Dawn of the Dead (1978)
By: David Michael Brown on September 29, 2004  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Umbrella Entertainment (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, English DD 2.0. 127 minutes
The Movie
Director: George. A. Romero
Starring: David Emge, Scott. H. Reiniger, Gaylen Ross, Ken Foree
Screenplay: George. A. Romero
Music: Goblin and Dario Argento
Tagline:When there's no more room in hell the dead will walk the earth"
Country: USA
George. A. Romero's seminal Zombie epic Dawn of the Dead is still unsurpassed in the annals of horror cinema. Even the director's own sequel Day of the Dead didn't reach the heights of political rhetoric and bloody gore that his 1978 masterpeice did. In short it's almost unreviewable in the context of horror cinema as it is held in such high esteem.

The sequel to his own film Night of the Living Dead, itself a revolutionary horror film that ended with Zombies taking over the world and the deaths of the entire major cast members. Dawn of the Dead matches its bleak, nihilistic approach but adds technicolour slapstick humour to the mix.

Following on from Night of the Living Dead, the world is in meltdown, Zombies are taking over, shuffling around and dining on the living. Our four survivors escape in a helicopter and take refuge in an abandoned shopping mall. Sealing themselves in they have everything they could want but are unwilling to share it when a gang of bikers threaten to destroy their sanctuary. The Hells Angels break in letting in the Zombies but rather than join forces against the undead the humans fight to the death leaving the zombies with some ready to eat meals.

The performances are excellent, Ken Foree and Scott. H. Reinger play the Swat team buddies with glee as they sprint around the mall securing themselves against the zombie shoppers. Gaylen Ross' wide eyed portrayal desperately conveys the terror and frustration of the predicament they have been forced into. Romero uses a series of still life compositions as our heroes gradually become bored of the mall. Despite having everything they could want it seems like a relief when the bikers invade their haven and they can once again put on their fatigues and go to battle.

The effects by Tom Savini are wonderful. The films relatively low budget doesn't seem to have hindered Savini's succession of ingenious and bloody deaths. Heads are scalped by helicopters, screwdrivers are driven into ears, stomachs ripped open, machetes are smashed into heads and chunks of flesh are chewed on by the zombie hoards. They may be only sprayed with grey paint but these zombies mean business.

The music is a mix of synthesizer rock by Italian prog-rock legends Goblin and mall musak. The combination works well, the repetitive sounds of the mall turn it into a claustrophobic nightmare.

As said Romero's sequel to Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, wasn't the success that Dawn was either critically or at the box office. Incredibly gory, it lacked the likeable characters that make Dawn so enjoyable. He is presently shooting Land of the Dead, so hopefully the film will once again return to the devastating style of filmmaking we know Romero is capable of. Then again, Dawn of the Dead is a lot to live up to.
Umbrella have given the film a fantastic clean transfer. The anamorphic 1:85:1 print is a joy to behold after a succession of dodgy video transfers.
The 5.1 Digital mix is excellent, Goblins soundtrack has never sounded so good.
Extra Features
Umbrella Entertainment have done an admirable job on this single disc set. Romero provides an excellent commentary joined by Savini and Assistant Director Chris Romero. Producer Richard Rubenstein also gets his own commentary track.

We also get a superb 75 minute documentary The Dead Will Walk. Featuring interviews with Romero, along with make up artist Tom Savini and most of the main cast. We also get to hear from the screw driver zombie and the helicopter zombie who both wax lyrical about their gory death scenes.

The animated menus also lead us to an exhaustive photo gallery, the US and German trailers and a collection of radio spots. Things are rounded off with cast and crew biographies and filmographies and a set of reviews from the films original release.
The Verdict
While the disc will never be able to compete with Anchor Bays massive 4 disc box set that has just been released in the US, it's great to see a decent Australian disc on the market, at under half the price. This is only the US theatrical cut of the film, so we miss out on the extended cut and Argento's European version available on the box set but many argue this is still the definitive one to watch. Umbrella should once again be commended for giving the horror genre the respect it deserves and giving Australia a wonderful DVD of such an important and fantastic film.
Movie Score
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