31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2017, Night #24 – Dawn of the Dead (1978)

dawn

Director: George A. Romero

Writer(s): George A. Romero

Studio/Distributor: United Film Distribution Company

Budget: $1.5m

Box Office: $55m

Release Date: 1 September, 1978

IMDb Rating: 8/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 92%

UK Blu Ray release? Yes – but hard to find!

Cast

David Emge – Stephen

Ken Foree – Peter

Scott H. Reiniger – Roger

Gaylen Ross – Francine

David Crawford – Dr Foster

David Early – Mr Berman

Trailer

Plot According to IMDb

Following an ever-growing epidemic of zombies that have risen from the dead, two Philadelphia SWAT team members, a traffic reporter and his television executive girlfriend seek refuge in a secluded shopping mall.

Inertia’s Insight

The horror genre is the perfect platform for subtext and social commentary. Night of the Living Dead exemplifies this, with its profound condemnation of attitudes towards black people in the 1960’s. Romero made zombies more than just brain munchers; indeed, they actually force us to use their favourite food source.

As is strikingly obvious when it comes to the outrageous critical and commercial success of a film, a sequel cried out. Night left a lot more to explore, even if only to show us another set of survivors enduring the same kind of hell. Romero made us wait a whole ten years before the sequel arrived. When it did, it smashed box office records and sent critics and fanboys hurtling into a frenzy. And whilst I’ll admit that its subtext is genius and whilst I’ll view the film in the context of its era… I just can’t get behind it.

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Night left us with the belief that the dead had been dealt with, contained to piles of burning effigies, the shotgun carrying vigilante’s walking with pride on a job well done. Dawn opens with pandemonium inside a Philadelphia television station, as experts debate the religious implications and the rest run around like a blue-arsed fly (as my Nan would say). The commentary on possible causes and a suitable explanation/solution is juxtaposed with the panic of the professionals. Meanwhile, an elite SWAT team arrive at an apartment building to flush out the dead, dispatching with them in gory detail.

Straight away, you can see why Savini regrets his practical effects on this film. His work on Night is legendary for its Vietnam influences, Savini himself a photographer that had been immersed in that hell. Here, though we’ve got plenty of entrails and claret, their physical appearance – aside from the infamous shamble and droning hunger – is lacking. The transition to colour clearly has an impact on their impact.

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Fleeing the madness by stealing the best form of transport you can in a zombie apocalypse, Stephen, Francine, Roger and Peter take off in the WGON network’s helicopter, scouring the landscape for safety. Standing out like a beacon is the shopping mall, housing everything they need – security, safety, food and ammo. The only problem with a beacon is how many people are attracted to it…

This is where Dawn exceeds as a post-apocalyptic film. Romero allows the characters time to enjoy their moments of safety. Albeit brief, we’re still able to watch them indulge as we undoubtedly would in that situation: looting the shops, dressing in expensive clothes, playing sports across an empty prom, no longer inhibited by the rules of the society. It’s heartwarming to see them enjoy this time after all they’ve been through, though Romero balances it perfectly with the untimely ending of one of the characters and the eventual downfall of their haven.

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And this is where the film gets annoying. The motorcycle gang pose a genuine threat to their safety, and its inevitable that a fight over this goldmine would eventually ensue. But when they do get in it’s just a bit… boring. Its ineffective and lacking in action or tension, and that’s the case even if you look at the film in the context of how and when it was made. Sure, there are some good stunts and zombie kills that would make a full cinema cheer, but it just goes on a bit too long.

For the study of human behaviour, this film is brilliant. The zombies flocking to the shopping mall because that’s the most notable and autonomic function they still possess; the downfall of society and how factions of people will separate in the fight for survival (as we have since seen over 100 episodes on The Walking Dead); and how we still cling to the trivial mementos of a life lost. But as an effective, thrilling zombie film… it’s a bit shit.

Inertia’s Ideal Score ( out of 5)

★★★

Trivia

  • Tom Savini chose the grey colour for the zombies’ skin due to Night of the Living Dead being filmed in black and white. He later regretted it as the skin tone appeared to be green and blue
  • The film was shot at the Monroeville Mall from 10pm to 6am. The mall didn’t open until 9am but Muzak came on at 6am and no-one knew how to turn it off
  • The is the most profitable film in the Dead series

Quotes

DR FOSTER: Every dead body that is not exterminated becomes one of them. It gets up and kills! The people it kills get up and kill!


Tomorrow: Night #25 – The Void (2016)

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