A decade after he unleashed Night of the Living Dead, George A. Romero returned to zombie territory with Dawn of the Dead (1978) yet another groundbreaking landmark in horror cinema.
Even if you havent seen the film, you probably know the story,... the dead have begun to walk the earth and prey on the living. The film opens in a tv station trying to cover the turmoil. There flyboy Stephen Andrews (David Emge) arranges with his girlfriend Francine (Gaylen Ross) to leave the city that night, escaping via helicopter, hopefully flying to somewhere safer. Completing their group are police officers Roger Demarco (Scott H. Reiniger) and Peter Washington (Ken Foree). Their plan to fly to Canada is sidetracked when they make a rest stop at an abandoned shopping mall. While some zombies roam the parking lot and mall interior, Peter and Roger decide it is a perfect place to stay, the zombie numbers are small enough to take care of and the mall is a prime location full of everything they need. They manage to seal off the mall and settle into complacency. They have all the clothes and food they could need, an arsenal sporting goods, an ice rink, a bank full of money, an arcade, a salon, and more. But, the dead still lurk the perimeter, and the group finds their greatest threat in a band of bikers that stumble upon their consumer paradise.
Well, it is a classic. What can you say? A true gem from the days of unrated 70's grindhouse, crowd-pleasing cinema. Sure, Dawn has its dissenters. Rather than opting for a scare packed retread of the claustrophobic original, Romero decided to make and action romp. Some complain about the slow middle, where our group spends a few months settling into a comfortable life and a monotonous existence inside the malls secure walls. Roger is a bit of a tough talkin' weenie. And, yes, because it is a romp there was room for some bits of humor, including the often debated pie fight.
Aside from some novice acting and an obvious low budget which made the zombies cheaper and hokier than the ones special effects maestro Tom Savini would make in Romero's next Dead film Day of the Dead, I've always thought that Dawn lived up to its reputation as a true horror classic. Sure, it is not without its flaws, but at its basic heart it is decent gonzo action, low budget, exploitation fun. Romero showed some growth as a director and wins major points for successfully trying a different tone than he did with the first Dead film. And, the subtext commenting on consumerism is a great addition to the shoot-em'-up spectacle. Like Night did before, Dawn has plenty of unforgettable imagery, be it the basement of dead loved ones that tenement dwellers cannot bring themselves to kill, zombies stumbling around to muzak, and in the end, just like the first film, the revelation that man consumed by chaos around him is the ultimate enemy.
The DVD: Anchor Bay
Dawn is a film of many versions, previous releases being the OOP "directors cut" and "anniversary edition." Anchor Bay has long promised a multiple version set including the theatrical cut, the "directors cut", and the "Argento cut", plus perhaps the Document of the Dead documentary. A release date for that set is supposedly sometime in the Fall/Winter of 2004.
This edition, released to tide fans over and no doubt capitalize on the upcoming remake due in theaters this month, is a remastered version of the Theatrical cut running just over two hours and seven minutes.
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Wow. Excellent remastering. Previous releases had a washed out print that dulled the contrast and color details. Now, the film has more vibrant color and much deeper blacks. Flesh tones for the living have gone from pasty pale to a healthy pink, and the dead appear more gray/blue instead of green/gray. While still a 70's low budget film, the wear and tear is minimal, some grain still persists, but there is almost zero evidence of dirt or spots on the print. It is hard to imagine that the film has ever looked this good before in any of its previous incarnations, be theatrical, vhs, laserdisc, or DVD.
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS, Dolby Surround, or Mono tracks. The film has no subtitles options but is Close-Captioned. Thankfully, the original mono mix remains intact, and the newer, spiffier Dolby and DTS mixes add to it without straying very far from the original source. As I listened to the various tracks, the Goblin soundtrack seemed to be getting the biggest boost. Despite the mixing, the fx noise was still decidedly low rent. The dialogue was crystal clear on every track. Once again, a great job, and thankfully Anchor Bay didn't muck up the soundtrack like they did with the Day Of the Dead Divimax edition.
Extras: Chapter Selections— Romero Bio— Trailers, Tv and Radio Spots— Poster and Advertising Gallery.— Comic Book Preview (really just a still ad)— Commentary by writer/director George A. Romero, fx/makeup/stuntman/actor Tom Savini, assistant director Chris Romero, and Anchor Bay moderator Perry Martin.
The commentary is fairly lively, with Romero and crew recalling the diffent aspects of making the film from the concept, to the budget, fx, unused ideas and changed bits, the and many fates of Boris the dummy.--- Easter Eggs, look for em'.
Conclusion: A taste of what is to come. With the larger fan set coming out later this year, Anchor Bay offers a great peek into what we can expect from that release. And, they offer it at a good price without skimping on extras , making this well worth a purchase for Dawn fans who cannot wait and any first time buyers who want to get their hands on a classic.