DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978): DVD
As an unknown plague sweeps across the US, causing the dead to rise from their graves and feast on the flesh of the living, TV producer Francine (Gaylen Ross) and her pilot partner Stephen (David Emge), decide to flee the dangerous big cities and take their chances on the run. Picking up police SWAT team members Peter (Ken Foree) and Roger (Scott H. Reiniger) on their way, the four escape by helicopter to a massive suburban shopping mall where they decide to hold up until the crises passes. With an abundance of supplies, survival looks possible, but with an army of zombies to contend with, as well as the threat of possible looters and their own fears, who, or what, will crack first.
Reviewed by Craig Miller:
In 1978, director George A. Romero delivered to audiences the definitive horror/zombie experience with his cult classic/comic book styled romp Dawn of the Dead - a film that delivered all the shock and gore of a train wreck and combined it with strong social commentary and a scathing satire about a consumer driven society.
These days, generally speaking, with the high expectations of audiences and the advancements in digital effects, it is unlikely to recruit too many more hardcore disciples (other that cult film buffs and schlock horror junkies) with its crude effects and primitive visuals, but to completely ignore this film or write it off as typical schlock horror would be a mistake.
A sequel to his 1968 mega-low budget masterpiece Night of the Living Dead (which was accepted into the Museum of Modern Art), Romero once again takes us into the ultra-violent, zombie-riddled world of survival and terror, but this time with the blackest of black humour as a guide and a real sense of cartoon-inspired fantasy, which offsets the explicit gore and violence perfectly.
Romero got the idea for the sequel when he visited a mall in Pittsburg that was owned by friends of his and, at the time, one of the first undercover shopping malls in the US. This setting of a modern day survivor's utopia (if you're going to be trapped, a mall's the place to be) which provided everything for the continued existence of a small group of survivors as they battled the evil, flesh-eating forces of the living dead, afforded Romero a great opportunity to comment about a world in consumer crisis.
The themes are what Romero focuses on with Dawn, the acting-by-numbers performances, head-exploding gore and tongue-in-cheek dialogue are just tools which he uses to relay his message. The chaos in an environment that is usually so controlled and structured is inspired, and the mindless zombie behaviour - stumbling about this shrine to modern day consumerism with little purpose, drawn to the environment only by instinct and memory - is a direct satire of our own human behaviour in such an environment.
Likewise, Romero uses the film's over-the-top special effects to keep a great balance between what is real and unreal and, taken in context of the era, the work of special effects/make-up maestro Tom Savini (who built a career on his efforts here) is wonderfully technical and horribly effective stuff. Savini's grisly, yet over-the-top contributions to Dawn and Romero's "more gore" approach lead to the splatter film genre of the 1980s, in which Savini himself was heavily involved.
When you're dealing with a George A. Romero production, and probably the greatest zombie film of all time, a commentary track is a wondrous experience, and here Romero, his wife Chris and special effects whiz Tom Savini, sit down with interviewer and DVD producer Perry Martin to deliver one of the best, covering everything from Dawn of the Dead's initial conception through to the film's impact on the 1980s' splatter fest explosion, with literally everything in between. There's also a second commentary with producer Richard P. Rubinstein, recorded in the same interviewer/interviewee format.
The big WOW though is reserved for the fantastic feature-length documentary which details the Dawn of the Dead project and contains modern day interviews with all the major cast and crew, as well as original behind-the-scenes footage. Romero is such an intriguing character on film, and here he and fellow cast and crew let it all go, revealing a wealth of info about this seminal horror classic, from what went into the exploding heads (shrimp and dip among other saucy things) to Romero's conversation with a Federal Express delivery guy about the film's budget! It's wonderful stuff.
While it's easy to get lost in the blood and guts of Dawn of the Dead, there are so many different layers, social messages and subtexts to it that, after a while, it just doesn't seem that big a deal. A head explodes here, an arm is bitten there and just over yonder a member of a bikie gang is being disemboweled while a group of zombies gnaw on the severed leg of his mate. See, it's all class!
Published September 9, 2004
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DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978): DVD (R)
CAST: David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger, Gaylen Ross, David Crawford, David Early, Richard France, Tom Savini
DIRECTOR: George A. Romero
SCRIPT: George A. Romero
RUNNING TIME: 127 minutes
PRESENTATION: Anamorphic widescreen 16:9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 5.1
SPECIAL FEATURES: The Dead Will Walk documentary, Audio commentary with George A. Romero, Chris Romero and Tom Savini, Audio commentary with producer Richard Rubinstein, Biographies/filmographies, Original radio spots, Original reviews, Photo gallery, Theatrical trailers
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Umbrella Entertainment
DVD RELEASE: August 18, 2004