In Night of the Living Dead (1968) Romero took the idea of the walking dead and turned it into something realistic and terrifying. Zombies were once the stuff of legend, from distant lands where voodoo and superstition was rife.
But thanks to George they were soon the new monster on the block, up there with Dracula and the Wolfman, scaring cinema audiences worldwide.
Dawn of the Dead was the sequel to his debut zombie hit. Set soon after the first, it opens with mass panic across America. The population struggling to deal with the idea that the dead are re-animating and eating the living.
In the cities, although there is still an order of sorts, it’s unravelling fast and the police are struggling to keep the masses (both living and dead) under control.
Francine (our main character) works on a TV station, her main purpose in this desperate time being to inform and comfort the viewers, making sure that the station stays on air.
When her partner Stephen arrives to meet her though, she realises that hope is pretty much lost, begrudgingly agreeing that they should escape on Peter’s helicopter. He has a police/SWAT friend (Roger) to take along, who in turn brings one of his gun toting colleagues (Peter), and together the 4 leave the city and fly off in search of sanctuary.
After a lot of flying and with fuel and food short, the group find a large shopping mall and land on the roof. Although there are zombies inside, they are restricted to the lower areas, and armed with plenty of guns, Francine and co decide that it could be a good place to stay.
And stay they do as they settle in to the mall, making it their own and almost enjoying their new zombie-filled lives. The only real threat being the odd zombie attack and the risk of intrusion by looters or other bad minded humans.
As per usual (with Romero) this isn’t just a horror movie. Any film grad will tell you, there are hidden meanings behind this zombie splatterfest. Beneath the gore and basic dialogue, issues such as the Vietnam war, consumerism and inequality in society are covertly touched upon. It’s a bonus because you can make out that you’re enlightening yourself when really it just feels like you’re watching an old zombie film.
Although I do love the oldies, I feel that Dawn of the Dead hasn’t aged as well as some of its peers.
I can get over the weird music and unimpressive zombie make-up (they look more like the Blue Man Group), but some of the acting is pretty weak, and the action seems very slow and clunky.
Worst of all, the zombies don’t actually seem very scary. They’re really weak, dumb and apparently have blunt teeth – most of the time they need a good few minutes to actually sink those disease-ridden fangs in.
I find it peculiar as both Night of the Living Dead and Day of the Dead seem to get it pretty spot on – really scary, threatening zombies.
Of course, the Dawn remake (2004) does overcompensate with zombies that run – but lets pretend that never happened.
It had been a long time since I had first seen this (in my early teens), and although it looked great in all its High Definition glory the second time round, it all just seemed a lot slower that I remembered; The zombies, the storyline, the action – too slow in fact. Especially when compared to the high velocity that we’re accustomed to in modern horror.
Don’t get me wrong, Dawn of the Dead is still a ‘must see’, be it to revel in zombie history, complete your zombie movie collection, or to analyse its hidden meanings. It’s great for it’s time.
Sadly though, I think it would be lost on the younger generations who wouldn’t be interested without some 3D exploding brains or vampires smooching with one another.
The Dawn of the Dead special edition 3 disc Blu Ray box-set is available to buy now.