1978 zombie film a classic

Dawn of the Dead

(US, 1978)
Directed by George A. Romero

 Review by Angus Luff

Dawn of the Dead is a 1978 horror zombie film directed by George A. Romero. The film follows four unlikely yet quick-thinking survivors of a zombie outbreak – Peter (Ken Foree), Stephen (David Emge), Fran (Gaylen Ross) and Roger (Scott H. Reiniger) – as they hide out in a shopping mall, waiting for the onslaught to stop. But it becomes evident they must work together to protect themselves, keep the dead out of their way and survive on the resources of the mall.

As the second part of Romero’s “Dead” trilogy, Dawn is different in tone, story and character from the first and third entries, as it takes a wilder and more spontaneous approach to confronting a zombie epidemic. The film revolves around just four people, each simple and easy to understand, yet each thrives and falls in his own way. The dialogue and character writing are far from the main focus of the film, yet they still solidify Romero as an extremely effective writer, as the characters mix well together and shine when alone. The themes of commercialism and its effect on society are there if you look for them, but they aren’t shoved down your throat, which feels appropriate for this film. Romero clearly understood that his film couldn’t be mindless schlock, yet it also couldn’t be pretentious drivel, which is something more modern horror filmmakers need to understand as well as Romero did.

Dawn of the Dead is a piece of filmmaking that is so wholly and absolutely itself, and nothing can compare to Romero’s radical, wild vision of a zombie feature from a time and place long forgotten. Watching it today can’t really remind you of any modern works with the same chaotic, spontaneous tone and feeling that Romero and his companions captured. In that way, the film acts as a wonderful time capsule and creates a surreal, almost dreamlike atmosphere in how detached it is from the films we know today. The atmospheric tracks by the band Goblin are sometimes fast and exciting, sometimes meticulous and otherworldly – both sounds contribute to the captivating sensation you feel that can’t help but glue your eyes and ears to the screen.

This film on paper seems brutally dark and nihilistic, yet the execution is very fantastical and almost comic-book-like. The score by Goblin, the neon red blood, the excellent dialogue and performances tread a fine line that doesn’t fall into either horrific or goofy. It almost transforms into an entirely new genre that combines these opposite emotions into one tone that encapsulates both child and adult sensibilities of how fun or terrifying this situation would be.

That’s what Dawn of the Dead is to me, the ultimate zombie film – it takes all the tones or perspectives imaginable from a zombie story and runs with them to encapsulate the true zombie experience. Some might find it too bizarre, unfocused or unconventional in its tone or presentation, but all its quirks and mistakes make me love it more. Dawn of the Dead isn’t just Romero’s uncompromising masterpiece, it’s the crowning achievement of the entire zombie genre. Long live George A. Romero.

Running time: 2 hours 7 minutes
Available on YouTube

 Angus Luff is a student at Glebe Collegiate. He grew up in the Glebe and is obsessed with movies.

Share this