Dawn of the Dead. Now this is what I call a horror movie. Forget the PG-13 teen-screamers, forget your nasty torture-porn. George Romero’s zombies rule! I liked Night of the Living Dead; I loved Dawn of the Dead. This timeless zombie flick has it all – enough character development, social commentary and situational-acceptable violence to allow you to put aside the datedness of the 1978 hair- and clothing styles, as well as the obvious red tempera paint subbing in for the buckets and buckets of blood.
Armageddon has come. No-one knows why, but zombies are everywhere. Dead folks rise up to attack and eat the living; live folk who are bitten succumb to the zombification process. The living dead are slow-moving but focused: they want to eat and they want to eat fresh meat. Four survivors find refuge in a shopping mall, eking out a fairly decent existence for themselves until a surviving motorcycle gang threatens them. A couple of the heroes make it out alive, heading off in their helicopter to an uncertain future – a slightly more hopeful ending than Romero’s first zombie installment.
I won’t discuss in detail the cynical statement Romero makes about us Americans and our rampant consumerism: one of the characters asks why the zombies keep coming into the mall; another character answers, “They're after the place. They don't know why, they just remember. Remember that they want to be in here.” (Dude – and this was even before the Gap!) If you’re interested in some of the zombie scholarship, try this guy.
Day of the Dead In this 1985 movie, a small group of scientists and soldiers hide out in an underground bunker while up above the zombies have seemingly overrun the rest of the world (or at least the country). Things are wicked tense down in the bunker: the scientists are experimenting and conducting research on various captured zombies, trying to find out why they are zombies and how they can be rendered harmless. The soldiers, on the other hand, want the scientists to find a way to eradicate the walking dead entirely. All the living people are stressed out and dealing with it in varying ways: drinking, panicking, losing their marbles, brutalizing their compatriots. Exacerbating the situation is Bub, the head scientist's pet zombie: a former soldier, Bub remembers a great deal of his life and can be trained. His re-emerging humanity is shown in direct juxtaposition to the soldiers' increasing dehumanization.
As in Dawn of the Dead, there is lots of spurting blood, splattering intestines and people being torn limb from limb. The special effects and zombie make-up continues to improve with each Dead movie - although I did have a quick flashback to the Thriller video at the initial zombie close-up. I thought the pacing lagged a bit even in such a short movie - lots and lots of talking - and I got a little bored during the non-zombie parts. I like Day of the Dead the least of the three: the first is a classic and a huge step forward for horror films; the second is wickedly funny and cynical; this third is just bleak where the people are almost more horrible than the monsters. I guess that's the point.
I still have a couple more to see if I want to complete my Romero Dead catalog: 2005's Land of the Dead and also Diary of the Dead, which had a limited US release in February 2008 but the movie never made it to theaters here, to my knowledge. I'll keep you posted!
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