your collection.

  1. The Freak says:

    I feel Argento’s energy all over this movie, though reportedly he was pretty hands-off during Romero’s developing and writing the screenplay. Maybe it’s just the music. I also can’t watch this without seeing Savini’s Vietnam experiences deeply embedded in the gore effects. He was supposed to be involved with the making of Night of the Living Dead, but he was shipped off to war instead. It’s eerie to watch this, for me, and see how he leveraged what he saw “over there” into his work on Dawn. Though thankfully both Romero and Savini have great senses of humor and absurdity so that the tone of the movie, even when its grim, is lighter than the existential bleakness of NotLD. Anyway, we did an in-depth discussion/analysis of this movie over on our blog, Girl Meets Freak. Check it out – you might dig it. http://girlmeetsfreak.com/2012/10/28/movie-discussion-george-a-romeros-dawn-of-the-dead-1978/

    • shnsjolin says:

      I often wonder if Night would have been different with Savini’s involvement, but if that would have happened, he would never have been shipped off to Vietnam, which, like you said, played a huge part in shaping his work.

      I look forward to reading your blog – Thanks for the heads up!

  2. idebenone says:

    Three actors from the original film have cameos in the remake, appearing on the televisions the survivors watch: Ken Foree , who played Peter from the original, plays an evangelist who asserts that God is punishing mankind; Scott H. Reiniger , who played Roger in the original, plays an army general telling everyone to stay at home for safety and Tom Savini , who did the special effects for many of Romero’s movies and played the motorcycle gang member Blades in the original Dawn of the Dead, plays the Monroeville Sheriff explaining the only way to kill the zombies is to “shoot ’em in the head.” Monroeville is also the location of the mall used in the 1978 film. In addition, a store shown in the mall is called “Gaylen Ross”, an obvious nod to actress Gaylen Ross , who played Francine in the original film.

    • shnsjolin says:

      I remember seeing them in the remakes, but don’t think I caught the shoe store! I love when movies pay homage to where they came from, it’s fun to try and catch references like that.

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