Friday, June 27, 2008
Dawn of the Dead (US Theatrical Release) (1978) DVD Review
I'm a zombie whore. I think we all know that by now. Thus I figured it high time I got around to watching the cult classic George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead. After getting through about a third of the film, I really just have one thing to ask: How?
How did this end up being revered as one of the best zombie films ever made? How did this score 97% on Rotten Tomatoes? How is this even considered horror?
I'm not talking about the low budget special effects, or the really cheesy '70's sound track, or anything to do with it being a 30 year old film, I'm talking about it's lack of horror and believable characters from the get-go.
Perhaps I'm just desensitised or jaded or whatever, but let me start by saying that Dawn of the Dead is _not_ scary. At all. In fact, watching an episode of Barney & Friends is fraught with more horror than Dawn of the Dead is.
The zombies themselves are completely pathetic and fail to inspire anything but cheesy jokes at their expense. Again, I'm not talking about the lame grey face paint or the bright red "blood," I'm talking about the fact that a horde of zombies can surround one of the survivors, and he'll be just fine because they can't be bothered to properly grab hold of him, and even if they do grab him, they'll take forever to try and bite him! Where's the fear of the zombified masses if you can run through a crowd of them with no risk what-so-ever? Perhaps the zombie genre really evolved from this film, but these early renditions are so far from the zombie lore I know that they were simply laughable.
I suppose I should get in to the film's premise. There's an unexplained zombie uprising, as there always is, and 4 survivors fly off in a news station helicopter and ultimately barricade themselves in a suburban shopping mall. David Emge plays Stephen, the news station's pilot, who's in the thick of things with his co-worker and girlfriend Francine (Gaylen Ross) and two deserting SWAT officers, Peter (Ken Foree) and Roger (Scott H. Reiniger). Together, they try to hold off the undead horde that's pursuing them by using what supplies and weapons the mall has to offer. It's a great concept that has been mirrored in other films and games, and the criticisms of materialism evident throughout the film are certainly powerful, but such subtle critiques are lost with the poor scripting and characters.
I just couldn't buy any of the characters, who's actions are so ridiculous you find yourself hoping that they'll get eating just so you don't have to watch them anymore. They just don't act believably. Instead of looking out for each other and _planning_ at first, they're simply doing their own thing. Now, I can understand that while facing the apocalypse, they may end up winging a thing or two and basically be flying by luck, but it's common sense to have someone watching your back at all times, to properly work together for mutual survival. Though survival really isn't that hard with the quality of the zombies stumbling after them.
I don't know, perhaps I am simply desensitized. I mean, I am the guy who considers The Exorcist to be the greatest comedy ever made, but as a horror film I simply can not recommend Dawn of the Dead. Instead, go watch its modern re-imagining from a few years back, reviewed here. While the new Dawn of the Dead's not scary either, more of an action flick, at least it's a lot more, well, plausible. You can read my review of it here.
For the DVD itself, there really isn't anything in the way of extras to speak of. Some old trailers and a written bio of George A. Romero, but otherwise nothing special. While there are certainly parts of the film that are so bad it's good, I recommend leaving this one to rot at the mall.