“When there’s no more room in HELL the dead will walk the EARTH”
You may have noticed that like this allegory I too have gone straight for the jugular (so to speak) and have chosen George A. Romero’s spectacular Dawn of the Dead (1978) as my first foray into his notable zombie world rather than picking his very important ground-breaking, Night of The Living Dead (1968) which should indeed be recognised for its rightful status and position in horror cinema – a cinematic game changer without any doubt. We must also remember his third (often underrated and seriously overlooked) instalment which we will also note mention of in this review! However the simple and honest truth is that not only do I think that this particular Romero epic to be the equivalent of a delicious zombie sandwich spread that sits in between two slices of beautiful home baked metaphoric bread which is both ‘NIGHT’ and ‘DAY’ – but without any question in my mind ‘DAWN’ is still the defining go to zombie movie – is it not? (Opinions will doubtless vary!) For me personally it is categorically the most outstanding achievement of all the zombie feature films out there in this bloated, often flogged to death cinematic arena, so it also goes without saying that it is therefore Romero’s best offering within his original based ‘Dead’ trilogy! In saying this I must also immediately initialise several further points for the record – in my attempt to explain why this is my own conclusion.
Firstly I must offer a quick mention in passing – that I genuinely like Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake, which is an affable even valiant effort in its own modernised right, though when I watch this loosely rejigged version, I don’t look upon it as simply a remake that often attempts to be inspired by the original entertaining narrative – a feature film of similar association – it is clear that Snyder works hard at gifting us an obvious homage if you like. However when all is said and done; it would be impossible to improve on horror film perfection and further – it still ain’t Romero’s slick masterpiece. I must add that though at heart I am a purist and I am still often very biased toward such time honoured originators of traditional genre cinema, I have to suggest that my old fighting spirit has eased somewhat in recent years at what was once my fervent reluctance to see my favourite features getting the reboot treatment – however I no longer worry or for that matter oppose Hollywood or others taking these much loved movies in order to then offer them a modern make-over or equivalence. The reason for my maturing stance is because not only do I feel that you are simply fighting against the increasing tide of time and change anyway, but the reoccurring theme will often lead to failure if only in respect of these remakes not matching the very substance that made the originals and the memories they still conjure up so captivating and influential in the first place, thus the reason for the obvious potential cash-cow opportunism of attempting to recreate new versions for modern audiences. It is clear that though some of this reputed throwaway recycling has made great box-office return for the (re)-producers of much beloved originals – often is the case that they fail as an outright improved or better, alternative retelling. (They simply don’t match up in most part). It is also clear to me that only a handful that I have personally noted have… “I’m going to say it!” bettered their predecessors? Cough… “something stuck in craw… can’t dislodge?” The main re-adaptations of the genre are at best usually only half decent revamped productions. What I now do as a result of tempering my earlier contempt and steadfastness is to often hide away my own personal scepticism, instead choosing to take the more diplomatic route and view them … when I can even be bothered to; as an alternative honourable bow to the original – I then (often) snigger derisively and quickly move on. To be fair in respect of remakes they will more importantly – often allow a new generational audience to seek out the more superior originals which in most part is clearly their saving grace. Aligned with this viewpoint it also takes me precariously to my next remark which would otherwise make me somewhat of a hypocrite. To many I may also be about to commit serious genre fan heresy by making my following analysis… “So please forgive me for my forthcoming horror dalliance?”
I genuinely and unreservedly prefer Tom Savini’s, Night of the Living Dead (1990) more so than Romero’s original. “Okay… let that sink in for a moment and then please allow me to elaborate, further explain?” When George A. Romero entered my life, his ground breaking 1968 effort was not my first point of contact with his work nor was it my first personal journey into the realm of zombidom. The Halperin brothers, White Zombie (1932), starring Bela Lugosi. Directed by Victor and produced by Edward, would more than likely have been my very tamed first childhood notion toward this particular horror sphere.
I will also have to include the latter, more enthralling effort of Hammer Productions very own joyous and colourful – The Plague of the Zombies (1966), directed by one of the true great genre directors, John Gilling. I have already made clear in TCMR’s tribute to the late and great actor Peter Cushing, what I think of John Gilling and his wonderful – The Flesh and the Fiend (1960), in which Cushing starred.
John Gilling’s, ‘PLAGUE’ is indeed just as rightfully important to note as a genre classic of its time and even highlights the then cinematic ground being tread in this sub-genre prior to Romero’s subsequent ‘NIGHT’ and its own inclusion into the horror pantheon. George Romero’s, ‘DAWN’ was however my first immersion into what became this new and more extreme based – fantastical visual and violent place. Before all this came to personal light and though close to the idea of the zombie premise, (i.e. the change in human behaviour for other reasons and context!) I believe it was Romero’s original, The Crazies (1973) which I first saw on either video or British television, way back when? (Shown on the BBC, I think?) I did indeed view this before seeing his magnificent zombie first and second outing. I may also be right in assuming? that I also viewed Romero’s, Martin (1976) shortly before even having contact with any of his noted zombie kingdom and within the passing years in which I have since watched most of Romero’s considerable output; all this coming at a time before I finally viewed his (often) celebrated B&W feature début. Basically I was a mere babe in arms when Romero first arrived on the movie scene with his independent zombie flick, so I personally would not have had contact with ‘NIGHT’ until reaching my early teen years when I first became aware of these associated titles being part of Romero’s personal output and further, it would not be until the advent of the early 1980’s video boom and my obvious burdening interest in horror cinema that I would finally associate the director with all his earlier and subsequent pioneering canon of work that followed and of which I gained full personal access to and viewed the world through Romero lensed – rose tinted glasses and therefore this doubtless made the full colour onslaught of the world of zombies more prevalent by the time Romero’s ‘NIGHT’ entered my life, so for that reason alone was it not logical that his 1978 classic would likely have had a more immediate and bigger (even intimidating) impact on me personally rather than Romero’s first effort as is the case in point and again why I therefore say the same of my much preferred latter-day Tom Savini re-imaging of a sacred thing… again for reasons of personal growth and timing this is indeed why I suspect this modern version created a bigger personal impression by simply enhancing the unfolding saga under the same influential premise of the 1968 version but with both a clearer, more colourful intent and stronger character attributes. Savini’s immersion into this coloured world adds a slicker stylising to both the much stronger and determined portrayal of Barbara – played stoically by Patricia Tallman, a character not to dissimilar to that of Gaylen Ross’s – Francine in ‘DAWN’ and again the even more exclusive approach of Lori Cardille’s – tread carefully but fear nobody approach as the often uncompromising Sarah in Romero’s brutal ‘DAY’. All of these female rolls offer stronger and often greater heroines of apocalyptic cinema. Their adaptability from perceived ideas of female bliss to fervent survivalists with instincts quickening in development realistically allow their early innocent stutters and misapprehensions to bloom into something much stronger and determined come their respective filmic end credits. All of them leaving the original Night of the Living Dead’s – Barbara – Judith O’Dea greatly redundant I’m afraid.
Equally as encapsulating is the charismatic turn of Tony (Candyman-Candyman-Candyman-Candyman… Candyman?) Todd as Ben. Though we should never forget the importance of Duane Jones ground-breaking Ben and what it represented in a still recognised and noted racially discriminate US during the time of Romero’s ’68 classic release. Again we must also look at the importance of Ken Foree – Peter and Gaylen Ross’s – Francine, circa 1978 as not just mere social tokenism but normal convention come tide and time of Romero’s second zombie expedition… thank goodness.
Before we separate Romero and Savini’s zombie worlds, let us not forget the unforgettable presence of Tom Towles as the reprehensible Harry Cooper in Savini’s turn; and no… this is not an excuse for creating a Tom Savini love-in, but his mention is very important in respect of his direct working alliance with Romero and his participation on both the second and third part of the original ‘Dead’ trilogy and his comparable first major feature as the director of a noted Romero remake. I would also like to make clear that despite my own revelations and opinions, I have over many years become extremely fond of Romero’s original effort and more importantly my acknowledgement of it as a very significant piece of modern/progressive cinema, something I clearly recognise and appreciate… “for I would be an imbecile with the attributes of a zombie to think or suggest otherwise, would I not!” This comment also suggests to fans of the genre that to talk of ground-breaking in the context of horror cinema means there was indeed more to the original ‘NIGHT’ that caused more debate from outside its celluloid creation than would normally be associated in both credibility and believe it or not a social commentary of a certain period in the changing perception of US mainstream audience acceptance of new horror the climate being created and the nudge toward noticing political social change. Duane Jones inadvertently becoming the face of heroic racial equality, though this had genuinely not been by design. On making this personal preference known regarding ‘NIGHT’, I guess I must now try to calm the many cries of probable derision I may be imagining and verbally receiving as a result of my opening statement. So please let me make two further observations in this summation which are clearly based on my own personal time-line exclusively and most likely not the consensus of most of you out there who are now calling me “… a blaspheming little bleeder!”, or words a little stronger! “Go on, let it all out… and breathe!”
In the beginning of the 1980’s I witnessed and watched a certain Italian director take the concept of making horror movies to an almost (more) graphic novel extreme next level and for a short time his output was on a par, perhaps even more visually visceral than even Romero’s exampled ’78 effort. (If that’s at all possible?) The name of this larger than life character was one Lucio Fulci. He came along and seemingly knocked the Zombie-Universe flat on its arse (for a time) with his eponymous, Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979), and his not directly associated but influential, “Gates of Hell” trilogy that followed quite soon after.
Note: The actual European marketing and distribution of Romero’s second part of his ‘Dead’ work indeed had an indirect/direct connection between Fulci’s, Zombi 2 (1979) aka Zombie Flesh Eaters effort and that of Romero’s earlier ‘DAWN’ which for the initiated is well documented. Romero’s movie became known as, Zombi: L’alba dei Morti Viventi under the original European distribution rights of Italian director Dario Argento whom in this case became the producer behind the films European release! Argento’s European marketed and distributed unabridged/ alternative cut version became his take on Romero’s film. This version also included an alternative soundtrack by Goblin(s?). For marketing purposes this also gave Fulci’s zombie picture the European connection – as an in/direct sequel to Romero’s ‘DAWN’ in this context only! Hence the (2) in the Zombi Fulci title? On its UK release Romero’s film was retitled, ZOMBIES: Dawn of the Dead. This international alliance/relationship between the two directors also formed a long friendship and working association. Romero and Argento over the many decades that have followed since establishing their lengthy passing career paths in both the US and Europe also contributed to the pair eventually Co-Directing the Edgar Allan Poe inspired, ‘Due occhi diabolici’, Two Evil Eyes (1990). This associated bond still keeps them in contact to this very day, though mainly fleetingly, sadly.
Not only did Fulci’s work highlight a strong and popular outlandish, almost alternative opposing world to that of Romero’s by now well established perception and approach come his second aggressive ‘Dead’ instalment, but I would further suggest that Fulci’s very own stamp/treatment of this genre subject matter and its distant but historical connection may have indeed had a direct influence upon what would be Romero’s third ‘Dead’ project some several years later.
Romero’s unbelievable Day of the Dead (1985) had to combine not only its prequel(s) provenance (what little, if any it offered) but it also had to take into account the more extreme zombie concept espoused by Fulci’s march into the world of the zombified. I believe, this gave Romero no other choice but to include this often ferocious alternative twist to what had already been previous to Fulci’s horror vision of a violently depicted world of his own making – this itself an already bloody violent and unforgiving visually depicted unravelling odyssey come ‘DAWN’ and its cinematic creation. On this occasion Fulci’s vision perhaps forced Romero to head even further into the more blatant and beyond – Italian dimension with its darker influence and clearly Romero ratcheted-up his next film-making process and what ultimately was to become a pretty unrelenting, verbal tirade and splanchnologia outpouring assault – in this case quite dramatically? This 1985 Romero marker surely meant that Tom Savini would also have to extend his own particular talents as one of cinema’s great horror – Special-Effects masters of the trade, something which he clearly achieved magnificently in Romero’s, ‘DAY’. This brutal zombie movie thunderbolt addition most certainly restored Romero’s status as the undoubted king of this particular sub-genre and indeed cast aside any future challengers. What is even more ironic and sad perhaps of this particular comment, this even meant Romero himself strangely?
Before we finally delve further into my homage to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, I must also pay further fan respect to Jorge Grau’s, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie aka Non si deve profanare il sonno dei morti, or as it became better known under its UK title – Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974). As someone whom is obviously as ancient as I clearly am and feel, I am not above still discovering old classics that sadly passed me by when youthful consumption meant an often over burgeoning excess of horror cinema. Grau’s cult classic was one such occasion when such an exquisite zombie masterpiece did so – but I have since corrected that shocking error in judgement. I was genuinely euphoric on discovering Grau’s zombie masterpiece only three years past. On a personal note, it already stands out as a definite shining light. It also offered me an elation not to dissimilar to the one experienced when I first watched ‘DAWN’ all those many decades previous, which was quite scintillating for a man heavily into his mid 40’s. What Grau’s fabulous film also achieved was to deconstruct my personal belief that you think you know everything about the genre – when the fact is, people like me, can be considered a mere neophyte and by limited association meant I really knew sod-all about this sub-genre! What little I do know regarding the zombie movie culture and its place in cinematic terms is that I became so biased toward not just Romero’s world but as the case was, nothing would dissuade otherwise that Romero’s 1978 effort is still the ultimate zombie ride despite my more recent dip into fascinating – deeper and expanding zombie waters. Though my eyes are now firmly open wide and I have come to personally appreciate the wider zombie spectrum and the plethora of cinematic gifts it offers, I do still however hold my opening belief regarding ‘DAWN’. What has further transpired in my awakening ignorance, is that despite my failings regarding matters of this individual horror-universe, what is very clear to me now is that both Grau and also noting in passing, I must not forget Amando de Ossorio’s, ‘Blind Dead’ revelations, (recently discovered… very cool!) have allowed the Spanish influence of this sub-genre to fabulously broaden my horizons even further than one ever anticipated. There is undoubtedly an extended vibrancy and original independence with the Spanish outlook on where to take the zombie premise – with Ossorio’s effort even extending the zombie nation as some kind of fascinating historical rite. Reincarnated (zombie-type) Templar knights rising up like dead horsemen of the apocalypse… so to speak? Again I openly admit that this is only a recent revelation that has provided me with a welcomed and expanded appeal toward this once niche part of horror cinema. However it is Jorge Grau’s masterpiece that has undoubtedly become a massive favourite of mine already! I must also mention in passing the little gem that is Ken Wiederhorn’s trend setting Shock Waves (1977). This particular little cult classic delves into the pretext of the Nazi’s using the undead as a special-unit of unrelenting murderous soldiers aka ‘Der Todes Corp’ capable of living under the most extreme circumstances – is quite a delight. The zombie and the Third Reich alliance have become supernatural bedfellows in genre cinema a great many times and indeed recently highlighted in particular with Tommy Wirkola’s very entertaining Dead Snow (2009). For me it is Wiederhorn’s effort that is easily the standard-bearer of this particular sub-section of a now over populated zombie market I feel!
So getting back to topic and what makes me so staunchly biased when it comes to picking George A. Romero’s, Dawn of the Dead as my ultimate favourite zombie feature. Well let’s just say its incredible aesthetic quality and content hold massive doses of visualised cinematic fantasy perfection – including the glaring but important – learning the trade imperfections that are incorporated within, though not immediately noticeable I may add? Despite these minor matters this film still fully entices you into this mad and violent alternative monster end of world concept anyway. This visual horror epiphany clearly deals and offers its viewer a personal mass appeal factor, even at times strangely attempting to over compensate the fan-boy/girl euphoria that is more often in very short supply from the general genre movie world period. What I mean is Romero achieves and delivers massive quantities of all the horror ingredients and bloody garnish needed to take you on an extreme but fantastic journey, he does so with great accomplishment and relative ease. He then continually adds to this slab of genre cinema brilliance until one becomes almost punch drunk from its unflinching and intoxicating supply of horror definition, social satire, character companionship and occasional melancholic drama with its greatly maintained measures of transparent sympathetic treatment of the focal living characters. This is a film that takes every conceivable attribute in storytelling, character build and in a distinct disaster movie type adventure (for it is!) it then positions its audience into the direct aftermath of overpowering forces, thus placing the battle weary characters (that have been concisely created) into a broken world in which they seek alliance and protection in what becomes by accident an economic shrine, which with a little time, patience and acumen can become their very own personal fortress, a place in which in the foreseeable future will protect these waifs and strays from the outside world with its overwhelming zombie population and others? What is also very appealing to this adventurous notion is the desired effect upon we the audience members whom personally look-on and imagine what it would be like to have direct access to all such areas and amenities; everything within the shopping complex, including the stores and all their contents. Just imagine controlling a shopping mall and its vast hectares? A place which contains its very own ice rink, arcade, bank, clock tower and the discovery of an armoury in the form of an on-sight gun store. This extremely distorted version of a lottery win under such disastrous circumstances is never more highlighted than when one of the primary characters Roger DiMarco comments: “One stop shopping, anything you need right at your finger tips” – on having access to a wealth of helpful equipment and tools, in this particular case finding the appropriate screwdriver in order to open and gain access to a ventilation system above the movies famous elevator shaft? More on that later.
The actual gun store in question was not located in the mall itself. ‘Firearms Unlimited’, the shop used for this part of the movie existed in the East Liberty district of Pittsburgh, some twenty+ miles from the real and soon to be famous ‘Monroeville Mall’, Pennsylvania. This was the shopping complex used for the main on-location shoot of Dawn of the Dead.
The very concept of this task of taking control of this expansive real-estate becomes the very beating heart of this all conquering tale, ultimately attempting to deal with the consequences of such a far fetched scenario – the placement within of character successes and fails which regularly occur during the long process of containment through affirmative action; the goal – keeping at bay the zombie epidemic that blights these (risk-taking) people. The settling period also brings forward a back-story of past events that “the couple” of the group (in particular) have brought along with them? A personal event that will have an important bearing on the very future of everyone’s survival, existence and their group preparation and limited future aspirations which will exist within all of this unfolding turmoil. These personal situations become an extraordinary undertow of both hope and woe in disquieting measure. We find out that Francine ‘flygirl’ Parker, played brilliantly by Gaylen Ross is pregnant with the child of Stephen ‘flyboy’ Andrews. A character performance by David Emge that much like the Francine character steadily begins to bloom throughout proceedings. From being initially slightly irritating to eventually becoming at the very least – an improved soldier of fortune. Emge’s character strength often lies in his continued stubbornness to jump in with both feet and eyes cast elsewhere (on occasions). The delicate topic of woman-with-child is also discussed at short length and initially quite inconsiderately by the three male members of the group; highlighted in early acknowledgement of this added factor. This consideration along with two further (glaring) character studies will throughout proceedings strongly highlight the growth in positive friendship, greater risk-taking, monotony, tensions and inevitable boredom, which materialises in greater detail after the group gain their kingdom (at great cost?) This shallow victory will slowly turn into a stagnant slide into signs of psychological despair, false pretense and an overwhelming growing occasioned over zealousness which in conjunction often leading (after events) to a underline – creeping dissatisfaction. During the unshackling of the challenge ahead we become massively invested in the living character revelations in their greater depth, their many personal introvert character issues often put on display – this includes the above revelation. This moment also begins to dictate and mould the Francine character into becoming just as committed as the men. Much of the films duration is given over to these often likeable and alert of character representations. These people in essence are just reluctant refugees simply caught up in this apocalyptic state of siege. Romero extends these bonding moments most often like an exaggerated (buddy movie?) and remarkably does so with a cast iron and gritty observational wit. This thoughtful process of elaboration subsequently means, we the audience become deeply involved in the lives of these human castaways. Be in no doubt that this character driven adventure takes horror-fantasy to an obvious higher plateau than the usual standard genre efforts – it doing so with a great scripted dedication and timing – something frequently missing from many cinematic endeavours of this nature in both past and present context I may add. This fact is clearly noted in the invested and extendable duration time (all versions?) aligned with its deliberate and concise building momentum which explores this world in the midst of total unmitigated collapse, dealing with the violent aftermath and the follow-on reality of having to fight for personal survival under the most extraordinary of circumstances, almost like being immersed in a constant war-torn siege, with not much in the way of respite. Would it be fair to strongly suggest that on occasion we at times forget that this is actually a horror movie that is inclined instead to depict civil war? The actual zombie manifestation versus the human race framework becomes a beautifully designed distracting dynamic that on occasion plays second fiddle – a mere backdrop to the tale of people having to survive, re-adapt and then cope with personal growth and battle ready audacity in their obvious attempts to temper this war of attrition taking place amongst continued chaos and death. This concise pacing also does not shrink away from indulging in many subtle memorable moments of both a noted political and social apathy (a definite Romero watermark throughout his career!) in this particular case all the usual signs of clear governmental incompetence and ominous throwaway sound-bites of perceived mass murder as the solution to the outstanding social chaos that ensues, nicely simmering neatly beneath the catchment of ongoing events – aside from the main development of our four focal characters. From beginning to end this masterful piece of cinematic delight extends upon many horror movie needs, including the issues in the background of the capacity for probable self destruction, particularly when noticing our close contact with the protagonists whom seem to fade that little more as they succumb to listening to radio broadcasts and watching TV as their only source of outward information. This doommongering coverage never easing off the accelerator peddle. This ambitious and victorious non-cessation of countless genre applications alone highlights ‘DAWN’ and its blatant superiority as a film going experience that stands tall – above all others.
Please note that the similar investment of character creation in such a horror placement has never been more rewarding than in the recent AMC produced television series, The Walking Dead (2010 – Present). I strongly disagree with Romero’s more recent November 2013 interview with Tim Robey of “The Telegraph” regarding his personal observation and comment that it was – quote: “a soap opera with a zombie occasionally”. The fact is ‘DAWN’ clearly does the same thing – if anything the opposite must be said of Romero’s comment – I would strongly suggest that The Walking Dead is indeed a direct influential genre descendent of Romero’s 1968 – 1978 and 1985 infusions of his work. Like it or not it’s glaring likeness upon this particular serialisation is clearly there – for anybody interested – to see (Sorry George!).
The first of two parts of anarchic opening ceremony of the film begins with Francine Parker, a television station assistant manager who works for Philadelphia’s, WGON-TV. She is awoken from her catnap slumber and returned to the chaotic reality of her maniacal working schedule. She attempts to maintain her professionalism along with a modicum of calm while mixing amongst the chaos of others – a theme highlighted some moments later by Givens the station manager – Daniel Dietrich, who in a warped foresightedness end vision wishes to mistakenly show greater concern for the stations viewing figures (people tuning-out) rather than consider the reality facing the general public whom if still watching will be doing so out of necessity and hope for important information and advice. Allegedly – the programme is there in order to help and offer broadcasting semblance, of which slowly but surely the current broadcast is providing in large part – nothing but misinformation and an often bleak nonsensical commentary. This example is never more poignant than when Francine tells the programme controllers to cut the “supers” with their (out of date) rescue station addresses which are still continually rolling across the live broadcasting screen. A decision she makes out of concern rather than working ethos. This act results in a verbal clash between Parker and Givens. Meanwhile in front of the cameras a heated TV debate hosted by presenter Mr Berman – David Early continues unabridged and despite constant verbal interruptions of an uncoordinated, deteriorating programming schedule. During the shows exchanges a government spokesman in the form of one Dr. Foster – David Crawford makes clear in his ominous statement; what is the best way to proceed in regard of conforming with current government guidelines and the application of individual “doe’s and don’t” within the parameters of a noted martial law scenario. Even more perturbing of this commentary is his subsequent statement regarding the dispatch of those whom are seemingly returning to life! – He states, “the dead body must be exterminated, either by destroying the brain or severing the brain from the rest of the body!” This chilling statement only adds to the broadcasts spiralling chaos as Doctor Foster accuses the presenter of an immorality of only having concern – like Givens, of maintaining viewing audience figures rather than concentrating on the fundamentals of what he has to say, however outlandish or devastating his comments may be construed. Foster after his outburst – himself becomes verbally ridiculed and reviled, sending the programme into further descent, disbelief and growing background unrest by many of the staff members gathered in the studio at this time – many whom will soon begin to abandon their jobs while ‘On-Air’. Cameramen, floor staff and even the stations security will become impatient and simply leave their posts during the live transmission. Stephen Andrews – David Emge, who also works for the network turns up to the studio to inform his partner Francine that he wants to take the stations, “eye in the sky” helicopter (he its pilot) and flee from the impending doom. She in response remains initially hesitant – naively perhaps? For some noble reason she seems committed to the cause of continued programming. With a firm, unmistakable loving reprimand left bouncing round in her head and Stephen’s fight to survive spirit and determination foremost, he gives Francine a stark ultimatum in his fleeting demand that she meet him on the station roof at 9 ‘O clock or “… he’ll come looking for her!” His decree final.
The cameraman stood beside them overhears the couples harsh exchange and finishes this flying-the-coup suggestion by stating ominously, “go ahead, we’ll be off the air by midnight anyway. The emergency networks are taking over… our responsibility is finished”. This introduction of two of the fulcrum characters clearly outlines the grave necessity to take control of matters, despite the illegality of taking the WGON-TV chopper and if need be; Stephen suffering the consequences of his actions later. It seems Stephen is willing to risk all in protecting his beloved. Another issue that later transpires and focuses in on one of the many reasons why Stephen’s forceful reticent state becomes even more poignant and why he is willing to break the law on a personal but protective level?
The opening siege sequence in which specially trained, often out of control S.W.A.T. team members, backed-up with armed soldiers (National Guard) attempt to deal with gaining back control of a specific (project) apartment block – floor by floor quickly replaces the scenes of the broadcast. This opening bloody salvo of civil disobedience is quite breathtaking in its forceful lock-down enactment. This must surely be a probable influence of a pre- Gareth Evans’s, The Raid: Redemption (2010), or my own recent personal favourite, Pete Travis’s re-imagining of the brilliant, Dredd (2012). In the enforced shut down of the building hides not just known criminality and a suspected domestic revolutionary group threat, (note the rebel leader Martinez – John Amplas. Romero’s lead in the wonderful Martin (1976) and subsequently Amplas also went on to play Fisher in Day of the Dead (1985)). These events also coincide with the eventual discovery (in the basement) of a terrible hidden secret? The carnage of both the attack upon the buildings normal subjugated tenants by trigger-happy authorities comes to our attention in the form of S.W.A.T. team member Jim Baffico as Wooley.
A racist, gung-ho character who quickly becomes the prime catalyst example of this violent and indiscriminate release of violence not just during the armed rooftop exchanges between S.W.A.T. and the so-called horde-up revolutionaries, but eventually his further bloody assault is quick to move onto anything in his way – he becomes quite in-discriminant and startling in his rolling momentum, caring little for whether or not you are human or zombie. This moment also officially introduces us to the hidden zombie plague and its soon to be untethered primeval outlet; coming at its audience unrestrained and with blood-letting visceral intent, while Wooley seemingly becomes the menacing opposition to this throw of the coin turmoil! This animalistic rupturing from its concealed confines opens up like a nightmarish pack of rabid dogs being released into an uncoordinated gladiatorial combat zone. These moments are visually choreographed and realised in Romero’s unrelenting bloody carnage set-pieces of maiming, zombie rampage, violent death and even a noted suicide and he achieves all this so spectacularly.
Much of this bloody conflict occurring before we even get to the aforementioned basement. This dreadful free-for-all and its devastating aftermath also brings together two further main characters who after the bloody unfolding outcome of events which includes a moment in which the character Peter Washington played by the unmissable and looming presence of horror legend Ken Foree shoots dead the berserk Wooley with his M16. An initial threatening confrontational stand-off between Peter and Roger ‘Trooper’ DiMarco played with an almost Steve McQueen (lite) type swagger throughout by an impressive Scott H. Reiniger, he being a member of the now deceased Wooley’s team and also witnessed the (putting down) killing of the aggressive member of his unit. Both men will soon call a truce, become friends and opportunist allies together, as they decide to leave their combatant careers and duties initialised it seems by the sickening events of this latest raid. Their obvious and noted disillusionment at the rampant dereliction of duty of others and the killing spree witnessed only outlines further the social (martial law) ramifications, which must surely taint the wearing of a smeared and bloodied uniform of the elite S.W.A.T. team these two men – once honourably represented. This observation seems in the case of these two hardened and experienced professionals – to much to bear. Their final decision to go AWOL – placing both these men into a necessary future of probable criminality and a clear intent to simply survive the unfolding anarchy by escaping from the inflicted death caused by this cruel phenomenon of both unrestrained men with weapons and zombies whom it seems clearly wish to meal upon the living. Such a life affirming, uneasy decision making policy of self-preservation becomes a major sign of what is yet to come? While I mention this opening butchery of civilians, revolutionaries and fellow guardians (of so called) law and order… and zombie types, we must take on board this stark reminder and its haunting consequences of something terrible. This is announced by an old, one legged priest who ends up passing the future renegades, not before leaving these ominous words ringing in their ears. “Séniores please let me pass… Many have died last week on these streets. In the basement of this building you will find them. I have given them the last rites. Now, you do what you will? You are stronger than us… but soon I think… they be stronger than you! When the dead walk Séniores, we must stop the killing or lose the war?”
The basement scene that follows, last several daunting moments and to this day still leaves the captured impression of a soulless and brooding incomprehension has to why this containment of superstitious horror has been allowed to manifest in such a shocking imprisoned way. The execution of these undead fiends is very unnerving. Some are tethered in bedsheets and sickly wriggle around like exaggerated, freakish caterpillars, while others seem oblivious to their would-be executioners presence. The undead busily munch away on amputated body parts while Peter and Roger unassumingly prepare to dispatch these ghouls. This dreadful scene before them is explained away as ceremony. When Roger; grim faced asks why they would choose to keep these people here, Peter replies with some basic passing acknowledgement, it seems?
“… because they still believe there’s respect in dying?” We the audience immediately rebuke this superstitious nonsense, having witnessed what has just unfolded and also note… ‘where is this so-called respect?’.
May I also take this review time by pointing you toward a recent horror movie that I strongly recommend you see – if you haven’t already of course? May I direct you toward, Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s brilliant Spanish horror classic, [REC] (2007). This film must be strongly considered another inspirational modern offshoot from the core spreading influential roots of Romero’s original, ‘DAWN’. [REC] is a truly great (modern) genre film, one I can not speak of highly enough. A future cult classic? For me “… it’s already there folks!”
The coming together of our four main protagonists is briefly highlighted with a sense of initial mistrust and doubt. It also offers a glance at other conspiring forces being of the same survivalist intent and instinct. The growing consensus that it is indeed okay to run, despite the deathly ramifications that greet Stephen and Francine as he lands the helicopter in order to hopefully (pre-planned it seems) meet up with Roger (his friend), gain supplies for the journey ahead and fuel up the chopper for its initial journey to Canada? On landing the couple are greeted by a dead body that lies on the landing dock by the bay. This is obviously the first time Francine has seen the after effect of a killing. Furthermore this is not a zombie? The sudden notion of close quarter combatant possibilities become an immediate wake up call for the couple, though it seems Stephen at this stage is less fazed by seeing the body and is quick to continue the task in hand. Stepping over the dead man Stephen grabs the fuelling nozzle from the dispenser and walks back to the copter – then hands the job of refuelling to Francine. It seems getting involved in other peoples business or having the same loyal dedication toward your civilian job will now make you an expendable target should you get involved with those acting in an obvious mercenary way. Ex-law enforcement members have themselves become opportunists groups in their own right, highlighted by what greets Stephen inside the docks main building before he and Francine had arrived on the scene. Here we quickly note the ever dangerous and uncomfortable intimidating atmosphere being created when Stephen finds a second murder scene which intensifies the need to tread very carefully. “Hello H.Q. this is police dock… operator dead – post abandoned” the pilot emotionally announces. This deeply perturbing moment also highlights the other dangers lurking and the quickening deteriorative state of how the once guardians of law and order – those of authority themselves now have little or no moral scruples left as this scene clearly denotes. It is not long before the cautious Stephen comes across armed men who have taken temporary control of the dock H.Q. When Stephen is initially held at gunpoint by one of the raiders, it is only because one of the unidentifiable police officers played by future Romero bad-boy Joe Pilato initially disguises his previous job title? Joe Pilato would become the ominous Day of the Dead soldier of misfortune – Rhodes in Romero’s unrelenting third ‘Dead’ instalment.
The armed man quickly recognises his captive as Stephen ‘flyboy’ Andrews of WGON-TV fame. This delicate moment not only highlights the status of how even being a local television celebrity and its famed personality culture can have influence upon the more starstruck individuals of society but this saving grace may have also just saved “flyboy” his life – in a moment of serendipitous circumstance. Under the supervision of this stranger (Pilato), we soon witness the quick stealth ambush of not just Stephen but also Francine. These (other) men are already in the process of loading up a boat and carrying seized supplies, including weapons from the depot armoury. The arrival of Roger and Peter finally offers Stephen a certain relief and reassurance in now having the presence of armed allies. A moment that makes for an initial and uncomfortable, delicate stand-off. In further exchanges between the two groups of would-be fugitives we gain an understanding of what this renegade group are trying to achieve in trying their luck by travelling by water. When Stephen enquires about where they plan to head, a clueless young gum chewing cop replies “down river, we got an idea we can make it to the islands”. Stephen replies “what islands?” the dumb cop replies without any hint of foolhardy irony “any islands? What about you… where are you heading”. Stephen gestures by nodding his head and then replies “straight up!” The helicopter finally takes off and we are left noting the backdrop of a Philadelphia skyscraper as it begins to ominously shut off its lights and grow monolithically darker.
Night has become day, Peter notices that ‘flyboy’ has nodded off momentarily. He responds by aggressively smacking the back of the pilots seat to reawaken him. The pilot and his passengers now fly over open countryside were we note much in the way of localised activity as the country roads are packed with national guard vehicles snaking their way to some local destination, while in the fields nearby groups of hunters form a search line and steadily make their way across open country. The physical embodiment of this unconstrained activity is acknowledged when Stephen in a concerned reality check flyby comments, “Those Rednecks are probably enjoying the whole thing!” What Romero does next is spend the next several moments of this juxtaposition to briefly leave our desperado’s to hover above and uneasily observe. From ground level we now witness the gathering of hunters and Redneck opportunist forming uncoordinated hunting posses in the nearby local town while the National Guard just simply stand by and ineffectively watch on while supposedly implementing marshal law by their presence. This event brings together masses of people who it seems now delight in drinking coffee, beer and using their right to bear arms and hunt. On this occasion hunting season takes on a new and disturbing taint as we witness anyone with a gun become quickly absorbed by this undead phenomenon and has a divine willingness to fell their former human prey like some kind of bizarre shooting practice. The twisted irony of all this gun play is dealt with in an often amusing and non-moral detachment that would almost certainly exist under such an epidemic – would it not? Though Romero uses this sinister separation from our main character assessment – like a mirror image of ‘them and us’ as a hinted satirical divide – this moment also allows Romero to skilfully offer a brief and false economy as we will soon witness in what follows this comical social gathering misnomer?
The WGON-TV helicopter finally reaches a refuelling destination. Stephen lands at an abandoned airfield. The several minutes that follow become the polar opposite of the humourous undertow of those tongue-in-cheek hunting scenes of previous. In these next few moments Romero will indulge both his cast and audience into darker ventures by including a disturbing scene in which Peter must dispatch two zombies in a shocking double child homicide. Yes not all zombies are adult in nature nor is this scene there for mere amusement or the suggestion of extending the morals of zombie target practice. This notable and once infamous ‘CUT’ scene became an important talking point for many decades that followed the original release of Dawn of the Dead during its cinema run and again on its eventual re-release during the new video era of home entertainment. Originally this scene was uncut but the subsequent ‘Video Nasties’ period of the 1980’s caused somewhat of a moral outcry and this scene soon gained an unfounded notoriety for its cinematic depiction. It is sensible to suggest that though this scene may have been considered an outrageous, shocking, even abhorrent despite its placement in a horror movie – the truth is, if we are dealing in the fundamentals of adult entertainment, however distasteful at times the concluding scenario – then the moral compass however delicate or extreme to the storyline must be a crucial necessity in context of those characters being bitten by a fictional monster which then converts its victims into becoming the very monsters in question. The moral dilemma and ambiguity of a zombie is simply not plausible and therefore such base ambivalence of a fictional creature has no moral high ground to contemplate therefore the indeterminate repercussions of their immoral behaviour surely means that as in fiction – an immorality that often reflects a hidden reality which for purpose must be unrepentant when placed in a cruel non-reality basis, distorted or otherwise, this is therefore surely within the remit of fictional horror to highlight this very troublesome but realistic attribute of an alternative nightmare reality in which women and children can also be firmly placed in arms-way as both victims of lurking monsters or even i.e., becoming monsters themselves. As in life do we not notice this unfortunate immorality in the everyday occurrence of women/child death and mortality that takes place in war zones of daily reality? Do we not also continually witness the horrendous acts portrayed by real people committing real immoral acts of violence upon others? So the question I put forward to those whom have queried or even condemned horror cinema – past, present or future; is it okay to castigate or blame movies for honest but fictional events in context, while the everyday brutality of real death and destruction is acceptable viewing during daily news broadcasts worldwide… “Yes, you keep thinking that! … Are you feeling comfy now?”
Other poignant moments in this assault upon the visual senses include Stephen having to smash a zombie over the head with a hammer during an accidental coming-together. We also note that Francine is still hesitant and unreliable at this stage when confronted by the deathly greying discoloured dead members of this public epidemic. In this segment we also delight in witnessing a blonde haired lookalike escapee version of Oddbod Junior from Gerald Thomas’s brilliant, Carry On Screaming! (1966) get scalped by the rotating blades of the refuelling helicopter.
Though now looking only (slightly) dated – this scene was and still is a very ambitious and iconic moment in the history of zombie movies. During this continued sporadic layering of zombie interference and mayhem we also see Stephen mistaken helpfulness for stupidity when he indiscriminately begins to open-fire with his rifle toward the offices in which Peter whom has just gone through the trauma of killing children is now being besieged by a zombie who has caught our ex-S.W.A.T. member temporarily off guard.
With zombie approaching and bullets flying, Peter is only saved when Roger turns up with his M16 and with surgical calmness and precision not only stops Stephen from possibly killing the trapped Peter but is also quick to slain the looming zombie that has trapped his besieged friend. As imagined once Peter dusts himself down he is quick to confront the wild inconsideration of Stephen and points his now reloaded M16 at the pilot, making his point concisely at the error of his ways by stating to the startled man “Scary isn’t it… isn’t it!”
After the repercussions of the airfield events are left lingering ominously in the memories of everyone on-board this journey, our group of misfits find themselves now flying in darkness. With tempers still heated and debate of what to do next becoming rather fractious and uncertain in the back-and-forth of discussion the atmosphere in the confines of the copter is genuinely perceptible, we immediately acknowledging and sympathise with all parties as tiredness and disharmony still filters through individual emotions and thoughts regarding the aftermath of the days dangerous and eye-opening events. Many of us have been on long journeys where for whatever reasons tempers flare and people argue. This observation would normally be omitted from many films but Romero in this case refuses to simply rush or cut down the simple but necessary importance of these fragile moments, he instead is willing to include the foibles of our agitated individuals as signs of how people interact in moments of past and current concern.
Eventually dawn breaks and the helicopter now flies over a large shopping complex – a place that may allow them to land on the roof in relative safety, gain brief sanctuary, rest and obtain supplies for furthering their journey. The main reason for landing however is so Stephen can hopefully get some much needed sleep and recover well enough to continue piloting the copter with greater safety. The moment ‘Flyboy’ lands on the roof of the Monroeville Mall is the moment that truly begins this incredible zombie odyssey which not only leaves us to reflect thus far on this cinematic experience having already provided us with an amazing opening horror posturing that is hard to replicate but this touchdown immediately sends us toward phase two of an experience that further enhances the appeal of this taut and consuming adventure and will indeed lay down further – original and inspirational conceptual foundations that are beyond genre compare. Be in no doubt that from this point onward Dawn of the Dead goes into incredible overdrive and never ceases until the indefatigable closing seconds of this amazing horror masterpiece has to surrender to its unbelievable curtain call.
The next several moments of rooftop investigation and reconnaissance leads our former S.W.A.T. members to conclude that the top floor seems zombie-less? This part of the upper building is clearly used for storage purposes only. They notice that the complex is also running on its own generated power system so everything seems to be still functioning as normal. After breaking and entering through a glass skyline the group settle down for brief rest and recuperation and take advantage of the stock made available in the storage room they have just illegally entered. As Stephen sleeps both Peter and Roger discuss the feasibility of checking out their outlay and surroundings for the sake of supplies and deciding what would be – if they attempted – the safest and convenient way of meeting this potentially dangerous task with the least resistance. Leaving Stephen sleeping and Francine armed with a rifle the two men enter S.W.A.T. mode once again and leave via the service stairway. When they finally reach the upper level of the main shopping centre they cautiously scope around and observe the mall activity down below. Noting their surroundings they immediately begin to formulate a plan of action which will allow them to explore initially with relative impunity. After retreating from the upper mall they find the main communication centre for the whole building and begin to checkout the available blueprint schematic outlay of the shopping complex and also find the ‘keys to the kingdom!’ They then collect a couple of recharged mall security Walkie-Talkies (remember them?) Roger has the idea of firing up all the malls internal systems – i.e., mall Muzak, escalators, elevators, fountains, exhibits, etc. The two men then prepare to ‘Go Shopping!’ We must also take-heed that this moment clearly pre-dates the use and functionality of CCTV hubs being the observational eyes and ears of today’s shopping mall experience. Big Brother isn’t quite there just yet?
This brilliant uncertainty and all the possible ramifications is momentarily swept to one side as Romero takes us away briefly to the world of the wandering and shuffling interior plague of zombies who have themselves suddenly found the reactivated working mechanics of the shopping mall begin to treat them to uncoordinated escalator rides that confuse and temporarily offer a hint of unsuspecting zombie rebirth of new sight, sound and a disharmonious vulnerability, as their basic cognitive skills are tested to the full. The zombies getting caught on the uprise of the aforementioned escalator is extremely funny as is the moment when we watch a zombie fall into the malls centre piece fountain and begin to scoop up the coins people have thrown into it (to bring luck?) The zombie in question begins to act like a fazed toddler! The interchange of camera shots between the confused puzzlement of the zombies and their loose association with shop window mannequins seamlessly describe the only noticeable difference between the living dead species and the inanimate lifelike objects – showroom dummy attributes. For an all to brief change it is not our survivalist that must tread carefully but the zombies who themselves are temporarily thrown into a sweeping discomfort of minor chaos from the silence and stillness beforehand to the active and ignited shopping centre features of current. This new phase of observational wit is most certainly at the high end of ironic comedy timing and is absolutely priceless genius on behalf of the director. Again, it was only Romero that seemed willing to include momentary slapstick comedy into the placement of what had previously been only gore and dread. This was before Sam Raimi replicated this very essence sometime later with his début full length feature, The Evil Dead (1981). It’s clear in this Romero example that his mischief was clearly designed to give the audience a quick ‘breather’ while we prepare ourselves for the next probable blood-soaked event. This brief comedic cut-off point itself quickly ceases and the films tone moves into bloody adventure and creates two further juxtapositions that will concentrate the audience on numerous levels of interaction that divide Roger and Peter’s current activity from the scared and cautious Francine and her hotheaded and foolhardy partner who awakens from slumber and without thought or the notion of common sense yet again. Not only does he feel he must concern himself with matters he could possibly make worse but more selfishly he quickly leaves Francine ‘in-the-lurch’ by taking the rifle from her while he goes on his personal half-arsed expedition. This moment of inconsiderate and impulsive abandonment will also be the catalyst of change regarding Francine and her future conduct, position and standing within the group – as we will quickly witness?
When Stephen Andrew’s enters the fray, not only does he continuously stumble forward with the attributes of an individual with a naive vulnerability that actually endangers all in his company but what is also clearly detailed here is that he is also a danger to his own well-being most often. Despite his foolhardy flaws, what Romero has created with both Francine and more so in current context and regarding Stephen in particular is his beneficial inclusion despite his polar opposition to the often alert macho machinations of our two soldier-types of Peter and Roger. While our two trained men naturally work through opportunistic processes under pressure, it seems Stephen despite his best intentions creates a more organic lapsing intent that often belies his own belief to perhaps impress Francine who he must in duty, lovingly and emotionally protect and at the same time prove within this social interaction that he too can cope with the more unsavoury necessities of a changing situation. Sadly Stephen is often caught out by events and though he becomes more adaptable – later on, he is always being cautiously watched by all (keeping a brotherly eye) – especially by our two technically efficient combatant journeyman. The connection between the four protagonist in this temporary separation of character situational observations and its eventual independent conclusions will not only galvanise the group and its future intent and conduct but it will clearly establish all relationships with closer and clearer care and consideration. Before Romero majestically extends and elaborates upon a more harmonious future within the ranks, we must first deal with the current discomfort of unforeseen circumstances and the unfolding and confusing coming-together elements that this film supplies in a continued regaling. This supreme action-packed and darkly building momentum is simply stunning. Romero divides these moments between Stephen’s hectic journey and tribulations and the partnership of the two unshakable combatants and their eventual acknowledgement that ‘Flyboy’ is yet again causing unsupervised chaos elsewhere, as they hear shots ring out from distance and begin to surmise? What they are hearing is Stephen travelling through the industrial size – grandiose boiler-room operational system of the mall. Stephen has obtained a large though important file of a more concise blueprint of the whole shopping mall operation. He has also obtained a handgun and ammunition from a drawer. His journey through the maze of industrialised plant management systems of metal pipes, boilers etc. is eerily cast in shadows and dulled with industrial painted matching walls and panels that begin to offer angles and shadows of something looming in the background other than the humming and clanging of the buildings lively engine room. A former security guard has become zombified and now menacingly begins to pursue an uncomfortable and panic stricken ‘Flyboy’. In no-time the baying fiend is upon our confused character. The zombie leaps forward and sends ‘Flyboy’ falling to the floor. After regaining the dropped gun he fires a shot toward the on-coming undead interloper. In one scene the bullets are clearly heard rebounding off the metal and steel framework of the mechanical apparatus working the building. After indiscriminately missing his target several subsequent times and also having no ammo left in the weapons chamber Stephen desperately attempts to reload the gun as he panic stricken spills the bullets onto the floor below while the zombie moves in for the kill. Somehow the desperate man manages to get a bullet into the gun and eventually the shot dispatches the zombie – just in time! These are the shots that Roger and Peter hear and cautiously make efforts to confirm the probability that it will likely be ‘Flyboy’ up to mischief (again) and if necessary they will have to rescue their pilot from possible peril? Eventually the three men are brought together through some sporadic tension filled moments which includes a number of violent contacts with the reinvigorated and alerted undead opposition. This dramatic incursion and safe retreat into the sanctity of a department store quickly intensifies this adrenalin fuelled match up and the brief rejoicing that follows this scintillating though highly dangerous action. The sudden inclusion of Stephen into the thought processes is further expanded when between the three men they consider an alternative plan-of-action rather than simply fly into an unknown and uncertain nomadic future away from the possible security that the mall may offer. The security of the building could offer a stronger settled positioning for our group in the initial short term. The discovery of the malls finer detailed physical blueprint layout, which through dangerous ceremony and the death of a remaining (undead) staff member are found by the initially bungling Stephen ‘Flyboy’ Andrews quickly becomes a watershed of great importance, a discovery that further sows the seeds of what strategic possibilities there may be in not just holding up in the building but formulating a way in which to go about business in greater safety? Despite this cautious revaluation and comedown from a uncoordinated euphoric state of active achievement and celebration, this moment is quickly turned upside down (again) when the three men briefly run wild in the department store only to be bought back to a shattering reality of the situation when Roger is challenged by a zombie that is residing in the store.
This moment of an unexpected scare tactic not only reignites the fact that they must all stay alert at all times – but much more rewarding was the directors earlier and notable mannequin/zombie comparison which makes this instance stand-out with greater effect. Again the Roger versus maintenance zombie is a genuine ‘jump out of your seat moment’ especially for those unfamiliar with this piece. The eventual dispatch of the zombified worker by Roger is a gore filled and bloody reflex response that will and has undoubtedly stuck in the memory bank of horror fans since its brief but cinematic inclusion. After the close call the men quickly gather their thoughts. A strategic conference discussing further matters leads to Stephen’s observational skills referring him toward the lift shaft and the connection between the ventilation shaft above it and how it could be used to safely get from one point of the building to another without worrying about the plague of the undead that often surprise them and currently wander freely in the shopping mall! This reveal not only raises Stephen in estimation of the two soldiers but also confirms the astute and feasible awareness to consider their future options including the strategic terrain they could hold as security. From laying foundations for a longer stay to initialising a protective safeguard aesthetic concealment from both zombies and glancing authorities alike. This strategic gift becomes very important, not just in its discovery but that elevator/lift will become best remembered for something more sinister and chilling come the final few moments of this movie?
Remember Francine? Well, in the midst of all the blood-letting adventure and plans afoot by the wandering male contingent, poor Fran is left in between the stockroom and the stairwell (between a rock and a hard place!) Still uncertain has to the progress of her partner and both Peter and Roger – whom during the blistering showdown between Peter rescuing Stephen from the famous/infamous narrow access corridor and the feverish activity encountered during this battle – it soon becomes clear that one of the curious zombies noted the door that Stephen clumsily exited and leads not just toward the focal working epicentre of the mall but further leads to the stairwell that allows access to the storeroom which the group entered when they first arrived. Francine becomes made aware that someone is at the foot of the stairwell when she hears the door below open. When enquiring into whether the men are returning, she receives no positive response other than a creepy silence followed seconds later by the sound of shuffling feet which now seemingly begin to ominously climb the stairs?
Not only does Romero pursue further drama by now placing the abandoned Francine in probable peril but this added fear factor builds on the unnerving contact between the terrified woman and her visual contact with a bald, spectacled – former peace-loving – religious follower of the Krishna faith looming toward her in the standard yellow regalia representation. Here our director also offers an extended piece of mischief that again turns the anyone can become a zombie switch back to the ‘ON’ position. The colourful and dark slapstick nature of these fleeting but memorable moments that inter-disperse throughout this film are so original, do become massively representative in terms of quota, as a result of this fabulous mix of horror and melodrama you often begin to wonder where all these Romero filmic supplies of inventive application formulated. To my limited knowledge, I have not known of a genre orientated film that has many high-point moments of cinematic iconographic pop-culture that is so commonly contained and sustained within the celluloid turns of Dawn of the Dead, which aspires to offer up such formidable and long lasting subsection of treats in such great quantities. This marker right here must be included as it eerily extends that moment when Francine fights for her life and the opposing religious indoctrination of someone whom in their life before becoming undead is represented in caricature of this poignant – again massively ironic monstrous reincarnation and then thrown wickedly into the opposing dominion of a violent animalistic meat-eating cannibal! … Outstanding! Not only does this coming together and Francine’s attempted escape culminate in an uneasy balance between comedy highbrow observation but the just-in-time return of the three men also allows the slaying of the beast amongst! This moment temporarily traumatises Francine and while the boyfriend warbles on about the items they have collected in their shopping spree? – we automatically note the transformation of Francine into what will be her future heroine persona in this unabated ride. Not only does this movie at this stage press home in tandem countless moments of supplied storytelling genius but what also continues to happen is that the more glaringly obvious set-ups are not as clearly identifiable because of the higher graded material being invested in larger doses of pressed home momentum, which just seems to pour out of this horror template like a refreshing torrential rain during the unbearable heat of an intense summer day. This successful premise is what makes George A. Romero the true visionary of this specific creative and original transference to extravagant screen storytelling mastery. Even the thoughtful plan of action by our group of characters that follows becomes a well established and detailed (not rushed) further integral part of one of this films greatest explored moments. From that second Francine toughens-up and begins to demand the same rights as the men – after just surviving her own close-call we are quick to note the initial frustration and agitated reaction from her lover as she unshakably demands that she isn’t again left without a weapon to defend herself.
The discussed plan to fortify their new settlement and what follows in Romero’s epic can be best summed up in a visually described brashness of massive logistical directorial splendour which turns over and speeds along like a spectacularly created amusement ride – something that would in large part not be amiss in one of the extravaganza laden masterpieces of bona-fide set-in wartime cinema traditions. With little time to rest the dangerous excursion outside the shopping complex not only relocates us back into the much forgotten open fresh-air of the outside world, temporarily releasing the group of characters from the growing and stifling claustrophobic sense of placement that seems to be gathering inwardly – i.e., ventilation crawling, the restriction of the stairway and the box filled storage room that did little in protecting Francine from zombie attack. This cold winter day will entail Roger and Peter blocking the malls main entrances with the associated BP trucking company vehicles which are based on the opposite side of the hillside that drops into the valley dip in which the Monroeville complex lies.
(Note: the placement homage paid to this part of the movie in Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake!) Under an operational construct of an almost theatre-of-war organisational precision and execution, securing the building begins in earnest and is an absolutely delightful incorporated addition to many of the continued precise moving parts this movie contains.
With Francine on the Mall rooftop playing rookie sniper and Stephen being the airborne deployer of Roger and Peter into open zombie territory – he also becomes the eyes and makeshift warning system of the ‘troops on the ground’ should they need to be abstracted from the potential of a fluid combat zone. This part of the movie is pretty spectacular and during its process a great many events take place that combine in the sense of dangerous adventure ahead, a probable surge in adrenalin fuelled foolhardiness, and a success and failure rate that both please in one instance but quickly becomes devastating within the blink of a blood quenching zombie bite. The emotional scale is massive and consumes not just the films protagonists but also the same can surely be said of the deeply involved audience whom simply have no-time in which to initially comprehend the scale of this exercise and the cruel results that are added as a result of what happens to Roger ‘Trooper’ DeMarco despite the successful outcome of the actual intended operation. This moment and its saddening aftermath offers forward an encounter with our characters that flourishes and spreads outward in greater depth and understanding, an approach often not expedited in normal horror movie convention. As often is the case many genre movies have a greater tendency to rush, dictate matters hurriedly. There is none of that hurrying here in Romero’s world. He just takes a loving and cultured steady pace and moves forward with patient endeavour thus capturing the very essence of this unique and far-fetched experience in a very independent, uncompromising way.
The trials and tribulations of Romero’s characters begin to unravel indefatigably and again distinctively dismiss the pretext of defeat by only increasing the social and learning capacity of our four main characters – keeping both them and us firmly on our toes! The massive change in attitude and growth of Francine in particular pretty much becomes the films wilful centre piece. The change in this particular character is foremost, we’ll also notice that she also becomes the most adaptable of all the group by not only learning to shoot a weapon safely and correctly but in one particular scene of revelation even steps up to the plate with an intent that realistically affirms her position as – “The most likely to survive the apocalypse in her class?” When she informs her lover Stephen that she will learn to fly the helicopter! This moment though seemingly callous in its initial reasoning is in fact quite an honest and necessary assessment to make, especially if something were to befall Stephen in these testing and deadly times. Francine’s significant new and appropriate approach becomes the stark and clear reminder of how delicate life has become and how she has hardened in her determination to survive mankind’s deconstruction. This fervent change of character is wonderfully measured and timed in its slow drip feed release, though she still maintains her obvious feminine attributes of a mother to be! As the once confident and likeable Roger slowly fades because of trauma, Francine becomes more astute of what all this sadness and survivalist affirmation means. Another memorable moment (of many) is when our main characters finally place the mall on complete shut down and those zombies left internally in the building become systematically hunted down and destroyed. Again the pace and style that Romero pursues in this quest is pretty incredible. This violent detailed beginning of the quest to the offsetting of this event of our four main characters quickly reverses the doubt and hesitation of earlier, especially the coming-to-the-fore of both Stephen and Francine in particular – who now step up to the plate with a steely determination and team ethic that by this stage ignites all into something more powerful than previously known of the group as they willingly meet their goals with an unrelenting measure and obvious infused determination, particularly in this final battle to nullify the zombie plague permanently. With the consequences of their last strategic victory still fresh in the mind, it becomes a matter of they must meet head-on and finish what they started rather than simply give up. All this happens despite Roger’s ill fated incident, though this only increases the feverish capacity of Roger despite he being severely debilitated, still seems just as heavily determined as previous – we note however he is slowly deteriorating though he remains very responsive in aiding this final sweep-up of the zombies. This violent detailed event spurs the four main characters onward. The way in which they go about defeating their undead foes is again high end adventure of a grand scale visionary delight and as previous and under the same excellence aspired to and maintained by Romero’s sequential output. The action again contains many different strands of fast paced and emotionally displayed sequences that come at you in a domino effect of full fuelled horror inspiration. In this high octane unravel Romero even adds a touch of wonderfully described pathos. In one particular moment when Francine waits by a department store entrance, she releases a zombified nun that has caught its habit in the sliding doors. She eventually opens the barrier between the two of them just slightly but cautiously releases the trapped item of clothing allowing the zombie to then be free. The physical glances by Francine toward the former human being and the creature looking back at her potential capture is a stunning piece of social and physical awareness of the differing states and substance of the two opposing factions. The zombie almost shows a brief re-emergence of thankfulness at this deed and then within the blink of an observational eye the zombies puzzlement expires and once again the creature simply shuffles off as programmed. Francine understands as distant shots begin to ring out in the background – that soon her freed captive will be killed like all the rest. Poignant; the word as never been so eloquently interpreted into a genre movie with greater power than in that second of social reappraisal and melancholic interaction. It is absolutely impeccable in context of Romero’s submergence of genre unpredictability in this case. It is only when the group finally obtain their end goal do we witness these survivors finally survey their undead cleansing, while off in the distance a low pitch haunting sound of communal cries accompanied by the continued banging and tapping of the malls sealed glass doors becomes overwhelmingly palpable as the undead fiends still gather outside while those remaining inside lay massacred – a cursory reminder to our shopping mall conquerors of bloody victory a countering of the mosaic of slain bodies that lie below.
The victory though significant nonetheless conceals not just what it has cost our survivalist psychologically but additionally we note the increasing invalidity of Roger who still bears the dreadful scars of combatant zombie warfare. Despite their necessary actions and its sombre consequences, we see our survivors begin to come to terms, even acknowledge that they may be fortunate in a strange and growing dispassionate viewpoint but also perhaps begin to understand they have become almost domesticated casualties of this phenomena that has cost them much both physically and mentally. Tired, drained and in one case badly injured, they finally inspect their violent but necessary achievement and the cost met in order to preserve their intuitive notion and their unflinching need to survive both individually and as a unit. These vented emotions give way to what has been a difficult summation while they stand outside Penneys department store. Still armed and reflective, accompanied by the spectral chill that seems to temper the bitter-sweet contemplation and cost to their violent endeavours. Despite their victory it still seems hollow and strangely beguiling! With the distant cries alerting our victors and the body count below a freakish reminder the conversational exchange not only stings bitterly with a cautious veneration but the haunting and uncomfortable conversational monologue that finishes this captivating though brief cessation in the film is just an incredible described dark and creepy epitaph that really epitomises everything that has taken them to this bizarre threshold.
Francine: “They’re still here”.
Stephen: “They’re after us, they know we’re still in here”.
Peter: “They’re after the place. They don’t no why, they just remember. Remember that they want to be in here”.
Francine: “What the hell are they?”
Peter: “They’re us that’s all!… There’s no more room in hell?”
Peter: “Something my granddaddy used to tell us. You know Macumba?… Voodoo. Grandad was a priest in Trinidad. Used to tell us… when there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth”.
Another additional and disturbing end of time element that constantly haunts Romero’s epic throughout are the latter television broadcast and the debates within which feature the so-called intellectual ravings of a confrontational (preaching) scientist played with ominous effect by Richard (eye-patch) France. As in the opening WGON-TV debate, he too begins to reflect dangerously by making outlandish commentary regarding the blanket policies of how to control and endure the zombie apocalypse. (A policy espoused and similar in tact to Romero’s earlier noted 1973 effort, The Crazies). Howard Smith as the television Commentator makes attempts at being the voice of reason by not condoning such a crass apocalyptic ideological end vision. This moment not only becomes the affirming crescendo that accompanies this disastrous end of world disparity but also indicates that the end may indeed be truly ‘nigh’ for mankind? This reflective moment also coincides with a moment that menaces as much as it saddens. The final demise of Roger hits hard and easily takes us to the darkest moment in the movie. While Stephen and Francine watch the scientist call everyone dummies and even remarks furiously that perhaps the world and the remaining members of the human race may not be worth saving anyway, this dreadful crass outburst coincides with the reanimation of a bedridden Roger who prior to Peter keeping watch finally passed away – not before categorically stating that when or if he returned as one of the living dead, his hope was that Peter would stop him from reanimating. This chilling scene of Roger removing the cover and then rising up from his resting place is truly electrifying and most certainly the most macabre event in proceedings thus far. The shot finally rings out and Dawn of the Dead smashes into you like a surfing wave that has just thrown you from the surfboard.
The devastation of Roger’s demise and the after effect it as upon the three remaining members of the group is incredibly powerful, even overwhelming to a dramatic point. Not only do we see Stephen and Francine attempt to become a couple once more but the failure and the falseness of the harmony becomes shattered almost irreparable. The events not forgotten it seems to much of a toll. Peter too becomes the man without either a friend nor partner and it is noticeable that the camaraderie of having someone of association in a working and social capacity, evidently passed away with the loss of Roger ‘Trooper’ DeMarco!
This sad part of the film highlights the disparity but also briefly offers thin morsels – that despite the social and relationship fades and transitions from close knit to just being appreciative of one another in company and grateful for what remains of that situation despite the obvious tension filled going-through-the-motions, it makes clear that the social integration is still acknowledged despite everything! Sadly in the case of the three remaining members of the group they soon become blighted by another problem – a problem potentially far more deadly than even the zombies had caused in their social splintering. The emergence of a mobile road gang/army of motorcyclist and Co whom watch on while Francine is being instructed in how to fly the chopper brings forward the movies battling, gruesome finale in which not only does all the hard work achieved by our protagonist endeavour quickly get destroyed by this mercenary gang but once they have re-entered the battlements that kept the zombies out the subsequent free-for-all between biker gang members – zombies and those who have made Monroeville their fortress home becomes the defining release valve that tips Stephen in particular – over the edge. The combination between seeing all their achievements being destroyed before-their-eyes and witnessing the re-emergence of zombies once more walking “their” mall is considered nothing other than an act of war and through Stephen’s final act of foolhardiness he begins to covertly open fire on the bikers that are now running amok in the reopened building. This time he is not dealing with zombies but heavily armed people who will and do begin to return fire. Peter previous to warning ‘Flyboy’ that he should let them have the main building is forced into also getting involved in a shoot-out, only he does this with his professional stealth and common sense. In all the mayhem Stephen becomes suddenly trapped in the open mall and with nowhere left to go, he realises that he has actually put himself in grave danger and then attempts a retreat into the security of the main department store that contains the lift shaft that has allowed the group access to hidden parts of the building. While Peter uses the ventilation system to extend the war between he and the road gang Stephen attempts to evade armed men who themselves have now entered the store via a hail of bullets. Stephen climbs above the elevator through the panel used to access the shaft. Sadly before he can take cover into the vent the two men enter the elevator and begin to shoot it up more in an act of vandalism? During this act of plain destruction Stephen is shot and sustains a serious arm injury. The men shooting up the store are unaware that they have managed to injure the man who started the battle with the invading forces of Monroeville! While Stephen suffers with his inflicted gunshot wound the mall becomes not just a battle zone but the looters are now playing tag and even begin to rob the re-established zombie masses that have re-entered the building along with the biker gang incursion. Romero uses the reproductive combination of earlier comedy slapstick in this case in the interaction of the road gang and the zombies and mixes it up with the ongoing battle the now lone protector – Peter encounters as he continues to try and kill as many bikers and looters as possible.
One of the biker gang Blades – Tom Savini becomes aware of Peter’s stealth activity and goes in search of him. This crossover of deliberate and calculated chaos allows Peter to have great success in not just causing the gang their own additional preoccupation but they have become belligerent, even blasé which offers Peter the perfect opportunity to use this gang abandon in order to make greater gains in repelling the guerilla army from arms way. With zombies beginning to overpower the human hordes, some who have been shot and injured by Peter who himself also begins to receive retaliatory action. While the zombies become overwhelming and many of the gang members begin to pay for their belligerence – one of the biker gang tracks down Peter the sniper. Blades Has a brief and violently stoked verbal altercation. This back and forth between the two men spirals into a battle of wills and also allows those alongside Blades to pin-down Peter. Peter briefly retreats at safe distance – knowing that he too is now in grave danger. During this time Peter also attempts to contact Stephen but receives no response and quickly fears the worst for ‘Flyboy’s’ well-being?’ The final retribution between Peter and Blades ends when the biker gang member becomes clumsy and in a moment in which he is preoccupied with dispatching zombies with his famous machete Peter opens up a roofing tile takes aim with his rifle and quickly brings to an end the outstanding issue of battle. This final act of aggression by Peter upon the retreating and depleted insurgents allows him to make the decision to permanently evacuate. Thinking Stephen is in all probability dead and with Francine also in readied evacuation mode back in the storeroom/homestead he knows he must get back to Francine whatever else happens. This retreat is however briefly halted when he suddenly hears gunshots ring out and in a dreadful dilemma begins to wonder if Stephen is indeed still alive after all? Torn between his own safety and that of the waiting Francine, he reluctantly retreats and hopes ‘if’ it is Stephen, then he must make it back on his own terms unfortunately!
Stephen falls from the elevator roof and back down into the lift itself. Badly injured but still alive the elevator seems calm and stationary. The elevator doors suddenly open and without hesitation it is not gang members that greet our blooded and injured man. More shockingly he is now greeted by a new sway of zombies who begin to swarm him. He begins to fight back but sadly is bitten several times by the overwhelming cannibalistic monsters. He pushes some away and even manages to shoot dead one or two before the door of the lift automatically shut again, leaving ‘Flyboy’ torn to bits and bleeding profusely from his severe bite wounds.
Peter has made it back to the stairwell. Francine greets him. After a exchange which includes Peter notifying Francine that he is unsure of Stephen’s precarious situation – whether he is alive or dead – noting the recent shots fired offers only slender hope. Francine attempts to step past Peter but is held back by him. He knowing if she was to foolishly go in search of her lover, in all likelihood she would more than likely end up dead! They must wait and see if Stephen will return?
The elevator doors open and the zombies stood by the elevator turn toward the sliding doors. Out steps a freakish zombified version of what in life had been Stephen ‘Flyboy’ Andrews. David Emge’s zombie ghastly reinterpretation of one of the undead is not just the most shocking horror movie definition of an incredible time frame of magnificent horror cinema at its finest point but the way in which Emge’s emerges from the elevator with pistol hooked on the trigger finger of this disturbing aberration is only surpassed by the introduction of a deformed walk the blooded clothing and the gaping loose mouth whose utterances have nothing to convey other than a memory of speech. This moment is genuinely goose-bump inducing, intense throat swallowing and gulping – horrifying. If horror culture ever needed that ingenious second that defines not just this particular epic but further encompasses everything stark and notable about the sheer class of Dawn of the Dead, then Stephen’s emergence from that elevator is truly iconic pop-culture beyond all doubt. Superlatives are not needed the imagery gives you all you need to meet your own conclusion!
Freshly returned from death to undead limbo, Stephen begins to guide he and the other zombie manifestations toward a false partition wall that the group built in order to hide the doorway that leads into the main hub of the mall and also leads to the door to the stairwell and leads to the storeroom which the group had made their home. The way in which Stephen attacks the wall by biting away at it is also quite fascinating because of the remaining inkling that Stephen maintains in order to have memory of the secret partition and his zombified instinct to just bite out in a frenzy at any obstacle in the way is very base but again is quite shocking and nightmarish in its surging enactment.
Peter waits at the top of the stairs. The zombies finally arrive and are led by Stephen who begins to climb toward the storeroom. Peter withdraws and closes the door behind him. Francine who is preparing to leave suggests to Peter that they should immediately vacate the building, sadly Peter does not want to join her? It seems he has reached the point of no longer wishing to continue onward. “Go on… get out of here!” he tells Francine. Stunned by Peter’s reaction Peter continues. “I don’t want to go… I really don’t!” Before Francine can react or persuade her friend to leave with her the door to the storeroom opens and Stephen the zombified traitor clumsily stumbles in, gun still dangling and swinging on finger, blood coated and grey skinned. He turns toward the two remaining survivors; while uncoordinated he briefly falls backward in between the wall and the stock boxes. As he begins to gain back his balance and straightens up Peter points his hunting rifle, aims and then fires the weapon.
The white wall sprays red with blood and brain matter, Stephen slumps backward before slowly falling to the floor. Several more zombies begin to enter the room and Peter now forces Francine up the ladder leading to the rooftop. She forcibly exits. Peter backs into a side room with no other exit available. He produces a small pistol and places it to his head.
Francine has fired up the helicopter. The zombies have gradually followed suit and made their way up onto the rooftop but for the moment she refuses to leave in the hope Peter will have a change of heart, though this now seems uncertain? Peter waits for the zombies to enter his room but rather than shoot himself as envisaged a moment earlier he suddenly realises that he is not yet ready to succumb to these undead monsters. As the first zombie pokes its head around the door he fires the pistol and again the white walls become sprayed with red blood. He begins to fight the other oncoming zombies by throwing kicks and punches and he dramatically begins to battle his way through the main room and eventually up the ladder that will lead him out of the skyline and onto the rooftop.
Francine has finally taken-off. Fortunately for Peter she takes a final glance downward and notes the overwhelming zombie infestation below. Luckily for Peter she also spots him fighting his way through the hordes of rooftop invaders and again swoops in lower, bringing the chopper back toward the heliport. The all conquering Peter finally reaches the hovering aircraft, grabs for the door and dives into the back seat. Francine finally takes off – while just beneath the zombies begin to walk across the assigned H of the helicopter pad. “How much fuel do we have?” Peter enquires. “Not much” comes the reply. This epic finishes when Peter announces “Alright?” The copter flies off into the cold glacial dawn and the zombies are left in the wake of the helicopters turbulent accent. This true genre masterpiece ends.
George A. Romero’s, Dawn of the Dead charmingly espouse and highlights the 1970’s era in a retrospective style that looks rather dated in parts, including communication scenarios that would not exist in the current world of today, i.e., technology, security, etc. However despite the cinematic placement and incorporation into the era of a not to distant 20th century, this master class of horror still holds a significant essence that goes beyond its simplistic horror premise and the standard ceremony often associated. It actually becomes something more considered, something other – at times. It deals with the ‘what ifs’ based in a fantastical but fictional world – it doing so in a manner that is manifestly near perfect in its (of its time) fictional expedition of whether we are that much different than our former living selves in this particular case. The zombies in this epic come to represent a fading distinction between the still living humans and their need to actually extend a certain cruelty, barbarism and an intent for self destruction within a forced and unprecedented destructive epidemic – in this case the phenomena that is the walking dead. No matter what the circumstance; epidemic or otherwise many of the social interactions of large survivalist groups clearly dictates often foolish behaviour and abandonment, as clearly signified in this film by the introduction of the road gang? As for the sheer scale and adventure of the whole premise of the movie – well let me suggest you will not find many better – if anything, across the whole expanse of genre cinema and even beyond that even touches upon or deals with such emotional, fundamental and important (in context) topics surrounding grave displacement, resolve and adaptability – even possibly unmasking a course representation of a culture of its time. Okay so when all is said and done this is only a horror movie and to many that is its rightful position in the scheme of cinema. Before we dismiss this theory of “it’s just another gorefest!” let us also take into consideration and gain some kind of further perspective, even an understanding regarding the films massive influence and entry into the horror genres long lingering and influential back catalogue. Both the resulting bonding processes and the personal opportunist striving conduct and the noted alert attitudes of our main protagonists deliver up a tale that expands like spilt ink on blotting paper. It also deals heavily in the pros and cons of these personal relationships in regard of where these people had wished to resided in life prior to the destruction of mankind in this case but more importantly in the aftermath of such total devastation, loss and a new alien landscape? The fading of social aspiration and livelihood before and what remains (opportunistically) after the ongoing fall of empire is realised in such a swirl of anarchy and chaos that it actually wastes no time dwindling upon the moral issues beforehand but intuitively will selflessly aspire to do so in a greater detail by dipping into more realistic issues regarding private enterprise, exclusion, inclusion, desperation, violence and the immorality in often wishing to destroy not just physical ‘former-beings’ of the human race but further in deliberately wanting to interfere and smash things to smithereens – to overstep selfishly and destroy the sanctity of others and at what ultimate cost? The conflict throughout evolves like a continued dichotomy based on returning to almost primeval tribal dereliction as the end battle powerfully portrays in this very tragic fable. This is not just a run-of-the-mill horror movie – what Dawn of the Dead is when we scrutinise a little deeper is a film that reaches out and taps the shoulder of other genre inspirational seeds of cinema and then indulges the film experience with a massively competent and defining piece of truly awe inspiring filmmaking. This film was made as a second instalment to an already massively accomplished classic, so the sequel anticipation and status had to deliver much in upping its prequels considerable critical acclaim. Not only does it achieve its goal easily but the sheer audacity of its continued accomplished grandiose scale and achievement throughout often mesmerises in its exciting everyday backdrop production value. We the audience are immersed into a place of familiar territory, a place that we have all become familiar with in our real world of consumerism and the origins and establishment of the shopping mall as a place of unbridled (twisted) worship. This place unceremoniously becomes the living and breathing setting to the stories near apocalyptic events. The shopping mall and in this case its colossal scale at the time of ‘DAWN’ was more an American phenomenon and tradition in the main and came way before we Brits became overwhelmed by the very idea of these massive alternative US style shopping centre universes (Mecca’s) of the early 1970’s. Romero even manages to symbolically note what lay behind the working processes of such a vast complex technological working system (of its time), which again becomes a studied focal point in Romero’s informative opening investigation – he marking its detailed significance as a former place of both work and social gathering. The importance of highlighting the massive logistics of running such a place becomes a clearly noted in-passing experience not fully appreciated until Romero showed us all the actual nuts and bolts and the working underbelly from the resulting immersion into this vast man-made ecosystem and its functionality as a living, breathing (even independent) industrial world pre-apocalypse. In this ironic case the zombies become the baying – though weirdly – non-consumerist of Romero’s nightmare world. The trinkets and consumable goods once strived for now become not at all appealing to those who now walk this particular horror bound shopping mall!
The name George A. Romero has become synonymous with the cinematic zombie culture and rightfully so I may add. Sadly in being significantly attached to a specific genre orientation a great deal of Romero’s other significant work has on occasion been overlooked which again undoubtedly comes with a certain early success and expectation. With his original ‘Dead’ trilogy creating an established theme and clearly setting a future horror precedent, it was always going to be hard to remove the weighty expectations of his earlier achievements, especially his obvious ‘massive’ influence on horror cinema long term. Though Dawn of the Dead clearly highlights a glorious achievement in sub-genre horror, this is just one of many highlights in this horror auteur’s further and creative adventurous endeavours. From his noted successful on-screen adaptations of Stephen King material to something as complicated and accomplished as his spellbinding and lesser horror defined – Monkey Shines (1988). It has taken one of New York cities founding sons to produce some of the most outstanding and influential work the genre has ever had the good fortune to have had bestowed upon its lofty fantastical heights. When we talk of horror and its everlasting imprint into popular culture – it is clear that on that inventive and tiny list of high achieving creators of such tales of horror – be it the written word, theatre adaptation or the glory of the silver screen that produced his ground-breaking Night of the living Dead and his eventual full crimson colour palette of his second and third (original) unrelenting instalments, is it therefore true to say that not only has he been an important trend setter of much of horror cinema that followed his black & white début feature but what is beyond doubt to TCMR and those with any ounce of common sense – it is manifest that George A. Romero is one of the all time greats in producing some everlasting and amazing horror artistry – period.