Written & Directed by George A. Romero
I have recently been sitting down with some of horrors “classics” from before my time, as I am a self proclaimed film lover with a rather large hole in my horror film experience. Just last week I sat down with Night of the Living Dead, the film that launched the zombie career of famed horror director George A. Romero. I was less than impressed with his first “classic”, which was done on a small budget, certinaly dampening my spirits with the lame scares, but truly it was a blandly directed film in my estimation, making it passable entertainment for a horror film with no outstanding benefits. So now I turn back to Romero asking for more with the next installment in the “Dead” franchise, Dawn of the Dead, which most people probably recognize as a 2004 film directed by Zack Snyder, but it was Romero himself that made his mark with this film.
Once again we are returned to Pennsylvania, the state in which Night of the Living Dead takes place as well. It is apparent that this film should follow Night, proving that the epidemic of the undead has spread and the coverage is waning with the widespread panic of the general public. Francine (Gaylen Ross) is in the news business but after a chaotic day on set, she flees the city with her helicopter pilot boyfriend Stephen (David Emge). The two are joined in the helicopter by a pair of SWAT team members, Peter (Ken Foree) and Roger (Scott Reiniger). As they fly across the state, they find refuge in an abandoned shopping mall, where they set up shop by baracading themselves in and destroying all the zombies inside. But soon other survivors happen upon their hideout and are looking to get their piece of the pie.
This film seems so much more complete and thought out than Night of the Living Dead was. I do enjoy the notion of returning to that same world, where a strange epidemic is spreading and threatening humans. I think this films deals with that a lot better than the first too. I thought the zombies were unthreatening due to their lack of speed, thereby giving the humans ample time to escape, but with this film Romero really gives the epidemic scope. Because of the sheer volume of zombie and the extent of the effected area, the zombies are real threat this time. Humans can no longer live normally and that is threat enough to the way of life. People cannot be running away from zombies all day long and be happy. Romero brings together the cast much better this go around too, making it feel more natural.
The situation is a whole lot of fun. I imagined it as the perfect set up for a video game or end of world/zombie scenario: vacant mall with everything you would need, including guns to kill the zombies. After dispelling the zombie population, the gang has a lot of fun living in the mall, another simple fantasy. But Romero adds to this by bringing in the human threat at the end, and practically condemning consumerism by glorifying it. The gang comes in to loot and our protagonists feel entitled to the mall just as the looters do. Everyone is trying to survive, the zombies are the enemy, and yet the two groups of humans make it out that the other is the enemy. This loss of focus really takes this over the top for me and instead of being a good zombie film, it actually just becomes a good film.
The production value is really a whole lot better this time too. All of the acting and locations are tons better than anything in Night of the Living Dead. There is still some hokiness, but no extremely over the top acting to take me out of the film. I was invested and interested the whole time and genuinely entertained by what Romero had to offer me with Dawn of the Dead, which has me excited to look into some of his other efforts. Heck, I am even interested in checking out Zack Snyder’s remake, even if Zack Snyder is a director I know I dislike. But then again, I have even heard good things about the remake. It is just a scenario that I think I would not bore from seeing, which is a compliment to both Romero the writer, and in the case of this film, Romero the director.