It's here! It's here! IT'S HERE!!! While the rest of fandom wets their Wookie Underoos over a certain other bodacious box set, we CineSchlockers may never secure the sufficient number of drool buckets required for Anchor Bay's equally astonishing achievement. (Though, truth be told, yours truly did lobby DVD Talk for sole responsibility of reviewing Carrie Fisher's cast-iron bikini from Attack of the Ewoks.) What's better than George Romero's zombified treatise on conspicuous consumption? Well, FOUR DISCS of Dawn of the Dead, of course! (Ironic, huh?)
It'd been a decade since Night of the Living Dead, George's harrowing story of seven strangers, hiding in a Pennsylvania farm house, who find out what happens when people stop being dead and start getting hungry. The consumer culture that'd peak in the '80s was, ahem, dawning. Then it happened. Romero had his "Eureka!" moment square in the middle of the Monroeville Mall. Could there be a more perfect place to hole up while the world goes ape poopie!?!
Disc One: U.S. Theatrical Version -- Legend has it, before George even got rolling on a script, he phoned budding grue slinger Tom Savini and said: "Start thinking of interesting ways to kill people!" Lil Tommy must've always earned a great big check mark next to "Follows Directions" in grade school because, boy, does he ever deliver! Night's whole destroy-the-brain-kill-the-ghoul modus operandi gets blow'd up to a grand new grisly level this time around. In one ooey-gooey fashion or another there's far, far MORE exploding brainpans than leering cleavage shots in any Russ Meyer classic. Gory, gory hallelujah! Chief offenders are SWAT teammates Peter and Roger (towering Ken Foree and scrappy Scott Reiniger) who hitch a helicopter out of undead Dodge with a TV weather flyboy and his squeeze (David Emge and Gaylen Ross). As the foursome thumps over the countryside, we're treated to perversely hilarious scenes of hayseeds picking off lumbering zombies like overgrown gophers. Yet the real fun starts when our heroes happen upon one of them newfangled MALLS and commence to commandeer this shopper's Shangri-la from the horrible horde who still circle the food court itching for a blue light special on BRAINS!!!
Dawn was followed seven years later by Day of the Dead chronicling the subterranean misadventures of a mad scientist and his undead buddy Bub. At the time, fans were left cold given the third film's utter lack of pie fights. But Romero thinks the world of it and many zombiphiles have since reanimated their opinions as well. Coincidentally, 28 Days Later, which virtually lifts its final act from Day, ignited the current mainstream zombie craze that, coupled with the Dawn retread, may make Romero's long-awaited fourth Dead chapter a reality. Until then, CineSchlockers can look forward to Mr. Foree's return to the big screen as a Wild West-style pimp in Rob Zombie's next picture.
No breasts (See Disc Two). 236 corpses. Helicopter decapitation. Redneck rampage. Kiddo killin. Ice skating. One involuntary freefall. Neck noshing. Brainpan bashing. Multiple disembowelments. Ol' Okeydoke. Innumerable bullets to the noggin. Mannequin mangling. Multiple hit and runs. Escalator electric slide. Gratuitous biker gang. Excessive shoplifting. Machete wielding. TV busting. Puking.
Everyone has an opinion when it comes to zombies. From TV commentators: "They kill for one reason. For FOOD!" To one-legged Catholic priests: "You are stronger than us. But soon, I think, they'll be stronger than you!" To hot-head, eye-patch wearing scientists: "These creatures are nothing more but pure, motorized instinct ... THEY MUST BE DESTROYED ON SIGHT!!!" Yet no one sounds cooler than Mr. Foree. On why they love malls: "Some kind of instinct? Memory of what they used to do? This was an important place in their lives." After blowing a herd of 'em away: "This place is gonna be rotten. We gotta clean it up, brotha." And the famous line cribbed from Peter's grandpappy: "When there's no room in hell -- the dead will walk the earth."
Wanna stretch out on George's sofa and watch what's arguably the greatest zombie movie of all time? That's pretty much the invitation as the writer/director, his assistant director (and better half) Chris Romero and FX deity Tom Savini guide viewers through the flick with a real sense of ease. Savini's typically manic, though ever reverent alongside George, often citing instances of how Romero welcomed not just his input, but that of the entire crew. When pressed, Chris admits she just can't stomach the gore, but is nonetheless proud of the film and her husband's talent. CineSchlockers will be especially intrigued by Mr. Romero's dim, no, make that pessimistic view of Hollywood's proclivity for moviemaking-by-committee and how that's been an ever-present personal hurdle, especially when considering the next Dead movie. In all, it's a terrific track with a homey feel and oodles of insight. (1978, 127 mins, 1.85:1 anam, DTS & DD 5.1 & 2.0 & mono, Director commentary, Image gallery, Trailers, TV and radio spots, Mini full-color comic. Note: This disc can be purchased separately.)
Disc Two: Extended Version -- Often and incorrectly dubbed the Directors Cut, this was the version rushed before buyers at Cannes without Romero having sufficient time to make calculated artistic choices and streamline the film to its fighting weight. Considering the theatrical cut was always unrated, there's minimal amounts of additional gore. Perhaps an extra bite here or there. The breast count does leap to O-N-E as a bleak boudoir scene would later be darkened to shadow Ms. Ross' talents. But mostly it's just more shopping and a smattering of character moments. The biggest difference comes early in the film involving a protracted encounter at the heliport with the "Got any cigarettes?" cop and his not-so-merry men. Romero prefers the theatrical version and CineSchlockers are likely to agree. Nestled alongside yet another generous slide show (every disc's jammed with 'em!) is a howl-worthy Monroeville Mall commercial! What a time capsule. Commentary wise, producer Richard Rubinstein provides a fiercely candid track that gets down to bidness on the business of moviemaking by airing Romero's fiscal implosion (and resurrection) as well as pre-release thoughts on the controversial Dawn remake. Hang with this one, folks, Rubinstein's never shy with hot opinions and don't dare call this a "cult" film. (139 mins, 1.85:1 anam, DD mono, Producer commentary, Image gallery.)
Disc Three: European Version -- I-Talian horror maestro Dario Argento co-produced the film and retained foreign distribution rights allowing him to recut and market the movie as he wished. Basically, it's the Cannes cut hastened by whittling the chatty stuff non-English speakers wouldn't grasp and sequences Dario didn't dig -- such as the cranial copter chop. Romero's intentionally whimsical score is also enthused with more syntho-riffs by Argento mainstays, Goblin, lending to this version's edgier tone. CineSchlocker opinion will likely hinge on one's allegiances -- to Dario, an artist in marketeer mode, or to George the auteur. It's initially perplexing that the shortest cut was chosen for the cast commentary (in order of chattiness: Ken Foree, Gaylen Ross, Scott Reiniger and David Emge), however wisdom appears to prevail given the giggly, high-school reunion vibe that's more amusing than illuminating. Tangential time out: Is it too much to ask that talent PRE-SCREEN THE MOVIE!?! There's no greater gut-punch than, "Gee, I haven't seen this in ages!," followed by a criminal cocktail of hazy recollections and silence. (118 mins, 1.85:1 anam, DD 5.1 & 2.0 & mono, Cast commentary, Image gallery.)
Disc Four: Documentaries -- Behold the mother lode! Anchor Bay DVD guru Perry Martin, who also moderates the collection's two best commentaries, tops his Hills Have Eyes documentary with the sensational 75-minute tribute The Dead Will Walk. CineSchlockers are hereby ordered to buy this man a beer on sight as Martin leaves NO cast or crew member uninterviewed! Romero confesses that, while wow'd by Universal's monsters, it was a lavish movie MUSICAL that first sparked his inner filmmaker. Production manager Zilla Clinton recalls recruiting scores of undead. Savini and helicopter zombie Jim Krut explain how Jimbo blew his top. On the more fastidious side is Roy Frumkes' feature-length Document of the Dead, which stalks the set during a weekend of filming as a talking point for heralding George's genius. While true, Mr. Frumkes and his breathless narrator lay it on mighty thick and there's too much footage from Martin and Two Evil Eyes to comfortably justify the title. Curiously, two low-tech reels other distributors would've 86'd may prove particular fan faves. They're Ralph and Bob Langer's Super-8 home movies as zombie extras and an impossibly FUN walking tour of today's Monroeville Mall by Mr. Foree and a mob of his closest ghouls! (Don't miss Clayton Hill's staggering recreation of his escalator ascent.)
At last, an example where a brazenly grandiose marketing label such as "Ultimate Edition" is not only deserved, it's thoroughly earned. This four-disc grand slam is an absolute must-own for any self-respecting CineSchlocker!
G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.