Dawn of the Dead: A Masterpiece of Horror
Phil Davetas
4/10/2004 12:32:33 PM

“The director, George Romero, has put his finger on an often unspoken fear that many of us have. Your body is about as much as a temple as a sagging, clapboard shithouse. Worse than that, the hero bites the big one in the end, pointing out an even worse horror: It doesn’t matter how you live, who you are, there just ain’t no such thing as true justice.”--Joe R. Lansdale

One of the great things about Dawn of the Dead is that it’s written, directed and produced by people that grew up watching ‘70s horror and suffered through the ‘80s and ‘90s with relentless campy schlock that spawned sequel after sequel. While this zombie boogie has strong foundations and influences, it’s truly a masterpiece in modern horror carving its own niche. It’s not only an awesome zombie attack story, but it’s also a solid human drama creating its own psychological terror.

While America falls like the Roman Empire due to an epidemic of rabid zombies, a ragtag group of suburbanites in small town Wisconsin find refuge in a shopping mall and band together to first survive the attacks of the encroaching undead that are slipping through every unlooked nook and cranny, and then find a way to sustain life. They also have to deal with getting along with each other and nefarious back-knifing. There are enough paradoxes to get you from one jump to another and the tension is wound up tighter than a Rolex. Each character in the flick has an interesting set-up and reason to be there that adds more urgency to the chaos. There’s a pregnant woman who can bust wide open at any given momen,t and her husband that’s been trying to atone for the past deeds. Then there’ the cynical cop who’s lost his job and purpose in life and now learning to truly serve and protect these people. Then there’s the ER doctor who has just lost her husband and daughter and is rebuilding this new hodgepodge surrogate family of survivors. Then you have the crooked mall security that are taking control of the survivors and treating them like prisoners and slaves. [Ed. Note: Just like real life!] And the smorgasbord keeps piling up as more survivors keep filing in.

While zombie movies do seem to tackle familiar themes based on the sheer simplicity of the dead coming back to life, this one adds still more scenarios and elements. Like the relationship between Ken, the cynical cop, and Andy, the gun shop owner, who’s trapped on the roof of his own shop. They chicken-scratch messages to each other on black boards, play chess, and redeem their hope in their fellow man. Screenwriter and ex-“rock star,” James Gunn, really took the horror movie back and displays versatility from his recent movies: Scooby-Doo 1 and 2, The Specials and of course, Tromeo & Juliet. With every script you can see a vast improvement in his craft and maybe a director’s chair will be waiting for him in the future. This is a career worth watching.

Another thing should be mentioned is that this flick is released through a huge Hollywood player, Universal. Who would’ve thought that Hollywood would crank out a horror flick, with this much gore--not to mention depth? For all those waiting for the DVD, you’re really doing yourself a disservice. After this run, this movie will have to live out the remainder of its life on the video shelves and viewed on your TVs or some midnight resurrection.

Zombie Boogie:

Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, White Zombie, Zombie 1, 2, 3, 4, Return of the Living Dead 1, 2 and 3, Resident Evil, Resident Evil 2: Apocalypse, 28 Days Later, Junk, Wild Zero, Evil Dead Trap, Dead Alive, Evil Dead, Evil Dead 3, Army of Darkness, Dead Heat, House of the Dead, Vampires Vs. Zombies, My Boyfriend’s Back…

Dawn of the Dead (4 out of Four)
R, 2004, 90 min., Universal Pictures.


Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Mekhi Phifer, Music by Tyler Bates, Produced by Richard P. Rubenstein, Marc Abraham and Eric Newman, Based on the Screenplay by George A. Romero, Written by James Gunn, Directed by Zack Snyder.


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