Review: DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)

By Darin Skaggs

Ten years after creating his cult classic Night of the Living Dead George A. Romero made another zombie apocalypse film, 1978’s Dawn of the Dead. Just like how Night took on race relations through a scary tale of the living dead, he uses those monsters to take on America. Dawn takes place mostly in a mall where many zombies have flocked to because, as a character says, this is what they are familiar with and what they know. Our heroes take refuge inside the mall as well, upstairs safe from the zombies. These four are news reporter Stephen Andrews (David Emge), his girlfriend Francine Parker (Gaylen Ross), and SWAT team members Peter Washington (Ken Foree) and Roger Demarco (Scott Reiniger). They spend their time there trying to survive and not go crazy from sheer boredom.

If you have to classify Dawn of the Dead many would stick it into the horror/thriller genre.   Yet, this film is funny, could be seen as a horror comedy. There are not many scares, for sure there are some thrills, but it is not really scary. The zombie kills for most of the action scenes are played off as humorous and admittedly are very silly. This is no critique at the film, it works. It also works at a look at movie violence at the time which because of the MPAA allowed filmmakers to have violence, sex and language and they would be given a rating for how offensive the material could be. The characters in this film seem to be having fun killing these zombies. That is until they realize they are in actual danger like audiences enjoying films that exploit violence and not realizing sometimes the acts are too much.

Throughout the film our heroes just spend time just hanging out, they mess around out of boredom or the fact that they just can. This further proves the theory that humans are just like zombies wandering around the country not making any real choices and just doing what they are used to, but this does bring the overlong film to screeching halt. You really wonder where the story is going, what is next for our characters. You know what it is trying to say, but it slows the pace of the film. Nearing the end of the film is a battle between our guys and a gang of bikers with the zombies playing as an inconvenience. This is a pretty good fight scene filmed the same humor like violence, but it hits harder because these are real humans. It is hard because we realize that humanity cannot come together even when faced with an unfamiliar force. Humanity is even more against each other because of their selfishness for their need to survive. The ending could be seen as a happy one, there is an escape, but the lines of dialogue hints that even darker moments lay ahead. Dawn of the Dead is a great zombie film that pace is sadly slowed by moments that don’t have anything to do with the zombies.

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