“Dawn of the Dead”
Stars: David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger, Gaylen Ross
Writer: George A. Romero
Dir: George A. Romero
127 minutes (Director’s Theatrical Version); 139 minutes (Extended Version) 118 minutes (European Version)
Look above. Three different versions of the same film, which was released nearly two years after your humble bloggers were born. This movie must have been important to deserve such treatment.
Yes, Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead,” the loosely-connected sequel to his masterpiece “Night of the Living Dead” is, and always will be, a profound middle-finger to horror films of the day and even to modern day films of its nature.
“Dawn” was a landmark for a variety of reasons. It erupted at the right time and caused a decent amount of controversy, having been released without a rating (for the unschooled, if you released any film depicting scenes objectionable to “viewers,” the MPAA [the Motion Picture Association of America] would slap that film with an “X” rating back in the 1970s and early 1980s. Now, if you do not know what an “X” rating would infer to any film, you are too young to read this blog, let alone know what “X” rating means). Romero, still full of piss and vinegar as a young filmmaker, and having had some early battles with the ratings board on other films (see “Martin”), went back into “this is what I want to see so f*ck you” mode and released “Dawn” without a rating, knowing it would lead to distribution and theatrical release issues.
And he kicked the MPAA in the teeth.
“Dawn” still remains Romero’s biggest worldwide accomplishment, both critically and financially (don’t throw “Land of the Dead stats at me; adjust for inflation, first).
And it really deserves to be a major feat.
Romero predicted, deftly, the coming consumer-culture of the 1980s, where “more was better” and “those without could suck it.” Note: He began working on “Dawn” four years prior to that vision even becoming a glimpse of being fully-apparent.
The story of the film is very simple. Yes, my friends, this IS “the one in the mall.” Four diverse survivors — two of whom are members of a broadcast news station team, the other two members of a SWAT team — take refuge in a shopping mall (Monroeville Mall near Pittsburgh, Pa., for the unaware). They feel they have found the ultimate fortress, full of all the wares of the day, all the supplies they will ever need. But, what they realize is, even with the security they have gained — and the hundreds upon hundreds of zombies waiting outside — they are really trapped, unable to fully enjoy what some would consider the ultimate “creature comforts.”
While Romero’s message in this film may not have been nearly as subtle as “Night of the Living Dead,” he struck a nerve. Even though Romero intended this zombie outing to be a comedy, he made it a dark one; Romero, even during early production of the film, stated that “Dawn” was a comic-book telling of a zombie apocalypse. Keeping that in mind, modern audiences can appreciate that. From the first time I viewed the film, I said to myself, “Why does the f***ing blood look so fake?” “Why is this music so terrible?”
The Italian musical group Goblin, famous for scaring the diarrhea out of so many others by scoring films by maestro director Dario Argento (a little more on him a bit later), took Romero’s comedic take on the story, America’s indifference, and universal satire, and turned out what some would view, on the surface, as a soundtrack worthy of cat-vomit — and tweaked up the absurdity of “Dawn,” Romero’s prophetic vision, and muzak. The only time the soundtrack takes a serious turn is when the film takes a (somewhat) serious turn.
As aforementioned, the film has three, definitive and acknowledged versions. Romero claims the theatrically-released and unedited version from 1979 as his definitive “director’s cut.” I prefer the “extended cut,” which further delves into the characters, their motives, and their struggles at remaining sane while completely cut off from any and all human contact… until... well, watch it.
Now, the “European Version” was a version of the film supervised in editing by Dario Argento; and, I have to say, without reserve: “Argento, don’t ever fucking edit a film ever, ever again.”
For some reason, Argento decided that the most interesting elements of the film — the f***ing characters — needed to take a backseat to a few additional (slight) scenes of gore. The European Version, while slightly more gory, lacks the “oomph,” both politically and satirically that either of the other versions of “Dawn” encapsulated. Go back to “giallos,” Argento, and never, ever, try to edit an American classic again (In all fairness, Argento edited the film prior to its worldwide release — he simply should not have done it, even if he helped finance the film’s production).
Romero Rules Followed: It’s a Romero classic…all are followed and further defined.
Gore factor: This one goes to 11, again.
Zombies or Wannabees? Zombies all the way
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Definitive classic
Additional comments: This is the one film that scared the dogsh*t out of my mother, and further peaked my interest in horror films, not just zombie films. If you are a fan of zombies or zombie films, you owe it to yourself to see this one, not Zach Snyder’s abomination of a remake (Andrew, I am calling on you to tell everyone the reasons they need to watch THIS instead of THAT). And if you are a turbo-fan, buy Anchor Bay’s four-disc set that includes all three “recognized versions” of the film along with some eye-opening and incredible behind-the-scenes documentaries and commentaries with Romero, make-up man Tom Savini and many others. I cannot recommend this gem enough. Ignore the fallacies; embrace the genius.