Enjoy this Monday with Mildred!
This is also a Zombie World Tour post!
Dawn of the Dead
Some people will tell you that Dawn of the Dead is actually superior to the first in the series, Night of the Living Dead. Those people are dead wrong. The two are very different from each other in many ways, and just similar enough to be recognizably a series (though Romero didn’t intend that when he made the first one). There are zombies and they are nasty and bite-y and slow. Their existence is used to tell a sweeping social message but not the same one. Dawn, though, is in color, takes place in a now iconic mall, there are a lot more zombies and they are…blue. Dead…blue. Okay.
But they are both fantastic movies. I can never see how people think one is better than the other. Released ten years later, in 1978, the film essentially takes up in the same moment of history that Night ends. Power couple George Romero and his wife, Christine Forrest, have a cameo in the frenetic first minutes and again as bit players much later. Beginning in the comfortably “modern, technological, businesslike” setting of a tv news room the film shifts right out of that into the guts of the zombie apocalypse raging out in the world. Then, improbably, our heroes take to the sky to ride it all out in a helicopter. Since they’d have to STILL be up there otherwise, dragging deeply on cigarettes and wondering what the hell’s going on below (“Siri, are the zombies gone yet?” “This is what I found. There are no mommies here.”), you can assume they ran out of gas and had to land.
Where they choose to set down remains one of the biggest zombie fiction memes of all time, and leads to yet another quote everyone has heard at least once. Everyone. Even yak herders in Mongolia. Ask one some time, and he’ll say somberly, “When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth.” One of the brilliant things Romero does in Dawn is make everyone WANT to be stuck in a mall with thousands of gut chomping ghouls pawing at the doors.
Continuing his cinematic rebellion, Romeo’s second zombie classic also has a black lead, and reconstitutes the bitchy, whiny, pouty white guy (played by Karl Hardman in Night). I wrote a haiku featuring him once:
Do the stupid things
Stay arrogant and prideful
Flyboy is an ass
Flyboy represents the old technological world and never misses a chance to be a moronic jerk who nearly gets everyone killed. This character, along with a lot of other representations in Dawn, continues to show up in zombie films to this day. I don’t remember a female Romero character who acts as illogical, haughty and infuriating as his white male “heroes”. Very refreshing, and Hollywood has yet to catch up with him.
The often discussed social commentary of Dawn concerns consumerism and is completely relevant nearly forty years later. I’ll let you ask Siri what it is. The Message is even more pronounced and in your face in Dawn, and gets more intrusive to the plot with each of Romero’s films. This is my only quibble.
There is a sequel, released in 2004, starring Ving Rhames. Also set in a mall it’s a rare film – entertaining, like the original. (not “like” as in “as good as”, but “like” as in “it’s fun to watch”) The big, big difference is the zombies are all Olympic caliber sprinters. A lot of people don’t like that. I don’t care, so long as they move the story properly.
Dawn is another fantastic Romero zombie film and should be watched in close proximity to Night of the Living Dead. He gives the viewer a powerful glimpse of what the end of the world really would mean to modern Americans, addicted to their electricity and gadgets and canned food. Other filmmakers have tried to show this as well, but never get to the same level of gut reaction. Every time I watch this movie I feel the kind of sadness you become increasingly familiar with in old age – what you once knew is irretrievably gone, and you must have a care not to get too worn down to deal with the always murky future.
I highly recommend watching this, but be prepared for some really intense gore and the kind of color modern audiences aren’t used to.
- Dawn of the Dead (1978)
- Night of the Living Dead (1968)
- George Romero
- Christine Forrest
- Ving Rhames
- Mildred’s Zombie Haiku Tweets: Zombie575