Dawn of the Dead (1978)

“Dawn of the Dead” while taking off from its predecessor “Night of the Living Dead”, is also symbolic of the dawn of the apocalypse. It’s the dawn of a new civilization, the dawn of the apocalypse, the dawn of the end of humanity, and the dawn of the time. It’s where the end of Western civilization has been realized and Romero displays much of the shocking sentiment and storytelling ingeniously. Romero is a brilliant storyteller because not only can he tell a very shocking tale, he can also make audiences think beneath the horror. The zombies are more than cannibalistic corpses, they’re also symbolic of humanity. In all four chapters, the walking dead take on a new definition and message as to what Romero is trying to convey to his audience. Romero isn’t all horror when it comes to the Dead films, there are actual stories and plot points laid out for the audience. “Dawn” takes place on an undisclosed time after “Night of the Living Dead” where the dead have managed to spread out from the country side.

Now the invasion has managed to become a worldwide epidemic and literally means the collapse of civilization. Where as the remake’s carnage was quick, this focuses on a more realistic invasion in which the epidemic is slow and sporadic and then meant the crumbling of the world without any hope. In the film, four survivors, Fran a television station technician, and Stephen a helicopter pilot steal the station’s copter and decide to make a break for it but first decide to rescue Stephen’s friends. After an unsuccessful raid of an apartment complex where the residents have been storing their undead loved ones, Roger and Peter, two sharp shooting SWAT members high tail it with the couple to re-fuel. In a rather tense sequence, and stop off at the Monroeville mall where they hope to retrieve the supplies needed. While there, they’re able to exterminate most of the zombies untouched and steal the supplies they want, but they decide it’d be a perfect place to set up camp. They hide at the top undiscovered, and are able to clear the top floor and have their pick of the stores, but soon as cabin fever takes over, they find it’s not such a utopia after all.

The mall itself not only becomes a twisted cornucopia of resources, and a Utopia, but it also becomes its own character, an entity that decides the fate of these four characters within this closed in mall. All four live in the mall and the outside world is pretty much gone to shit in the handbag regardless of how much denial people inhabit. Such is shown during the Southern lynch mobs whom are partying and hunting down the zombies. Little do they know the world has ended. Romero’s zombies are representative of the consumer culture at the time that is still very resonant in this day and age of greed and consumption. The zombie’s fight the survivor’s, not only to get at them to eat them, but they fight them for the mall. Though most of the characters aren’t aware of this, Peter, the unofficial leader of the group, explains they want the mall just to walk around in, because it’s what they did when they were alive. The zombies have no use for the products and have no need for material possessions yet still defend and try to re-claim the mall for their own purposes simply out of reflex. The human mind is so conditioned to consume and spend, even after death we’re still roaming the stores and trying to get to jewelry and money.

Even the survivors whom have no needfor material possessions beside food still linger the stores, try on clothing and drool at the sight of money which has no basic function any longer. Romero’s rule for a zombie movie: it’s about characters surrounded by zombies, not about zombies. That’s been the major fault with a lot of the rip-offs of the modern horror age. Zombie films are all about zombies without any characters to know or root for. “Dawn” is comprised of some truly layered individuals in the personas of the four main characters here. Peteris the strong ethnic theme resonant through Romero’s dead films who  unofficially leads the three survivors and runs the show. Ken Foree pulls off a convincing performance as Peter the conflicted leader who always tries to keep things straight. There’s Stephen the pilot who isn’t sure of himself and constantly finds himself in trouble due to trying to keep up with the two sharpshooters. He’s not the handiest man around, but David Emgee portrays him with real heart; there’s Fran, the female of the group who must evolve in to a survivor, as Peter demande.

Finally, there’s my absolute favorite character Roger the headstrong loose cannon of the foursome whose great with the gun and knows how to handle himself. Scott Reiniger gives a tough grizzled performance and most of the time looks like a cast member from the show SWAT who accidentally drifted on to the film. He’s a great anti-hero who kept my attention for most of the movie. The four have an eclectic energy and electric chemistry as they work together to  try and create peace within the confines of the mall but find it very difficult as a biker gang destroys everything in the gory climax. Most of the film is devoted to actual storytelling as we watch the foursome deal with impatience, cabin fever, and restlessness that can’t be settled. Romero perpetuates that tension in to some unsettling atmosphere leading to the shocking climax.

“Dawn” is a pure horror masterpiece that sets the bar that still has yet to be surpassed in quality, class, and shocks. Few horror films can stand the test of time, but some horror films are like fine wine and only increase in value as they age, and “Dawn of the Dead” is in a rare league of ingenious horror films that are utterly timeless. “Dawn” is the original article and a true example of resourcefulness, subtext, pure storytelling and shocking gore that still holds up very well even in today’s age of flash, and CGI. I love it.