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Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Dawn of the Living Dead

When there’s no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the Earth

Directed by:

George A Romero

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 139 minutes

US Certificate: Open UK Certificate: 18

On DVD

Country: United States

George A Romero creates the world of the near future, where mankind is threatened by an outbreak of zombies – living dead who feed on the flesh of survivors, with one bite turning the victim into another zombie. In this hellish world, four people are thrown together by chance – two SWAT team members (Hen Foree and Scott H Reiniger) and TV station workers Stephen (David Emge) and Francine (Gaylen Ross). Together they decide to attempt an escape by stealing the station's helicopter.

Everywhere they go, there are more zombies. With refuelling becoming a problem, they search for somewhere safe where they can hold off the zombies. They finally stop at a large suburban shopping mall, where zombies follow the habits of a lifetime wandering mindlessly amongst the shops. They realise that if they can block off the entrances and kill off the zombies inside, the mall offers everything they need to survive for an extended period. However, there are more than zombies to contend with, as looters too recognise the mall as a resource.

This is one of the best-loved and most-definitive films of the zombie genre. The zombies are at once believable, frightening, funny and objects of pathos. Placing them in the oh-so-familiar setting of the mall with its fountains, escalators and 'muzak' is humorous, gruesome and a little ironic – a mockery of suburban America. All the main players produce strong comic-book style characters, some more likeable than others, but all with their redeeming qualities. The arrival of the biker raiders offers an interesting counterpoint that demonstrates that some humans can be even worse than zombies. The director's cut DVD is the full uncut version, which restores nearly a quarter-of-an-hour's worth of footage to the theatrical release.

It's Got: Plenty of gore combined with laughs.

It Needs: Slightly more use of the character of Francine.

DVD Extras Updated for new DVD Release (2004/10/25) And now, hot off the press comes the definitive DVD version from Arrow Films/Fremantle Home Entertainment, featuring anamorphic 16:9 widescreen presentation of the complete director’s cut; choice of Dolby 5.1/Dolby 2.0; ‘The Dead Will Walk’ (75min), an all-new documentary on the film’s genesis, production and impact, including extensive interviews with just about everyone involved in the project, lots of juicy anecdotes, lines like “I’m getting’ this machete across my skull, I’m getting’ kicked across the floor, and I’m having the time of my life”, and a tantalizing glimpse at the front page of Romero’s script for the fourth, as yet unmade, film, apparently entitled ‘Dead Reckoning’. There are also two separate all-new commentaries (both affably moderated by Perry Martin) that for once do not repeat one another. The first, by George A. Romero, his wife and assistant director Chris Romero (née Forrest) and Tom Savini, reveals that almost all the cast were friends, family or local Pittsburgh volunteers (even the mall was owned by personal friends of Romero), that the original script had a far bleaker ending (everybody dies) which was changed during the shoot because the film was “too much fun” for it, and that the fourth film, should it ever get made, is a larger-scale affair set in a down-town area, with lots of action sequences and an overarching theme of “ignoring the problem”. The second commentary, by producer Richard P. Rubinstein, details the film’s unbelievably low budget (under half a million dollars), its censorship history (the Bristish Board of Film Classification wanted half an hour cut from Dario Argento’s shorter ‘European’ version of the film but only one minute cut from Romero’s far longer version, which contextualised and ironised all the violence), Rubinstein’s involvement with the ‘Dawn of the Dead’ remake, and his dislike of piracy and property theft. On top of all this, there is a photo gallery; bios of stars Gaylen Ross, David Emge, Ken Forre and Scott H. Reiniger, as well as Romero; trailers from the US and Germany (“es gibt keinen härteren Film”); radio spots; a selection of early reviews (including ones by Stephen King and Roger Ebert, although you will need to use ‘zoom’ to read the latter); and hilariously arresting animated menus. Now all we need is a Collector’s Edition that also includes Dario Argento’s cut of the film, ‘Zombie’, which launched a thousand Italian imitations. DVD Extras Rating: 9/10

Alternatives:

Dawn Of The Dead, Day of the Dead, From Dusk Till Dawn, Night of the Living Dead

Summary

A fine and definitive example of the zombie genre that has continued to hold up well in spite of its age.

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