Film Review: Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Written and directed by George A. Romero, and starring David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger, Gaylen Ross, and Tom Savini.

"Following the events of Night of the Living Dead (1968), we follow the exploits of four survivors of the expanding zombie apocalypse as they take refuge in an abandoned shopping mall following a horrific SWAT evacuation of an apartment complex. Taking stock of their surroundings, they arm themselves, lock down the mall, and destroy the zombies inside so they can eke out a living--at least for a while. Tensions begin to build as months go on, however, when they come to realize that they've fallen prey to consumerism. Soon afterward, they have even heavier problems to worry about, as a large gang of bikers discovers the mall and invades it, ruining the survivors' best-laid plans and forcing them to fight off both lethal bandits and flesh-eating zombies."

This time around, Romero got a substantially larger budget. With roughly $650,000, Dawn of the Dead looked amazing compared to Night of the Living Dead (however well-suited). According to Romero, all of his movies take place not too long after each other. So, provided you ignore the differences in the eras of the sets, this probably takes place only a matter of weeks after Night of the Living Dead. Dawn of the Dead was groundbreaking, and could still be considered as, but at its heart it was a brilliant satire. "Cultural and film historians read significance into the film's plot, linking it to critiques of large corporations and American consumerism and of the social decadence and excess going on in America during the late 1970s."

You'll also find many horror legends had their hands in Dawn. Italian director/writer Dario Argento, well known for Tenebre and Demoni movie series, worked as editor, composer, and script consultant. His daughter, Asia Argento, later co-starred in Romero's Land of the Dead. Horror legend Tom Savini, known for his make-up work on the Friday the 13th series, Creepshow, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre series, as well as numerous horror movie cameos, did make-up work for Dawn and even had a cameo at the biker gang leader. And last, but not least, Ken Foree, stars as Peter in Dawn of the Dead, well known in the horror genre for his roles in The Devil's Rejects, Halloween (2007), Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, and the soon-to-be-released Zone of the Dead.

Critical response to the film is practically unanimous, with an overall extremely positive view of the film. Roger Ebert gave it four out of four stars and described it as "one of the best horror films ever made." While he also stated the film to be "gruesome, sickening, disgusting, violent, brutal and appalling," Ebert noted that "nobody ever said art had to be in good taste." I have to say, this is Romero's finest hour. In my opinion, and despite the shock and thrill and originality of his previous effort, nothing Romero has done before or since has measured up to Dawn of the Dead. He may have set the bar just a little too high for himself on this one. Just like Romero's Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead is a timeless classic. If you haven't already seen the film, then you don't know shit about horror. Of course, you can fix that by going out and buying it. On a side note, Romero's movie also inspired a 2004 remake by Zach Snyder, which I'll be reviewing soon, once I'm done with Romero's series.

Best quote: "Every dead body that is not exterminated becomes one of them. It gets up and kills! The people it kills get up and kill!"

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