Dawn Of The Dead (1978)

A bold sequel with blockbuster aggrandization, clever racial & consumerism themes, proto-horror/comedy blends, & glorious gore in a fantastic city mall environment, DOTD further defined Romero’s new subgenre – despite mixed characterization & slow zombies. 7.8/10.

Plot Synopsis: As hordes of zombies swarm over the U.S., the terrified populace tries everything in their power to escape the attack of the undead, but neither cities nor the countryside prove safe. In Pennsylvania, radio-station employee Stephen (David Emge) and his girlfriend, Francine (Gaylen Ross), escape in the station helicopter, accompanied by two renegade SWAT members, Roger and Pete. The group retreats to the haven of an enclosed shopping center to make what could be humanity’s last stand.

*Possible Spoilers Ahead*

Official CLC Review

10 Years Later: A Sequel

George A. Romero Changed The Genre Of Horror With A 1968 Materpiece NOTLD Creating A New Subgenre From Folklore

Photograph Courtesy Of: United Film Distribution Company

Few films share a legacy as prolific as NOTLD: creating its own subgenre and entire monster lore from ashes – one that would become one of the definition-pieces for its genre, make billions in revenue, and stand an icon for generations-to-come. Single-handedly proof-of-concepting the entire subgenre and American film legacy of zombies from folklore Haitian voodoo tremors, George A. Romero did just that with his tightly-edited, conceptually-terrifying, nicely-(farm)-locationed, & groundbreaking 1968 masterpiece Night Of The Living Dead. 10 years later, a sequel was released with Romero returning to further define the concept he helped create – this time moving away from rural countryside [graveyard-adjacent] farms and to something extremely prevalent and tangible in modern industrialized society: city-life. A bold sequel with blockbuster aggrandization, clever racial/consumerism themes, classic ’80’s feel, proto-horror/comedy irreverence, and glorious gore in a fantastic city mall environment over rural farmhouses, DOTD further defined Romero’s groundbreaking concept – despite mixed characterization & too-slow zombies.

A Brand New Setting & Themes

From Rural Farmhouses To City Apartment Complexes & Mall – A Brilliant Exposition Of Consumerism, Racism, & Gluttony

Photograph Courtesy Of: United Film Distribution Company

The absolute best part of DOTD is the setting. Whereas NOTLD spooked in rural [graveyard-adjacent] farmhouses establishing perhaps the best setting for zombies in CLC’s opinion and one that has become a definitive backdrop for fighting the undead since, Dawn Of The Dead chooses the opposite: the city. More tangible and familiar to the vast majority of audiences, seeing Romero’s iconic creatures roaming around apartment-complexes and down city boulevard makes the horror all the more real-feeling – and is one of the big reasons zombies took off as well as they did. The opening apartment-complex and news-studio scenes establish two clever themes: primal reversion of social order back into chaos at the prospect of the apocalypse in the news scene and the evils of humanity in racism by way of the one rogue officer doing the unthinkable: killing innocents he’s supposed to be saving as a law enforcement SWAT member because of hatred/jealousy of their race. This amalgamates into the film’s major setting, a devilishly-clever one, and probably the second-best one for zombies we’ve ever seen: the mall. A brilliant exposition/eschewal of consumerism and gluttony, Romero & co. draw clear parallels between the brainless-undead walking about the stores and escalators as well as never being satiated hungrily and our daily foibles in capitalistic society wherein we crave new products we don’t need and nothing will ever be enough: we always want to buy more the retailers provide, thus feeding the machine cycle.

The New Characters

The Weakest Part Of The Film By Far, The Characters are ~Moronic & Performances Unmemorable (Except KF’s 80s-Macho Peter)

Photograph Courtesy Of: United Film Distribution Company

The setting of DOTD is a thematically-resonant and social-commentative dream – one that also packs plenty of entertainment value and fun watching our heroes go from store and store and objectify our fantasy of being Home-Alone in the ultimate retail playground. The characters themselves: not-so-much. The weakest part of the film by stark contrast is the characters/performances. Ken Foree’s masculine proto-’80’s badasss black man Peter is the one standout and best performance & character of the film – deserving full-absolution of any blame whatsoever and being an important benchmark showcasing that black actors/actresses could rock major roles just as well as their white counterparts. That is clearly the cast here, wherein all white counterparts are not only weakly-acted, but stupidly-scripted. These characters would not last five minutes in a real apocalypse: the waste bullets shooting at air, cannot ever learn to close the door or shoot at the head, and are hellbent on checking their blood-pressure in the middle of the apocalypse (sure my friends are being eaten by zombies and I’m surrounded myself, but at least I have 120/80!!..). Emge’s ‘Fly Boy’ and Ross’ Francine are so vexatiously-moronic and Reiniger’s Roger derisively-hooting/hollering that the characters are ones you can’t help but hope they get eaten in macabre-twisted ways – not exactly the feeling you want your protagonists to evoke and non-effective in any type of character involvement beyond husks for gore.

The Zombies

A Make-Up/VFX Design Work Of Art: The Zombies Look Amazing – Too Bad They’re Too Slow & Easy To Get Around To Be Scary

Photograph Courtesy Of: United Film Distribution Company

The zombies themselves in DOTD look amazing. The make-up and prosthetics works to create the purplish-blue skin and glorious gore of these undead flesheaters – as well as turn live candidates into walkers – is sensational and another department that deserves pure accolade for their work. The coloration also establishes major themes that weren’t exactly noticeable in the black-and-white of ’68’s NOTLD and the aesthetic and generalized look here of blood-splattered dead corpses fresh out the morgue is what really defined the look for generations-to-come. Hey, no one said cinema couldn’t redefine art as something bloody and avant-garde. Too bad the zombies are [dramatically]-unscary beyond their looks. The difference between CLC and other review sites is that we don’t believe nostalgia and early-works should be a for-all shield against proper criticism. The zombies are way too slow; there’s a scene where one is coming right at Francine and she literally just stands there as half a minute passes and they get no closer before Flyboy saves her. Not only is that below-speed of basic walking almost to a purposeful half-motion shuffle even children could likely outrun, but they’re easy-to-juke too. Being able to run right through a veritable mob of 100 zombies without even a scratch – multiple times – or simply punch/push them down with minimal effort like the crew does throughout the film is an absolute joke and not scary in the slightest.

The Gore & Soundtrack

Cult Fanatics Of The Undead Will Gush Over The Gushing Mega-Gore; A Wildly-Diverse Soundtrack That Feels Proto-’80’s

Photograph Courtesy Of: United Film Distribution Company

NOTLD created the concept and had to do all the legwork in groundbreaking new horror cinema.. the least DOTD could do was evolve their stamina and visceral-reaction better as easily the simplest thing to do and something even the 2004 version and most other modern ones understand: make them faster and evoke a pulse-rattle [or at least semblance of one]. Also, I don’t like how they still have not explained how the zombie apocalypse happened – two films in, what’s the cause/explanation? Despite these clear shortcomings that should absolutely not be given a pass no matter what year the film was from (and never will at CLC; always giving the unfiltered truth), there are tidbits of further innovation beyond the mall setting, socially-analytic themes, and looks: the soundtrack and genre-blends. DOTD’s soundtrack is one of the most diverse of the ’70’s – incorporating everything from thumping bass drums used to mimic heartbeats to synthy tremolos that feel proto-’80’s, indie guitar lute-strums, tribal jungle-hunt rhythms, and jarring dissonances to create a blockbuster feel moonlighting as an adventure film and horror. The most shocking inclusion, though, is the comedy tonic cues that sound just out of an Abbott & Costello or Chaplin movie – bright, energetic, whimsical, light xylophonics and revelry-filled trombone slides that pave way for one of its big achievements.

An Evolution Of Genre-Blending

One Of The Most Successful Combinations: Horror-Comedy Owes A Big Deal To DOTD For Deftly Blending With Poise & Irreverence

Photograph Courtesy Of: United Film Distribution Company

One of the film’s groundbreaking steps was an evolution of genre-blending. Anyone reading this article today knows that zombie horror/comedies are everywhere – we can’t go 5-6 months without seeing a new Zombieland or SOTD-wannabe released in theatrical cuts for a fanbase that eats them up like its subjects eat flesh. Why does the combination work? You’ll get different answers depending on where you ask (our theory: it preys on our evolutionary-shame of how naïve and dumb we once were and makes us more susceptible to laugh by technical jokes in the power-position we are in now), and it still is a bit of a mystery to-date – but one thing’s for damn sure: DOTD was the biggest evolutionary step in popularizing it. Its comedic sequence traverse the annals of slapstick and gross-out history: everything from pies to the face to funny walk-styles to falling head-first into a koi pond or fountain and picking up the pennies at the bottom befit by soundscapes that feel just as humorous, jocose, and light-hearted as its gags. While the blends are still a work-in-progress here (tilted too much towards comedy off-balance when it needed more horror punch) en route to the perfected milkshake-mix the concept is now, this is one of the more effective and clear-to-see progressions in the art of incorporating multiple feels into one project.

Conclusion

A Redefinition & Resurgence Of An Icon

Romero One-Ups His Own Masterpiece NOTLD By Bold Blockbuster Aggrandization, Clever Racial/Consumerism Themes, Genre-Blends, & Epic Gore – Despite Flaws

Photograph Courtesy Of: United Film Distribution Company

Overall, Dawn Of The Dead is a groundbreaking part of zombie and movie history. Romero & co. take NOTLD’s antecedent subgenre-creation and further define the rules – sculpting the mastercraft that would eventually become one of the biggest brands of blockbusters by viral tangibility, apocalyptic exposition, and smoother genre-blends of horror and comedy. The film has plenty of fun with its magnificently-set mall backdrop – a crux that supplies entertainment value in home-alone fashion with total freedom in a capitalist’s haven: a stage for blockbuster scale-upping by bringing droves of zombies into the city environment, and clever consumerism/excess cogitation drawing clear, unmistakable parallels between the brainless-undead & our daily capitalistic vices/dreams where nothing will ever be enough. The score is wildly-diverse playing up the horror when it needs to, action when it needs to, and comedic themes when it needs to, action thrilling, make-up/VFX next-level (the zombies are still some of the best-looking to-date), and gore everywhere enough to satisfy the ravenous cult fanatics of this new frontier of genre filmmaking. The characterization is by far the worst part – one great character in Ken Foree’s masculine proto-80’s badass Peter surrounded by idiots who waste bullets shooting at air, never learn to close the door, & are hellbent on taking their blood-pressure.. while surrounded by zombies. The zombies are also still too-slow; being able to evade/run through an entire crowd of them multiple times is simply not scary and creates an underwhelming subservience the genre (and 2004’s version) would later correct but not here. Still, the film’s impact on zombies and movie history being a critical next step in smoothening the horror/comedy genre blends while bringing it to its most popular to-be genre cannot be understated. A bold sequel with blockbuster aggrandization, clever racial/consumerism themes, classic ’80’s feel, proto-horror/comedy irreverence, and glorious gore in a fantastic city mall environment over rural farmhouses, DOTD further defined Romero’s groundbreaking concept – despite mixed characterization & too-slow zombies.

Official CLC Score: 7.8/10