Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Savant sort of gave up on gore horror movies after reviewing a pair of
Lucio Fulci gut-rippers back in 2000. Like
I always say, If ya see one set of internal organs ripped out of a screaming victim, you've seen 'em all. But
I did give George Romero's third zombie opus
Day of the Dead a spin last year and found
it to be much better than I thought it would be. But there was still Romero's first sequel to the original
Night of the Living Dead, one of those top horror titles I never caught up with.
Now Anchor Bay has brought out the latest in a long line of Dawn of the Dead releases, an 'ultimate
edition' that combines all three versions of the film into one four-disc zombie marathon. The impressively
mounted set provides the most thorough analysis of the film possible, with several full length commentaries
and two docus, each of feature length.
As for the film, it certainly earns its crown as the king of the zombie flicks. Romero's taut screenplay has a
logical development and the no-star cast are people we actually like and care about. The outrageous gore
no longer seems as drastic as it once did, allowing us a chance to admire Romero's storytelling skills. With
people to root for and something to sell beyond a nihilistic gorefest, Dawn of the Dead is an entertaining
It's the evening after the initial Night of the Living Dead, and a Philadelphia television
station is closing down as the zombie nightmare rages outside. Traffic pilot Stephen (David Emge) talks his
pregnant girlfriend and TV stage manager Francine (Gaylen Ross) into fleeing with him in the station's helicopter.
Along with them come two cops (Ken Foree and Scott H. Reiniger) convinced that fighting the zombies with their
units is already a lost battle. The foursome skip across the Pennsylvania countryside looking for aviation fuel,
knowing that in the present anarchy, human survivors they might meet will consider them thieves and renegades,
just like any other survivalist group. Then they spot an enormous suburban mall and land on its roof. If they can
block the entrances and exterminate the zombies inside, they might be able to survive there.
George Romero pulls off a neat trick in Dawn of the Dead; he creates a convincing post-zombie
apocalypse engulfing the whole country, without really showing more than a few isolated details. Unlike
other 'panic in year zero' scenarios like No Blade of Grass, every citizen does not turn into a
murdering psycho survivalist the moment that law and order breaks down. Dawn goes against the
universal misanthropy of other zombie pix when the cops understand and sympathize with the reactions of
the poor blacks in the housing project. When two groups of deserting police converge on a helicopter that
represents one of the few remaining escape routes from the city, there's no battle for control as we'd expect
to see in Miracle Mile or 28 Days Later. The second group of cops elect to commandeer a boat instead.
Romero has his four refugees pick a giant shopping mall as their best hope of survival, a brilliant narrative
move. The mall is sort of like a castle in that the feeble-minded zombies outside can be simply
locked out. When the horde already inside are disposed of, our heroes live in a consumer paradise with every
store open for free 'shopping,' including a supermarket. They wisely secrete themselves in a custom-fitted set
of rooms at the
very top, stocked with emergency rations and furniture brought up from below. And they even construct a fake wall
to fool outside invaders who may invade their domain, while they hide out in hopes of a better moment to fly
their helicopter elsewhere.
As in Night of the Living Dead, Romero makes his characters unpredictably human. Without name stars, we
there is no way to predict who will survive and who won't. The ones who don't become zombie food by losing
perspective on their situation and taking unnecessary chances or making illogical moves. The 'man of action'
pilot shows himself to have a weak constitution when it comes to a protracted siege against the zombie horde. The
two SWAT commandos are perfectly adapted to the nasty job of dealing with the zombies, but one's cockiness
turns into a foolhardy euphoria. The semi-catatonic, I-can't-deal-with-this female character from the first
film returns, but this time turns into a take-charge type, learning to think in a crisis and even how to fly
her boyfriend's helicopter.
Romero keeps the dialogue basic and to the point, which makes things easy for his (mostly very good) actors, who
score points for credibility and personality. There's also a lot to identify with here. Part of the appeal of
doomsday-type movies is the fantasy that YOU might be one of the lucky survivors to embark on a great adventure,
prevailing when most of the rest of humanity has been wiped out. Dawn of the Dead combines that with
the Shopping Mall fantasy of being able to walk into stores and take whatever one wants. When Peter (Ken Foree) and
Roger (Scott Reiniger) invade a gun store and reap a bonanza of weapons and ammo, a prime adolescent fantasy
unfolds before our eyes. Superimposed over all those associations is the satirical notion that our society is
based on consumer goods; our four gunmen of the apocalypse are defending their own petty kingdom of department
stores. Clever dialogue establishes that the zombies must be gravitating to the mall out of habit - they're no
longer human but they do have faint memories of life. The next film Day of the Dead extends that satirical
notion by studying zombies in captivity.
But we're still looking at a basic survival story and Romero rings down the third act by bringing in a mob of
scavenging bikers, a sensational development that's usually poorly handled, as in the old doomsday film No
Blade of Grass. Here it's close to brilliant, with the bikers smashing the mall's doors and letting in the
zombies while they conduct an orgy of pillage and violence.
That brings us to the violence and the gore effects, which twenty-six years later are still effective. Once the
first heads are blown off and the first zombie teeth tear out huge chunks of human flesh, the rest is just
icing on the corpse, so to speak. There are inherent limitations in trying to make art out of a genre that by
definition has to have regular commercial injections of stomach-turning gore, and the only strain on
Dawn of the Dead is that by the 2/3 mark we're more interested in seeing the plot and characters play out
than we are witnessing 101 more cinematic ways to chop up, shoot, and rip people asunder. Suffering is suffering,
and anybody with enough life experience to know what real physical trauma is is not going to really need this
particular cheap thrill. But in exceptional cases almost anything is acceptable in a movie, and Dawn of the
Dead is exploitation with just enough ambition and artistry to get by the B.S. meter.
Anchor Bay's four-disc set of the Dawn of the Dead Ultimate Edition comes in a fancy folding package made with
the kind of care given top-rank product like Lord of the Rings. True Romero-philes already know all about
the various versions, but the three transfers here are as follows: The U.S. Theatrical Cut, which has a full
set of audio choices (see below), the shorter European cut supervised and re-tracked with Goblin music by
coproducer Dario Argento, and the extra-long Extended Version, which was I believe adapted from an early
film festival version and has a mix of music cues.
The full list of extras are below. Not mentioned are two booklets, one a sampling of a horror-comic version of the
film, and the other a fancy (very fancy) booklet containing just one Roger Ebert review and a lot of still photos.
Other incidental goodies include an old ad for the Monroeville Mall and a recent cast reunion there taped with a DVCam.
It's obvious that Romero's main impetus for the movie must have been the access to an entire mall of
stores for a month of late-night filming. 1
Disc extras producer Perry Martin conducts two marathon commentaries, a friendly and open track with Romero and
collaborators, and a second with producer Richard Rubinstein, which has an entirely different feeling - not
hostile, exactly, but certainly on a different pitch. A third commentary with the actors is also a recent
the full list of extras is below.
One of the docus is an older career piece on Romero done with plenty of behind-the scenes footage, but Anchor Bay's
Martin has pieced together an exhaustive 72 minute piece with intimate interviews with the director, all the
actors, the cameraman and the charismatic gore effects-meister Tom Savini, who long ago attained godly status
among gore fans. Most production aspects are addressed, and there are even some Italian-language interview clips
with Dario Argento.
But the personal stories of the lead actors - all still alive, all looking chipper - provide most of the fun. Ken
Foree talks about not believing anyone would ever let such graphic gore be shown on a screen; and the personable
Gaylen Ross talks about having to explain to her classically-trained Russian acting coach what zombie movies are
all about, when all the other students are working on The Seagull. Dawn of the Dead looks to be one
of those labors of love where nobody earned a nickel but were happy to work for George Romero, reportedly a
sweetheart of a guy who inspired great loyalty. Ah, but things have changed, now that the lowliest of
beginning directors demand to be treated like God's gift ...
The Dawn of the Dead Ultimate Edition will be God's gift to the George Romero cult. Now, with the Elite
Millenium DVD version of the original Night of the Living Dead, Romero's trilogy is completely serviced
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Dawn of the Dead rates:
Movie: Excellent, but it's not for your Grandmother or your sensitive girlfriend, or your
sensitive girlfriend's sensitive hamster ... etc.
Available Audio Tracks: English (DTS 5.1 ES), English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround), English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
Four discs: Three versions of the film plus a bonus disc of extras.
DISC ONE - U.S. THEATRICAL VERSION Audio Commentary with Writer/Director George A. Romero, Make-Up
Effects Creator Tom Savini, and Assistant Director Chris Romero, moderated by DVD Producer Perry Martin;
Trailers, TV and Radio Spots; Poster & Advertising Gallery; George A. Romero Bio; Comic Book Preview;
5.1 DTS Surround Sound, 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound, 2.0 Dolby Surround, Original Mono.
DISC TWO - EXTENDED VERSION Audio Commentary with Producer Richard P. Rubinstein, moderated by DVD
Producer Perry Martin; Monroeville Mall Commercial; Behind-the-Scenes Photo Gallery; Memorabilia Gallery;
Production Stills; Original Mono.
DISC THREE - EUROPEAN VERSION Audio Commentary with actors David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger
and Gaylen Ross; International Theatrical Trailers; U.K. TV Spots; International Lobby Card Gallery;
International Poster & Advertising Gallery; International Pressbook Gallery; Home Video & Soundtrack Artwork;
Dario Argento Bio; 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound, 2.0 Dolby Surround, Original Mono
DISC FOUR - DOCUMENTARIES Roy Frumkes' Document of the Dead - The original documentary filmed
during the shooting; The Dead Will Walk, an all-new documentary featuring interviews with cast and
crew members Claudio Argento, Dario Argento, Pat Buba, Tony Buba, Zilla Clinton, David Crawford, David Early,
David Emge, Ken Foree, Michael Gornick, John Harrison, Clayton Hill, Sharon Ceccatti-Hill, Jim Krut,
Leonard Lies, Scott H. Reiniger, Chris Romero, George A. Romero, Gaylen Ross, Tom Savini, and Claudio
Simonetti; On-Set Home Movies with Audio Commentary from Zombie Extra Robert Langer; Monroeville Mall Tour
with Actor Ken Foree.
Packaging: 4 discs in card and plastic folder inside card sleeve
Reviewed: October 25, 2004
1. How'd he do that? What lunatic store
owner would allow their premises to be used for an unrated gore movie? How'd they feature things like the Penney's
logo prominently in shots? Nowadays, everything has to be a pre-arranged deal. And in many scenes it looks like big
sections of the mall are trashed or splattered with debris and fake blood. Did they have a frantic clean-up
every dawn before going home? Inquiring minds want to know. Perhaps these issues are all covered in the
commentaries, which Savant only sampled.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2004 Glenn Erickson
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