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The zombie sequel - excellent stuff!
Dawn of the Dead  (Blu-ray)
Member Name: pmcds
Dawn of the Dead  (Blu-ray)
Advantages: Ensemble, direction and focus on gore
Disadvantages: Nothing for me, although fans of the genre may not be quite so appreciative
The film opens powerfully, with the national news showing nothing but stories about the zombie population taking over. There's a pointless effort by a newsroom producer trying to gain as many ratings as possible, as if they still matter with the country in zombified turmoil, before we see one news reporter, a helicopter pilot and two SWAT officers joining up and camping out at a shopping mall for safety.
There's a certain sense of despair, as you would expect, and this is present throughout the film, as the gravity of the situation and the future starts to affect the quartet holing out at the top of the mall. What makes things more tense is the necessity to hide and keep their hiding place a secret. The zombies possess a certain level of memory retention that allows them to remember where someone is - they're also rather adept at accessing it. The group's forays downstairs into the shops are fraught with near misses, and you realise that it just can't last.
Gradually, they get a bit stir crazy, with SWAT Roger losing it first, getting a bit daredevilish and taunting some of the zombies, testing their limitations and revelling in killing them. Romero retains a lot of the rules from Night of the Living Dead, with blows to the body, however powerful, having no effect on their existence. A shot to the head or their heads being bludgeoned seems to be the only way of ensuring they don't just get straight back up again, and there with Roger's gung ho attitude worrying the other three, there are some tense scenes where you wonder how close things are going to be.
During these sorts of scenes, and the opening scene as well, Romero ensures that no punches are pulled when it comes to the visual effects of a zombie being beaten to 'death', or even a person being attacked and infected, chunks of flesh being bitten off here and there, zombified and haunting features filling the screen here and there, along with some atmospheric music. A lot of influence would have come from Dario Argento, known as one of the best of his era for the visual effects a horror film can provide but also the musical influences that can add to the effects of a film. You can see Dario's love of the colour red throughout, as if it was Nic Roeg sitting there with them, and the bright almost non-blood red of some of the gruesome bits suspends belief just enough to allow you to remember this is a film.
Usually, I'd be a bit disappointed in this, as I wouldn't be able to descend into the film and become immersed in its running time. In this case though it allows you to appreciate it as a work of art, despite the special effects and makeup limitations that the 1970s posed for those responsible. Romero used what was available very well, including the abilities of the people acting as zombies, hundreds of them. He introduces some human danger as well, with a gang of bikers looking for a safe place later in the film, but this is really a catalyst and nothing more, serving to remind us that there are other places still in existence, not just this square block housing a bunch of shops. However, the zombies walking slowly with makeup all over them and scary and gormless expressions on their faces are what defines the film, and its power is shown by how years on Romero's films are still copied in part for anything zombie-like.
The latest TV series craze, The Walking Dead, takes full advantage of the makeup and special effects departments' progression in the last 30 years or so to give a more powerful zombified visual, but the basics are still fundamentally the same. Screaming at the screen at stupid actions doesn't change - we as the viewers always know best, and this form of enforced interaction is vital in such films. It's part of a director's skill that something can be created where we feel we understand it enough to intercede even though we know it's impossible and that it's just a film that has been made long before our eyes view it and we are able to comment.
But occasionally it's the look in the eyes of the cast where you just know they're going to be trouble that makes it just as magical. The four main cast members here, rising above a cast of hundreds of zombies, are unknowns, and this is what makes it work. The remake, a poor representation over 20 years later, features some known actors and this sort of detracts from the tale, which deserves and requires unmemorables to start with. The thing is though, I can still picture them all clearly in my mind, going through their mundane existence as they contemplate whether it's worth continuing or not, the pregnant lady in the group Francine the most needy, her husband helicopter pilot Stephen frantic and torn between doing things for the group and staying safe for their unborn child; while our two SWAT officers couldn't be more chalk and cheese if they tried. Peter is cool calm and collected, while Roger gets gung ho and puts them in constant danger.
Good casting and some good acting from our leads, made more powerful by their relative unknown statuses, this film's has its firm base in the unknown and original. Romero and Argento are a formidable combination, one that works excellently and becomes a work of art despite the limitations in special effects because of the era. The move from black and white to colour from Night of the Living Dead to this film is a statement of movement forwards in the saga, developments being taken where possible and a bit more money invested in giving us something original and improved.
I think this is the sort of film which gore lovers will revel in. There's no shying away from the violence and gore, the cameras determined to stay on what is going on even when it is less realistic, although there may be those who don't enjoy it quite so much because of the emphasis on the gore and the violence. The psychological scenes where we watch the quartet try some sort of existence is matched only by the carefree nature and humour of someone let loose in a shopping mall with no restrictions on rules, money or anything else - quite a refreshing change until the zombies appear in the picture and you get the reminder of the gravity of the situation.
Overall then, one for the zombie and gore lovers, and indeed anyone else even if they're not particular fans of the genre. This is horror genius at work - I loved it.
Summary: Excellent zombie sequel from George A Romero