Dawn of the Dead (1978)

dawn-of-the-dead-1978Out of all The Dead films, Dawn of the Dead is probably my favorite. Yes, the original was ground breaking and created a whole sub-genre. Something about Dawn of the Dead just speaks to me in a way the most of the other Dead films don’t, with the notable exception of Land of the Dead. But that’s a different discussion entirely. I find it sad how late in my horror watching years came this film, as I saw it after I saw the 2004 remake. Which just goes to show it’s never too late to get familiar with the classics.

Dawn of the Dead picks up shortly after the last film leaves off, the zombie plague has now spread to the point where it a pandemic and society is starting to collapse. Television stations remain on the air broadcasting out-of-date information on the locations to get rescued and aid. Since they haven’t been updated themselves, people are locking themselves up in their homes and apartments. A practice that has been banned, forcing SWAT to breach into projects to clear out the residents. At the news station Stephen (David Emge) tells his girlfriend Francine (Gaylen Ross) to meet him on the roof as he plans on taking the helicopter to escape the growing zombie threat. At the project, SWAT agent Roger (Scott H. Reiniger) tells his fellow agent Peter (Ken Foree) about his plans to cut and run. Something discouraged and actually illegal, though after witnessing the horrors inside the project agrees to come along with him and his friend. This friend turns out to be Stephen and the four them do escape the city in the weather chopper. After landing for gas at a remote airstrip and escaping after a run in with a group of undead, the land on the roof a mall to take temporary refuge inside. Though after accessing the building through the roof, Peter and Roger hatch a plan to clear the building of the undead and sealing it off from more getting inside, since the mall is filled with hard to get provisions such as food, fire arms and most importantly it has power and can be made safe. While in the final stage of their plan, Roger gets bitten after becoming reckless due to his erratic attitude as a result of living in a zombie Apocalypse. Leaving Roger to take care of him when he turns. Though he does live long enough to see the building made safe and enjoy the freedom that entails. Though their actions don’t go unnoticed as a roving gang of bikers notice the chopper on the roof and the barricaded doors. Leading them to raid the mall…

What I like about Dawn of the Dead more than that Night, is that here the living being the threat is far more in the forefront. Sure,this was important at the end of the film, but that can be written of as bad judgment or simply as bad luck. Here the gang is actually actively destroying a safe haven for other survivors, and Stephen is the one to open fire leading to a deadly shootout between the two groups. Even though he is directed not to by Peter.

I also enjoy the effects far more in this film, though not the make up. Without the black and white the zombies look fake and the make up effects are very noticeable. That aside the gore is really ratcheted up here and Tom Savini skills really shine. My favorite effect being when the biker is literally disemboweled on-screen, even with as tame as it looks by the standards of such films as Saw or Hostel, they still really hold up.

The characters are also far more likable as they’re willing to work together. Something characters in Night really struggled with. Plus, they get a moment of reprieve so we get to see them interact outside imminent life and death situations. Which works wonderfully for both character development and the pacing of the film.

Final thoughts, I really enjoy this entry in the series. More than I do most of the others and there’s quite a few, eight in total counts the remakes, with a prequel in the works (at the time of writing this). Though that said this film isn’t perfect. Rogers slip into being less than mentally stable, feels abrupt and could have been led into better and the bikers felt completely unfleshed out. So more about them and their motivation beyond let’s loot mall would have been nice. At least giving them names. 9/10


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