"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.
Almost 30 years later - can you believe it? - and I have seen far too many zombie movies for a single lifetime. And still, this one stands shoulders above the rest, towering above the genre, in fact. It is, of course, George A. 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 gratuitous crap or totally overrated trash. Not "Dawn of the Dead." This one is 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 a rapid pace all over the continent, causing a complete collapse of society. The group picks a zombie-infested shopping mall's empty rooftop to set up camp and make plans. While inspecting the place, they decide that the mall would make a perfect safe haven and hideout as it will easily sustain them with food, guns, ammunition, and other luxuries for as long as need be. 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, making the place safely inhabitable. It is 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 to 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. Now coming to high definition for the first time, prepare yourself for an entirely new level of ungodly horror. The image is absolutely clean and free of defects, although there is some grain evident in a variety of shots. This is a result of the movie's budget and technical limitations when it was made originally and cannot be attributed to the transfer. In fact, while looking a little soft at times, the transfer overall is surprisingly clean and detailed, giving fans a new way to appreciate the movie's visual qualities. I do have to admit however that there are times where the resolution of a high definition transfer appear to be a bit too, well, good, for the film's own sake, when you start detecting hairlines in the make-up where prosthetics were applied and make-up couldn't fully cover the seams. As good and bleeding-edge as Savini's special effects were, occasionally they do not stand up to the close scrutiny of a 1080p transfer for which they were never designed. If you sit back, turn off that analytic mindset and simply enjoy the movie for what it is, you won't even notice these shortcoming and simply be blown away by the film's new level of detail and look.
It has been transferred in a 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio on this release and absolutely faithfully reproduces the movie's somewhat pastel shades and seventies acid fashion colors. As a result of the incredible color reproduction you will notice that blood squirts will also have renewed energy to themselves, but also that the blue-ish facial make-up does look a tad artificial at times. But, no sweat, we love the movie with all its shortcoming because overall it is simply a towering achievement.
The Blu-Ray version comes also with an uncompressed 5.1 channel PCM audio track, offering you the best possible presentation ever, as well as a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix and the original mono track. Comparing the original track to the 5.1 remix in its PCM form, you will be amazed how much the film oftentimes benefits from the spatial integration of effects and the creepy music. Granted, "The Goblins'" psychedelic synth clusters are totally outdated for today's standards and yet they manage to bring the message home and lend contemporary credibility to the film.
Also included on the release is a commentary track that is culled from the DVD Ultimate Edition and features writer/director George A. Romero, Tom Savini, assistant director Chris Romero and DVD producer Perry Martin.
"The Dead Will Walk" is a featurette, also from the Ultimate Edition DVD, that has also been carried over. Further you will find the Monroeville Mall Tour, the Monroeville Mall Commercial, On-set Home Movies and a variety of trailers, and spots on the disc.
As a Blu-Ray exclusive the disc also features a "Fast Film Facts" trivia track that holds a lot of information about the movie's production and participants. Most of it has been relayed in countless interviews and featurettes over the course of the years, of course, but it is nonetheless nice to have all the tidbits together accompanying 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 cool Blu-Ray disc 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! For fans of this genre-defining horror film who ask themselves if it is worth upgrading their existing DVD versions I would simply say "Yes, do it!" The film has never looked better.