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Dawn of the Dead (1979)
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by Mel Valentin

"Seminal horror by an underappreciated master of the genre."
5 stars

"Dawn of the Dead," the middle film in George A. Romero’s back-from-the-dead-hungry-for-human flesh/undead trilogy (correction, trilogy plus one, with the recent release of the moderately disappointing "Land of the Dead"), is the rare horror film acknowledged as a "classic" of a much-maligned genre by horror fans, critics, and even academics. With his stark, uncompromising, ultimately bleak, reimagining of the undead mythos in 1968 with "Night of the Living Dead," George A. Romero created a benchmark of the undead sub-genre, one that's heavily influenced or inspired almost every other undead film that followed (quite an accomplishment for a little-known, Pittsburgh-area filmmaker who cut his teeth on instructional films).

Night of the Living Dead’s origins can be traced back to Richard Matheson’s 1954 post-apocalyptic science fiction/horror novel, I Am Legend. In I Am Legend, the world has been decimated by a bacterial plague. Those who manage to survive the plague are turned into semi-catatonic vampires, with the central character, barricaded inside his fortified, the only non-infected survivor struggling to survive in a vastly changed world. As a side note, I Am Legend has been filmed twice, first faithfully as The Last Man on Earth in 1964 with a hammy Vincent Price as the protagonist and more loosely as The Omega Man in 1971 with an overacting Charlton Heston in the central role. As of this writing, a third adaptation is in development (and has been for several years).

Like Matheson’s vampires, Romero’s undead hordes are motivated by blind instinct to feed on the living. Filmed in black-and-white on a shoestring budget with a non-professional or inexperienced cast, Night of the Living Dead reflected Romero’s profound skepticism and cynicism toward American culture and society, circa 1968. Under duress from the hordes of undead ravaging the countryside, a handful of survivors hole up inside a Pennsylvania farmhouse only to splinter into warring camps. Without cooperation, survival seems unlikely. And even when a glimmer of hope resurfaces, Romero cruelly snuffs out that hope in a casual act of racially motivated violence that’s as disturbing today as it was in 1968. The undead may have descended to the level of blind instinct, but the real threat is closer to home.

Less than ten years later, Romero returned to the sub-genre he helped shape in large part at the behest of his producers (and the disappointing box office returns for his post-Night of the Living Dead films). Romero could have easily delivered a gore-filled, context- and subtext-free sequel to audiences eager for a return of the undead, this time in color. Instead, Romero, armed with a modest budget that limited sets, set ups, and production crew (which resulted in a noticeable amount of continuity errors and gaffes), delivered a subtext-filled horror film that reflects the paranoia, fears, and anxieties of a post-Vietnam, post-Watergate America, an America Romero saw critically, as progressive movements faded into obsolescence and mass consumerism replaced political and social engagement.

Like Night of the Living Dead, Romero puts multiple characters under extreme duress, but before Romero takes his audience to the single-set location, a shopping mall where most of the film’s action takes place, he carefully establishes a rapidly deteriorating world, with the undead in the ascendancy, and an almost complete breakdown in the social order or the social contract. Social Darwinism becomes the norm, survival, if not of the fittest, then of those with the most firepower. As Dawn of the Dead opens, the camera tracks back from a thick red carpet, tilting on its side to reveal a sleeping woman. The carpet is actually soundproofing, and the woman, Francine (Gaylen Ross), is a local television producer pondering the end of her world. Her boyfriend, Stephen (David Emge), is a helicopter pilot who suggests they flee the city to the countryside, where, presumably, the ratio of living to undead is more favorable.

Dawn of the Dead then segues into introducing the two other central characters, Peter (Ken Foree) and Roger (Scott H. Reiniger), members of a SWAT team tasked with taking a recalcitrant apartment building. Echoing Vietnam and the destruction of Vietnamese villages, the SWAT team descends on the apartment building, firing haphazardly, killing both the human occupants (all minorities) and their undead counterparts. Rather than destroying their undead family members or friends, the apartment dwellers keep the undead caged in the building’s cellar. What follows is predictable, if nonetheless harrowing, a bloodbath. The end result leaves both Peter and Roger shaken. Both men decide to go AWOL. As it turns out, Roger has a friend, a helicopter pilot, who might be of help.

The four characters meet up, and leave the ravaged city (presumably Philadelphia) for the Pennsylvania. From the sky, they spot a group of rednecks, hunting the undead for sport (a scene that connects Dawn of the Dead with the final scene in its predecessor). The group discovers an abandoned shopping mall, empty of human inhabitants, but full of the undead. As Stephen informs his friends, a fragment of memory draws the undead to the shopping mall, due to the importance of the shopping mall to their lives. Deciding to stay for an unspecified amount of time, the characters decide to clean out the shopping mall, which requires placing themselves in direct danger. The zombies might be slow, but they travel in large groups, and acting as a collective, are extremely powerful.

What follows, of course, is the execution of their plan to take over the mall, followed by one significant reversal for one character, a giddy sense of excitement at their accomplishment (tinged with sadness at the impending loss of one of their own), and, despite the film’s reputation for violence, one of the most harrowing films in a horror film, as one of the characters is faced with executing his newly resurrected friend. Tellingly, Romero cuts away at the last second, leaving viewers to create the visual image to accompany a single gunshot. But the survivors have paid a higher price, one of their own making: they’ve created a prison for themselves. Escape elsewhere seems futile, pointless, but remaining at the mall indefinitely leads to ennui, strain, and eventually, hopelessness. The hungry undead, milling outside, waiting for their chance to reenter the mall, the self-imprisoned survivors inside. This impasse, of course, is broken by the arrival of another, unexpected group or force, leading to a second bloodbath that bookends Dawn of the Dead.

Much has been and will continue to be made about the gore-filled, blood-drenched violence in Dawn of the Dead, an overabundance of undead-on-human, human-on-undead, and human-on-human violence. Romero’s refusal to trim the violence from his film resulted in the then unprecedented step of releasing Dawn of the Dead in an unrated version. Contemporary audiences, however, might raise a quizzical eyebrow or two. Certainly, Dawn of the Dead has multiple scenes of violence, including decapitations, dismemberments, and disembowelment, but the makeup effects (by Tom Savini, a Vietnam veteran/medic who brought real-world expertise to his makeup effects work) is risibly dated, undermining, at least to some extent, the emotional charge that once “realistic” gore brought to viewers in the late 70s. Then there's the wildly off-kilter score, partly scored by Dario Argento, an Italian horror director and close friend of Romero's, and partly lifted from library music (there's an A-Team-like snippet of music used several times that, when heard, will take most viewers out of the film).

For viewers who saw "Dawn of the Dead" during its initial theatrical run or soon thereafter on home video, Romero’s vision of a post-apocalyptic world overrun by the undead had a visceral, long-lasting impact found in few horror films then or since (and essentially made any sequels or similarly set films all but redundant). As for George A. Romero, the next film in the series, "Day of the Dead," proved that you can only return to the same source material and ideas so many times before the quality of your work suffers.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=2093&reviewer=402
originally posted: 07/15/05 19:15:37
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User Comments

10/30/16 morris campbell good but night of the living dead is better the 68 version of course 4 stars
3/23/14 Justin R. Not just the best zombie movie, but one of the best movies ever created. 5 stars
10/07/13 Nick Truly a perfect film, great characters, Especially Scott Reiniger's Roger. This is tops. 5 stars
8/05/12 Jeff Wilder Brilliant mix of satire and horror. A masterpiece. 5 stars
3/17/12 Silkworm Crap acting but who cares it still rocks 4 stars
12/28/11 David Hollingsworth Romero's stellar zombie magnum opus 5 stars
11/16/11 Golden J. Williams Jr. Scary to think about, fun to watch. 4 stars
6/11/11 art white zombie and zombie are the only Zombie flick's i've seen, i want to keep it thatway. 1 stars
7/05/10 art 1932's WHITE ZOMBIE,and lucio fulci's 1980 ZOMBIE,makes you forget about ROMERO"S FILM"S! 1 stars
6/02/10 User Name George A. Romero created the zombie flick with Night; he topped himself with Dawn. 5 stars
1/10/10 excitement love art is right zombie is a better ultra gore film 2 stars
12/25/09 Chad Dillon Cooper The Citizen Kane of horror films. Enuff said 5 stars
6/09/09 art said it before and i'll say it again,ONLY A ZOMBIE WOULD LOVE THIS JUNK! 1 stars
4/22/09 blah blah amazing zombie film 5 stars
4/01/09 action movie fan us against them-gorehound,s movie -silly more funny at times than scary 2 stars
12/18/08 Craig D. Lives up to its reputation as the best zombie movie ever made. 5 stars
1/08/08 art only for DEAD-HEAD"S 1 stars
11/03/07 Ivana Mann The Citizen Kane of horror films.Witty,scary & smart-they don't make em like this anymore! 5 stars
2/15/07 Joe Morris if i ever meet who stopped this guy from directing resident evil, i'll kick their ass 5 stars
1/07/07 Carlie and Katie OMG Great movie! we totally did a school project on the DEAD movies! AWESOME! 4 stars
12/04/06 Stanley Thai A very good film with scares and laughs. 4 stars
10/28/06 brandon This is by far the best zombie movie I have ever seen, remake sucked. 5 stars
10/24/06 Drew G Why does everyone say zombies shouldn't run... who said these are zombies? 5 stars
10/04/06 william c. none better 5 stars
10/01/06 Agent Sands Incredibly imaginative, spectacularly well-made epic sequel. 5 stars
9/22/06 David Pollastrini great make-up 4 stars
9/19/06 Pritchett The HOLY BIBLE of zombie films...and anyone who says otherwise is, simply, wrong. 5 stars
8/24/06 havthat There are so many layers to this movie, it's worth watching even if you're not into zombies 5 stars
8/09/06 Dragon The Artist Yet another horror classic to be owned!!!! 5 stars
8/01/06 dan one of the all time great horror films.must see 5 stars
7/16/06 mark claustrophic as hell-this movie stayed with me for months 5 stars
3/24/06 Dethbyhashi Great movie with some small flaws 4 stars
2/19/06 chris f a tue classic 5 stars
12/13/05 Steven Lewis Great Romero Film. A Must have for any collection. 5 stars
10/30/05 K. Sear Spectacular. Nothing else needs to be said. 5 stars
10/19/05 Eden Big empty and dull. I dont why this is considered a classic. NOTLD is much better 2 stars
9/22/05 Jethro In cut scenes Peter was really a bad guy who stole the swat uniform then murdered wooley 4 stars
8/22/05 Eden Overrated 3 stars
8/19/05 T-100 crap 5 stars
8/18/05 ES The original paved the way for the remake, I've seen both, the updated version is better 3 stars
8/05/05 Pierre Classic! 5 stars
7/31/05 Martin brilliant satire and commentary. forever a classic.cheesy effects only increased the realis 5 stars
7/28/05 Cooper I'm sure most people agree that the best part of this movie's when Wooley goes apeshit! 5 stars
7/26/05 manuel This was his best! 4 stars
7/25/05 Eric Rollins Said to be a classic, actually truly amateurish trash. 1 stars
7/03/05 Ice Queen masterpiece 5 stars
6/25/05 DennyRoss I loved this one - cops & robbers for adults...with zombies!! 5 stars
6/24/05 Kankasaur Loved the remake, the original's different but no less cool 5 stars
4/24/05 Indrid Cold The cheesy look and music are quite annoying and the story is actually fairly ponderous. 3 stars
3/27/05 William It doesn't get any better. Loved it so much, I bought the collectors edition. GREAT! 5 stars
3/21/05 Uncle Phucker Thank goodness we have DVD to watch. The new re make was a goof. 5 stars
1/20/05 das hilarious!!!!!!! 5 stars
1/18/05 Stefan Halka Shallow characters, overlong, dull and just plain overrated. 3 stars
1/10/05 Lucas Stenz Great film, best sequel I can think of 5 stars
11/13/04 Diana Popescu Waist of time, put me to sleep 1 stars
11/11/04 American Slasher Goddess One of the best zombie movies ever. 5 stars
11/06/04 J.D. No real fan could actually like this boring flick. A great idea that was wasted! 1 stars
11/04/04 Lord Durvok 2 One of the best horror films ever. This is not an opinion. 5 stars
10/30/04 asina almost perfect. 5 stars
10/27/04 fagabeefy cool flick , the make-up effects sucked hard though 2 stars
10/24/04 Ric A decent apocalyptic vision, but it's not scary, thrilling, or even particularly funny. 2 stars
10/20/04 Kevin it was ok, but not horror 2 stars
9/23/04 RiverRat Truly a great film - not for morons who only want "splatter-porn" crappola. A classic. 5 stars
9/14/04 yo amazing 5 stars
9/13/04 Shane snell this movie was grate i really like it 5 stars
9/03/04 me satire for the smart guts for the layman 5 stars
6/23/04 Neil Simple, Silly, Low Budget, Mediocre and Incredibly Magnificent 5 stars
5/24/04 sherone rose i loved dawn of the dead and its cast they were brilliant 5 stars
5/04/04 lewis hall all time classic. they dontmake flims like that no more iz romero got out new?????/ 5 stars
4/30/04 dead next door CLASSIC 4 stars
4/18/04 Josh are you people serious? this is so cheesy its unwatchable, worst zombies ever 1 stars
4/17/04 Father Merrin There is only 1 zombie movie & this is it! A true classic. A re-make is unnecessary! 5 stars
4/12/04 Adam D just seen this late night a few days ago and thot it was insanely good. 5 stars
4/09/04 American Slasher Goddess One of the best zombie movies ever. 5 stars
4/08/04 Eloise sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo much better than the crappy 04 remake. 5 stars
4/05/04 glenn good movie, new one is better, also try phantasm!! 5 stars
3/31/04 tediboy this classic is still the BEST!!! 5 stars
3/28/04 true review - correct review everytime notld is masterpiece because it wasn't written by romero, his movies suck 1 stars
3/23/04 Morally Sound My second favorite movie of all time. The best in the Living Dead Trilogy! 5 stars
3/21/04 Samuel don't know if its better than Night of the Living Dead, but its still a damn good movie 5 stars
3/19/04 truth zombies are cheesy, movie is pretty boring, not scary, NOTLD is much better 2 stars
3/13/04 Jack Sommersby An innovative masterpiece. Nothing's ever come even close. 5 stars
3/12/04 Carl This movie KICKS ASS!! 5 stars
3/10/04 Robin Flores This was a disturbing movie along the lines of Edgar Allen Poe's Masque of the Red Death. 5 stars
2/12/04 Kai A total classic. 5 stars
1/23/04 Elena At least it's honest about being a cheesy zombie flick, and doesn't try to be smug... 1 stars
1/15/04 Kimberly Lynn Cole ROGER RULES!!!! I LOVE SCOTT REINIGER what a cutie pie!!!! 5 stars
1/14/04 Matt A great cult classic!! One of my favorites 5 stars
12/06/03 Richard Long Best Horror Movie Ever Made 5 stars
12/04/03 Makaveli greatest movie eva made - Hands down! 5 stars
11/28/03 chris k my fav movie of all time 5 stars
11/27/03 John well it's simply brilliant..one of the best horror movies ever made 5 stars
11/01/03 American Slasher Goddess The best zombie movie ever. 5 stars
10/19/03 zombie lover dude this movie is awsome!!!!!! love the spfx!!!!! 5 stars
10/05/03 Jack Sommersby Original and brilliant. Standout set piece after standout set piece. Grade A stuff. 5 stars
8/13/03 Johnny P Awesome zombie flick. You go George! 5 stars
8/03/03 bronson fantastic 5 stars
7/03/03 Dave Hopman Bring on the fourth Dead Movie, George!! 5 stars
6/18/03 Jim Myers I saw this Masterpiece when I was 14...I will be 37 in August, and I still think it is The 5 stars
5/24/03 Scott(first watched when 5) Night:67% - Day:45% & Dawn:93% "Complete Masterpeice" 5 stars
5/04/03 Jon "Thumb the Toad" Lyrik I saw the Director's Cut. Brilliant. 5 stars
4/11/03 William Stewart Has to be on my top 5 best horror films--Good Stuff George! 5 stars
1/17/03 mans0n i dont think i will ever be able to get the music played inside the mall out of my head! 5 stars
1/12/03 Stevo stunningly evocative and creates a unique picture. beyond horror 5 stars
12/28/02 Jack Sommersby One of the best. Brilliantly realized and executed. 5 stars
10/26/02 Charles Tatum The sequels were better than the first one 5 stars
9/30/02 murat Good film but what was about that raid on apartment at the beginning huh? 5 stars
9/21/02 Morally Sound George Romero + Tom Savini = A+ Horror Movies 5 stars
8/13/02 palaboy101 George Romero, you're the best! 5 stars
7/11/02 .Choadushouse. This movie really just licked balls (maybe good for laughs)...and so does the original! 2 stars
4/24/02 Phoenix Not a classic at all. Horrible movie and terrible acting. Stick with the original. 1 stars
4/02/02 Edfink Lombardo A masterpiece of horror...Wonderfully atmospheric. Delivers the goods with consistency! 5 stars
2/08/02 Ebony One of the best...I heard that BeaconPictures is remaking this. Hope they don't ruin it. 5 stars
1/03/02 Jake Trashy, not funny or scary. All I got was gore and a hate for people. 1 stars
12/14/01 Peter Herman shocking... not because of the gore but because of the analogy made... 5 stars
12/08/01 Keith Up there with Evil Dead, The Shining and Dead Alive as greatest horror film 5 stars
11/02/01 Mike J I still haven't been brave enough to revisit the one movie that scared/scarred me as a kid! 5 stars
9/29/01 Mohammad J. Indeed fucking awesome 5 stars
8/06/01 palaboy THIS IS THE BEST HORROR MOVIE, PERIOD. 5 stars
8/06/01 E-Funk The only good mall is a 'dead' one. This movie kicks ass and takes names. Foree is the man. 5 stars
7/18/01 Ted Villavicencio This movie is the reason i loved the horror genre! One of the greatest zombie flicks ever! 5 stars
6/30/01 Zombie In the not too distant future. 5 stars
6/22/01 Ian Barr Brilliant. Satirical and Wild. 5 stars
6/19/01 Elvisfan Great frigging B-movie; if you didn't like it, keep it to yourselves 5 stars
6/19/01 Xx-Bull-xX Not only does the movie rock, but the soundtrack kicks ass! 5 stars
6/14/01 zombie one of the best horror films ever made 5 stars
6/05/01 Just like a Wop . . . Saw this last fall and was completely engaged. Wonderfully dreary. 5 stars
3/26/01 Atir 2,000 Zombies bite the dust,in a mall of all places!Horrible makeup job,wardrobe&acting 1 stars
10/15/00 The Bomb 69 campy and funny, i laughed throughout 5 stars
10/14/00 B.J. Charles This movie is one of the most interesting zombie films I have ever watched. 5 stars
7/03/00 DAVID This is truly the best horror film ever made!!!! 5 stars
5/03/00 PJ Even better than the first, absolutely scary, funny, smart, and brilliant, Romero's best 5 stars
4/12/00 Adrian Pickworth One of my all-time faves! 5 stars
11/13/99 J. Shopa Absolutely the best movie ever 5 stars
9/19/99 Travis D'Souza This is the best fucking movie I have ever seen. 5 stars
8/10/99 Japtalian One of the best zombie movies ever. Soundtrack is eerie. 5 stars
7/17/99 Eric Would be a lot better if the action scenes weren't so badly choreographed 3 stars
7/04/99 David Keech A complete gore-fest. Absolutely hilarious if you recognize the satire. 4 stars
6/28/99 Steve Bashakus This is the best horror film ever made - the yardstick by which all things are measured. 5 stars
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  10-Apr-1979 (NR)
  DVD: 07-Sep-2004

  02-Jul-1979 (18)

  02-Jul-1979 (R)

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