Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 7 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: George A. Romero
Written by: George A. Romero
Starring: David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger & Gaylen Ross
Ten years after George A. Romero delivered his masterpiece that introduced the modern zombie, he returned to the well that he essentially created. After NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, it only made sense to continue with the DAWN. More people will be familiar with the 2004 remake, which turned out to be a great re-imagining, but this 1978 classic stands as one of the greatest zombie films ever created. Watching the master of the flesh-eating ghoul return to tell another story in the world he created is something special indeed.
It begins in the wee hours of the morning after the dead have risen to feast on the living. Francine and her boyfriend, Stephen, work at a TV station that has been reporting on the mass hysteria. Together they meet up with two SWAT members, Peter and Roger, and take to the air in the station’s helicopter. After picking up a little extra fuel, they land on top of a mall and find shelter within the massive shopping center. The unlikely group form a strong friendship. They must work as a team if they ever expect to live through the outbreak that has spawned two kinds of menaces: the dead and the living.
Much like NIGHT, DAWN isn’t a film about the zombies, but the living affected by the monsters. The characters are all likable to watch as they develop, forming a real tangible bond through the movie. I won’t say who dies and when, but suffice to say that not all of them are alive when the film concludes. It is upsetting when you see bad things happen to them. The actors playing the parts all do a phenomenal job, which one would expect when they found out that the filming process took four months. Clearly, they had a lot of time to live within their roles.
Even though DAWN was made a decade after NIGHT and was filmed in glorious color (a better way to see Tom Savini’s nasty gore effects), the film wasn’t given a massive budget. In fact, it was made for little over half-a-million and Romero resorted to guerilla filming tactics to the complete the project by shooting in the mall location after hours. Those raised on the gruesome likes of THE WALKING DEAD are sure to scoff a little at the pale blue complexion of the zombies and the red paint that substitutes for blood. Even though the gore has aged a bit, it doesn’t take away any of the power that the film packs.
Romero was never one to just do an average zombie flick (at least, in his early career). He always had a deeper social commentary. In this case, he satirized consumerism by showing just what a safe haven the mall turns out to be in the zombie apocalypse. The zombies want to get into the mall, not because they know there are four pieces of fresh meat inside, but because the slight part of humanity they retain tells them that they want to get in this place for some strange reason. While NIGHT was a horror film as bleak as they come, Romero sprinkles in bits of dark humor throughout the story of DAWN.
A biker gang is introduced late into the film and provide some grim laughs, including how even at the end of the world, one of these gang members will still find time to pick pocket (from a zombie in this case). The music score by Goblin (also known for their famous work on Dario Argento’s SUSPIRIA) sets the mood perfectly, including a memorable piece titled “The Gonk” being played over the mall intercom system as the final scenes play themselves out.
With DAWN OF THE DEAD, Romero created a sequel that works perfectly in his original DEAD trilogy (NIGHT, DAWN, and DAY). It’s also a biting piece of social commentary, one of the absolute best zombie films ever made, and an essential horror classic from the 1970’s. If you haven’t seen it and you love zombies, then remedy this immediately!