Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Dawn of the Dead (1978) # 3

If I had to name one film that blew my mind when I was a teenage it would have to be "Dawn of the Dead".  George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" is a film that is on so many levels it boggles the mind.  A horror film, a satire on society, a statement on consumerism, and a sequel.  That's what "Dawn..." is and in lesser hands it would not have been effective, but because the filmmaker is George Romero this film hits the audience on all levels.  I was about 14 years old when this film came out, and it was one of the hardest films to see for me back then.  Released without a rating it only played in several theaters, and if you were not accompanied with an adult you didn't get in.  I saw it in Germany while visiting my aunt, and in Europe it was called "Zombie 2".  Argento had made a film called "Zombie" previously and called his cut of Dawn "Zombie 2".  Little did I know that there were two versions of this film.  One was the European one which was released by Dario Argento and included different music, and some other cuts.  Here in the United States it was released by United Film Distribution and that was the Romero version. 

After seeing both cuts I did like Romero's version better, but it explained why my friend and I would argue on some parts of the film.  It was because we saw two different versions of the film.  Maybe it was because the film was released when I was a teenager, but it was a film that all other horror films had to measure up to.  

Romero is a skillful filmmaker, and he puts a lot of dark humor into his films.  The violent scenes of the film were very comic bookish in tone.  The blood was bright red, and the effects were primitive, but effective since no audience had seen such effect like that before. 

The plot of the film is about a group of survivors of the "zombie apocalypse" who hole up in a mall while all of society is falling apart.  How Romero presents this "zombie apocalypse" is interesting.  There is no reason why the dead are coming back.  The audience is given some clues, or some reasoning, but Romero never gets into the details.  It isn't really important.  What is important is how society quickly falls apart, and how we ourselves are responsible for screwing the whole thing up.

Thats why the film plays on so many levels.  You could take the film and actually dissect it into a thesis on "American consumerism".  It has been  done, and it isn't all a bunch of BS.  Romero elevates the horror film here and does it without hitting his audience in the head with a blatant preachy message. 

The film was made independently with the help of European financing, and when it was released it did do okay boxoffice wise even though it was released in a few theaters here because it was not rated.  A few years later it was released in a rated "R" version, along with Romero's film "Knightriders".

I have to confess I am a Romero fan.  I've even met him a few times as so many fans have done, and gone to some screenings where he lectured.   I've enjoyed his stories of production, and find it amazing why Hollywood shuns him at times.  Romero's films are laced with deeper meaning, yet they are fun and escapist type films.  I remember how as a teenager I tried to create my own "zombie apocalypse" amateur film in Super 8.  Maybe that's why the film holds a special place in my heart. 

Any way.  This is one of my top films for seeing around this time.  It holds up well having been made in 1978.  Also the re-make by Zack Snyder of this film is also interesting, and it is one remake that I think is worth seeing.  It is at least an interesting take on the original film, and it does have its moments of pure fright.

So if you find yourself alone on a dark and stormy night I would suggest watching "Dawn of the Dead".  It's a film that really has some scary moments, and makes that October chill even chillier.

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