“Dawn Of The Dead” (1978)

dawn-of-the-dead-1978-happy-b-day-george-romero

When it comes to writing these reviews,I don’t really have a formula.Sometimes I see it necessary to break down the plot to emphasize certain points on symbolism and social commentary, other times I try to just give an overview of the film so someone reading it will want to go watch it for themselves.In this case however, I don’t need to explain the plot at all.If you’re reading this chances are you’ve watched this movie, or in my case several times.If you haven’t, you’re either a dingus, or have been living under a rock for the past 40 or 50 years.

To say George Romero’s 1978 classic “Dawn Of The Dead” is just a horror movie or a zombie movie is a gross understatement.This is the “Citizen Kane” of action-horror.I also consider it the high water mark of American horror films.In this day and age we live in a time of “Zombie Gentrification”, Shows such as “The Walking Dead”, events such as Zombie bar crawls and recent films such as “World War Z”, (Which was a complete insult to the original source material) have bastardized the entire genre.I also have a strong dislike for the “28 Days Later” films, but I’ll address those matters in a future review.

Fresh off the success of 1977’s “Suspiria” Italian director Dario Argento would co-write “Dawn” in Rome with Romero.Although he’s only credited as “Script Consultant” , I have always had a suspicion Argento had more to do with this film then he’s given credit for.There are a lot of Hitchcock-esque shots throughout the movie, one of his many trademarks. Argento would enlist the aid of Progressive rock group Goblin to compose the films soundtrack.The score for this film is very diverse, and would even be used again in “Tenebrae”, “Phenomena” and Bruno Mattei’s “Hell Of The Living Dead”.Furthermore, after seeing Goblin play some of these songs live a year or so ago, I can assure you they were the perfect group to provide the soundtrack for this film.

I’m a firm believer that capturing your audience’s attention straight away and providing an effective atmosphere are crucial for making such a powerful film.Right from the start you get the feeling that the world is spiraling into chaos, and Everything is going wrong.There’s nothing subtle about the first act of the film, You’re thrown right into the chaos and confusion.

One thing I need to point out about this film, is past the Horror,Zombie’s and well placed head shots, There lies a great tale of left-wing social commentary from Romero.He blasts the rise of American consumerist society in the 1970’s, 10 years earlier with “Night Of The Living Dead” he had addressed race,And he would address the American military build up of the 1980’s a few years later with “Day Of The Dead”.In his and Dario Argento’s next collaboration “Two Evil Eyes” he would openly mock the greed from white upper class American society.

One thing that separates this movie from the herd, at least for me is actor Ken Foree who plays Peter Washington. Foree delivers the movies infamous tag line “When there’s no more room in hell the dead will walk the earth”, Quoting his grandfather was a Voodoo priest from Trinidad.A lot of the “Myths” that would evolve into the zombie craze actually began from US soldiers stationed in Haiti in the early 20th century.Who felt it was necessary to heavily exaggerate Voodoo practices. Foree had a cameo in the 2004 remake where he played a televangelist speaking the same line.This time however, it just doesn’t have the same effect.

While I’m on the subject of Ken Foree, there was another scene in the film that comes to mind.When his best friend Roger becomes infected, Peter waits for the disease to take over as Roger writhes in agony bed ridden.When Roger finally succumbs, Peter takes his life with a single shot, We’re not shown the actual death as it’s implied off screen.Once again; the cardinal rule of horror is what you don’t see.This particular scene has always stuck with me.Probably because it almost mirrors a scene from Robert Wise’s 1966 film “The Sand Pebbles”, in a scene where Pan-ho (played my Mako of “Conan” fame) is being tortured on a beach by Chinese nationalists, and is mercifully shot by his friend Hollman (played by Steve McQueen).The firing of the gun is seen, and the power of the scene is all summed up in a look.The agony of having to take the life of a close comrade.

Side note:If you get a chance to watch “The Sand Pebbles”, do it.Steve McQueen and Richard Attenborough give amazing performances, And I consider it one of the greatest films of all time.

By today’s standards one might take a look at the make up and effects of “Dawn” and find them somewhat sub-par to todays advanced make up techniques.Considering it was only Tom Savini’s second film doing effects for, and that him and Romero wanted to give the film an impression of a live comic book.I’d say it’s what was absolutely fitting for the film.

In short, It’s a milestone for not only horror, but filmmaking in general.Often imitated, But never equaled.

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