Dawn Of The Dead (1978)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Gaylen Ross, David Emge, Scott Reiniger, Ken Foree
"When there is no more room in Hell, the Dead will walk the Earth." The line stood out from a poster in a theater display case and captured my imagination right away. Looking at the still photographs attached to the poster, I was in total awe. I had never seen anything like it before, and the thought of man-eating undead walking our world was material for nightmares. The year was 1978 and I was barely old enough to watch this ominous, gruesome movie legally. When I left the movie theater , I realized that something had changed in my life. Obviously, taking into account the flood of zombie movies to come in the wake of this movie, it had changed the lives of many other people as well.
20 years later, I have seen far too many zombie movies. This one still stands way above the rest. It is George Romero’s "Dawn of the Dead", the zombie movie that started it all. Though it wasn’t the first, it was definitely the most influential horror release for years to come, driving horror filmmakers all over the world toward flesh-eating gut-ripping zombie flicks – most of which are utter crap or totally overrated trash. Not "Dawn of the Dead". This one’s a classic.
"Dawn Of The Dead" starts with a frantic scene in a television studio where we learn that, seemingly out of nowhere, zombies have appeared all over the US, feasting on human flesh, turning others into living dead as well. While Martial Law is declared, constant warnings about the danger of those fast spreading creatures are broadcast, and people are preparing their getaways. So are Fran (Gaylen Ross), Steve (David Emge), Roger (Scott Reiniger) and Peter (Ken Foree), who use the TV station’s helicopter to escape into safety – a relative term, as the zombies spread at rapid speed all over the continent, causing society to collapse. The heroes pick a zombie-infested shopping mall’s empty roof to set up camp and make plans. While inspecting the place, they decide that the mall would make a perfect place to stay as it will easily sustain them with food, guns, ammunition, and other luxuries. They plan to block all the entrances with trucks from the parking lot to keep the walking dead out, and then finish off all the zombies inside. It’s a simple and efficient plan – and a plan that actually works – but some unforeseen events destroy their careful planning, and hundreds of zombies suddenly roam the aisles of the mall once again.
To fully understand the movie’s impact on its viewers upon its theatrical release in 1978, one has to realize that horror was a totally different genre in those days than it is today. All the grisly slasher flicks and overly graphic splatter escapades to which we’ve grown accustomed are a result of this one movie. "Dawn of the Dead" entered territory no one else dared to enter before them. The movie depicted violence, gore, decapitations, gutting, bloodshed, man-eating, and mutilation at a rapid-fire pace. More importantly, the gore is close up and absolutely realistic. In order to do this, George Romero had to release the movie to theaters directly, without an MPAA rating, which caused quite a bit of controversy at the time.
There is a totally different aspect to the movie, one which has also helped to make it a classic. Romero’s stylish direction and his view of our consumer society give the movie a depth that can hardly be found in other zombie flicks. It is no coincidence that most part of the movie plays in a shopping mall, a place saturated with anything you need to quench your desires, a place that has evolved to be one of the most vitally important institutions of our culture… and it’s a haven for death and brainless ghouls.
While slightly aged and noticeable, Tom Savini’s gruesome make-up and special effects can still keep up with today’s standards and have helped make him one of the icons of horror. The movie’s uncanny view of this apocalyptic nightmare and the portrayal of the slow shambling monsters is frightening and nerve-wrecking, planting images in your memory you will not forget easily. Anchor Bay’s DVD release of "Dawn Of The Dead" is the best looking version of this movie I have ever seen. No other previous version of the movie – apart from the original theatrical release – can match this disc’s clean image, which is without color bleeding or <$pixelation,pixelation>, even though it displays slight grain and noise in a few scenes.
It has been transferred in a 1.66:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio and faithfully reproduces the movie’s somewhat pastel shades and seventies acid fashion colors. Unfortunately, the movie is spread on two sides of the DVD. <$RSDL,RSDL> technology was not readily available at the time Anchor Bay first released this disc, which only left them the option to split the movie and have you flip the disc before the grand finale if they did not want to sacrifice the movie’s quality and squeeze it onto a single side.
"Dawn Of The Dead" also features a memorable <$DD,Dolby Digital> Mono soundtrack that is just as powerful as the images it underscores. Granted, the psychedelic synth clusters it consists of are totally outdated for today’s standards; still, they manage to bring the message home and lend contemporary credibility to the film.
It’s fair to say that "Dawn Of The Dead" is one of my favorite horror movies, and seeing it come to live on this excellent DVD is simply a joy… if only someone would finally have a heart and create a decent cover for this great movie after all those years! It is part two in George Romero’s "Trilogy of the Dead", which started in 1968 with his outstanding "Night Of The Living Dead" – also available on DVD from Elite Entertainment – and it is a movie I consider a must see for everyone interested in the horror genre.