Dawn of the Dead (1978) Review


October 23, 2013 by

Dawn of the Dead (1978) Image

There's a process that most effective horror movies abide, where certain portions of a film's time are usually spent building either tension or mood. Eventually the build hits a climax and the audience's patience is rewarded with a "bang." Depending on the film and how well it's made, the intensity of the bang can range from dull thud to a violent blast. The length of time leading up to the bang can sometimes be directly proportional to the strength of it.

For I recall one particular build in 1978's Dawn of the Dead that involved introducing and developing a particular character. He seemed like an even-headed sort of guy, despite being a little cocky at times. More than that he was a go-getter, a good friend, and he seemed damn near invincible. Zombies waylaid him a few times throughout the film, and every time he came out on top--much to the audience's relief, I might add... Then there came a moment when his arrogance got the better of him. He became careless and sloppy in his actions, perhaps even a little complacent, and he soon found himself in an inescapable bind. I thought, as I watched this scene: "Yeah, he'll pull through, though. He's got to." No sooner had I finish the thought than a nearby zombie dug its rotting teeth into the soft flesh of his arm. Although the character escaped the situation alive, we all know what a zombie bite settles on...

The hour and fifteen or so minutes devoted to developing this guy was little more than a build to an explosive, and terribly depressing, bang in Dawn of the Dead. Romero knew his craft very well. He wrote characters that anyone could identify with, provided them with a sleek script full of wonderful dialog and priceless interactions, showed us a little of the best and worst of the film's main quartet, and then thrust them into situations in which we would pray for their safety. Most of the time they survived, sometimes they didn't. This is storytelling so rich that each time I watch the film, I hope for the events to turn out differently and for everyone to get to safety. The events never change, though...

Of course, there's more to the Dawn of the Dead experience than fantastic characters and chilling moments. Most notably, this is probably one of the few critically acclaimed horror movies with an excessive amount of gore. Heck, the film begins with heads exploding and hordes of zombies chewing human bones clean of their meat. As with the character development, the gore eventually builds to a bloody climax involving looters falling victim to scores of hungry zombies. You don't see them merely dragged away and eaten off screen, but witness more bloody details than you might want to, including outright evisceration.

Some might point out that Dawn of the Dead's gore looks too fake to be taken seriously, not realizing that make-up artist Tom Savini and director George A. Romero wanted it that way. Parts of the film were made to imitate horror comics like those featured by EC. This is especially apparent when you notice the bright color of the movie's blood in contrast to the zombies' grayish-blue flesh tone. This was intended to soften the blow caused by the graphic imagery and remind us that Dawn of the Dead is, to its core, a piece of entertainment.

You're probably wondering now if there's more to the story than zombies eating people. The flick was, after all, directed by George A. Romero, and he's quite fond of social commentary. I will say that there is plenty of commentary on American consumerism in this film, and leave it at that. I wish to avoid inadvertently turning this review into a pretentious quasi-essay on Romero's themes...

Although I enjoy commentary in horror movies, I wouldn't consider myself a commentary snob. What I look for most in truly well made horror flicks is the effective use of the build and bang process and likable characters. Neither have to be grand, they only need to be effective. Dawn of the Dead passes that test with flying colors, mostly by including a cast of likable characters and tossing them into situations that grow grimmer with each scene. It's an all around fantastic piece of horror fiction, and personally one of my all time favorite movies.

Rating: 10/10

Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.

About the Author: Joe Shaffer

Joseph Shaffer is a working man by day, freelance games writer by night. He resides in the Inland Northwest with his wife, and spends most of his free time watching bad movies and playing video games (and eventually writing about them).

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