Wednesday, 13th December 2017. 3:44:35pm ET
Reviews Movie Reviews Dawn of the Dead (1978)

 


Movie: Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Company: Anchor Bay
Format: DVD
Reviewer: Joshua Heinrich
Date: 6/8/04

Dawn of the Dead, the quintessential 1978 sequel to George Romero's 1968 genre-defining zombie film Night of the Living Dead, ups the scale of the original to near apocalyptic proportions for what many argue is one of the best zombie films ever made. A huge DVD set featuring multiple versions of the film and a ton of extras is due out in the fall. However, with a radically changed (read almost completely different) remake hitting theaters and raising the film's visibility, Anchor Bay scrambled to put together a single disc Divimax DVD of the out-of-print original and get it out to stores.

Where Night of the Living Dead was the story of a group of people trapped in a house as the dead returned to life and attempted to devour the living, Dawn of the Dead takes place in a chaotic world being quickly overrun by zombies. As chaos spreads, a newswoman, her pilot boyfriend, and a couple of police officers flee the city by helicopter to create their own refuge in a shopping mall inhabited by the undead. There, they try to create new lives for themselves while battling problems stemming from both the undead and the living.

The film is also a commentary on violence, racism, and a number of other social issues in America. The original Night of the Living Dead was also cited as being a social commentary, although that was entirely unintentional. This time around, however, they tried to cram it in there, even advertising the film in trailers as a commentary on the excesses of society. The film's functionality as a social commentary occasionally works to varying degrees of success, although it sometimes misses its mark and quite often goes a bit overboard. Thankfully, the sometimes overly forced social commentary usually doesn't ruin the film's horror appeal and often serves to add a little more depth to the story.

Dawn of the Dead, overall, is more suspenseful and dramatic than truly horrific. It's never really creepy or unsettling, but there's always the uncertainty of whether or not the four group members will survive. Using the classic formula of taking an epic event and making it more digestible and personal by focusing on a small group of people and their personal struggle within the overall situation, Romero has created a film driven by its story and characters with somewhat believable protagonists. The zombies often play a secondary role to the group's struggle to survive and recreate the comforts of normal life, often being portrayed more as an annoyance or obstacle without personification than as antagonists. In that respect, it's really the story of a group of humans trying to survive and maintain some level of the lifestyle they're used to in a radically altered and exceptionally dangerous environment.

To say Dawn of the Dead is a classic is not to say the film is without its flaws. In fact, it often borders on b horror. While the gore effects are fairly impressive, most of the makeup effects are absolutely ridiculous. The decomposing undead are essentially represented by people in amusingly bad blue makeup, perhaps leaving the viewer to wonder whether it's an invasion by the living dead or a revolution led by giant Smurfs. While Goblin's title theme is quite good, much of the other music found here, often consisting of sci-fi-esque wobbly synth work, is fairly bad and, at times, even annoying. Even the story is, occasionally, a bit ridiculous. For instance, the country is being overrun by zombies, yet electrical power remains completely uninterrupted throughout the entire film. Things can also drag a bit at times, drawn out across a running time of over two hours. Still, despite its flaws, it's an interesting and entertaining horror classic that became the blueprint for almost every zombie movie and videogame that followed.

The DVD transfer is excellent. You'll also find a new Dolby 5.1 surround soundtrack mix in addition to a DTS soundtrack, a Dolby 2.0 mix, and the original mono soundtrack. While not fully loaded, there are also a number of special features here including a commentary, a number of trailers and commercials, a poster and ad gallery, and a comic book preview. While it probably won't come close to the multi-disc release that's coming this fall (which is rumored to contain as many as three different cuts of the film), it's a nicely assembled package with all of the quality features you'd expect from an Anchor Bay DVD.

In the end, big fans of the film may want to wait for the definitive multiple disc set due out later this year. However, this DVD will more than satisfy casual fans or those fans that simply can't wait. Whether you consider it the ultimate zombie film or merely an influential, entertaining piece of horror history, it, like the original Night of the Living Dead, is certainly a genuine classic that shouldn't be missed.


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