Dawn of the Dead 1978 Vs 2004 (Review)

First up I am a horror fan. I don’t care about eras or sub-genres, remakes don’t phase me unless they are bad (which they almost always are), unless the movie being remade was almost perfect in the first place and there is no need to try again.

The original Dawn of the Dead is seen as a landmark film, and it is, but it has just not dated that well and you would be foolish to claim that there weren’t enhancements and room for improvements that could add to the story.

And as far as the argument for and against Running Zombies?  If a director say they run, they run. If Romero wants them to walk or shuffle, fine too.

Concentrate on making the rest of the film great and leave their movements alone.

You want logic ask how the dead get up and walk in the first place.

I’ll freely admit the POSTER is iconic.

So the original was made in 1978 and found 4 survivors of an unknown holocaust taking shelter in a shopping mall, where they were beset by bad music and cheap special effects for well over 2 hours of screentime.

The zombies shuffle about and are easily evaded unless they have great numbers, and the variations of “nearly got ya” situations quickly became old to me.

It was always a question of who would die and who wouldn’t, and when they did how gory would it all be? (Some die, some don’t and none of the main characters go out in massively gory fashion.)

Do I really need spoilers for a 30 year old film?

Apparently the film was seen as a vicious condemnation of the “zombie-like” tendency of many Americans to worship a consumer culture. That is such bullshit.

It is basically a movie where bad actors in grey and blue makeup shuffle about “ooooooh”-ing at each other, separated by long quiet bits and some el-cheapo but effective gore effects. If George Romero had intended to make a brilliant satire he sure as hell didn’t tell anyone, least of all himself.

So let’s pretend he did mean it for a moment shall we, how exactly did the bikies showing up so they could get ripped to pieces and give the good guys a reason to defend themselves work? What special underlying meaning did that have?

Was it the invention of the internet and how it is inevitable that our shopping culture must change? Or was it just a good excuse to bring in some warm bodies that the audience don’t care about so they can get ripped to shreds by the undead?

I sure as hell vote for the latter.

The problem with the original Dawn of the Dead is that even though it was groundbreaking at the time, there have been hundreds of movies that have taken the reins and run further and further, and done it in a superior and more entertaining manner.

Even the most shitty zombie movies build tension better and have more action than this film, and wait to see how I go with the remake. Was it Romero’s fault that he was first?

No. But that is irrelevant.

Final Rating – 7 / 10. Dawn of the Dead 1978 is pretty good even now. It is sometimes clever and has some effective scenes, but to call it some work of genius is just stupidity.

Nowwww…

2004

Zack Snyder is a lot of things, but one thing he is not is cautious. After all, his first three directing efforts include a fully green screen fully-OTT swordplay epic, the movie version of one of the best regarded comic books of all time, and this, the remake of one of the seminal horror movies in history.

And this is still his best film, by far.

What sets DOTD 2004 apart from the original? Glad you asked.

Firstly, the remake has a cast of actual actors, no star favours or gimmick Paris Hiltons here. In fact, if you saw Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames and Jake Weber on the cast listing you might be forgiven for thinking it was going to be a drama, not a balls to the wall horror flick.

Secondly, Zack took the good bits from the first flick, the zombies, the isolation in the mall and the reasonably small cast, sliced out the cheese and filler and inserted far more action into the thing, leading to a leaner and meaner film.

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The remake starts innocently enough, Ana (Sarah Polley) is a casualty nurse heading home after pulling a hectic double shift, a bad day at the office, if you will. Once home the everyday stuff continues, a chat with the neighbour’s kid, some TV and shower hanky-panky with partner Louis. But the next morning… as they say in the classics (I think Hot Fuzz is a classic); shit gets real.

How she got in the house in the first place is never explained, but the neighbour’s kid comes into the couple’s bedroom, snarling a little more than an 8 year old should, but in fairness she did seem to be missing most of a lip, that’s bound to create some sort of speech impediment.

So poor Louis leans in just far enough to leave his neck exposed and…

Now being an emergency nurse, Ana must have seen this sort of thing before, but she probably didn’t expect the young girl from next door to cause the gushing wound, and thought it even less likely that it would happen in their bedroom at 6 AM.

Louis predictably enough (for a zombie movie) sparks up a little after death, and immediately takes a different interest in Ana, once again deciding that some shower action might be appropriate, only this time rip your living flesh from your body action.

Ana decides that enough of this relationship and kicks Louis to the kerb by jumping out the window and driving off, once outside she realizes that she isn’t in  Kansas anymore. At least I don’t think this was filmed in Kansas. What do I know I’m not American?

Outside everything is in chaos, there are some awesome visuals in these first moments of realization, including a massive fuel station crash that still has impact even when you’ve seen the film half a dozen times like me.

Ana eventually reverses her car off an embankment and her lights go out…

And that’s when the opening credits roll! An aside here, the credits and aptly ominous sounding Johnny Cash song are both well used, in most movies the credits tell you what you are watching and who did it, these set a tone and add to the film.

Fast forward a little, Ana is now back on her feet, and she meets with other survivors, each with their own grim tales to tell. They all decide to head to the relative safety of the local mall. The initial crew are Ana, cop Kenneth (Ving Rhames), Michael (Jake Weber), and a pregnant couple.

Once in the mall their initial impediment comes in the form of some dipshit security guards who have decided that allowing others in will somehow compromise their own safety, this all changes when a new batch of survivors shows up and joins the party.

The new group of about 8 (from memory) include 2 wounded, obviously the gang haven’t seen a zombie movie before so they don’t see what’s coming until it gets there.

Another new development is the sighting of another survivor across the road from the mall in a gunshop, after conversing by hand held whiteboard and binoculars they discover that the man’s name is Andy, and that he is alone. Even though he is almost within shouting distance however, the sea of zombies in between makes it nigh impossible to simply catch up for a beer.

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Without too much info the middle section of the film has the group entering a semi-normal existence, friendships are formed, the personalities of each of the survivors come to the fore, and they go about making the mall more liveable and settling in.

It is obvious that even though some are better equipped to handle the situation than others, there is no Arnie style hero among them that will single-handedly ward off the zombie hordes, nor a super-genius character who can devise an amazing cure (Pontypool?) or amazing escape. It is simply a bunch of random people thrust together through amazingly unfortunate events.

Most notable among the group though are two guys who couldn’t be more dissimilar, Michael is loyal, quiet and sensible and extremely determined despite his background not suggesting any heroism,“I sell TVs at Best Buy”. His antithesis is Steve, a smarmy, self-absorbed prick of a man who wants no part in anything even vaguely dangerous and is more than content sitting at the back of the room and throwing jibes around without ever being the least bit helpful.

Steve is a total wanker but provides most of the funny in the film, so much so that I didn’t actually want him to get what he really deserved, and Michael was so resourceful and selfless that you want him to make it out too, but for the opposite reasons. It’s rare that  a horror film takes the time to actually highlight the various personalities of the characters to an extent greater than “the hero”, “the nerd”, “the hot chick” and “the evil guy who will die horribly”.

The ongoing discussions invariably return to the outside world; are there unaffected “safe” areas?; are there even other survivors?; and the overriding question remains should they stay in relative security or leave and see for themselves what is “out there”?

Without spoilers, eventually the decision is sort of made for them, and the final 15 or so minutes is nothing short of awesome. The film has some amazing action sequences, some great gore effects and things move at a frantic pace. Say what you want about running zombies but in my view it is scarier to be chased by a foaming and spitting zombie that can do the 40 yard dash in a few seconds than a shuffling mummy-style thing. Obviously the zombies had the good sense to keep up their cardio, even in death.

For those who say that the dead can’t run. They can’t shuffle or walk either fuckers!

The film has a couple of amusing bits, but even in the face of zombie apocalypse it is fair to expect someone to crack a joke every now and then. In the main though it holds true to the tone set in the early going, escaping a flesh-hungry menace can bring you down just a little.

There is never a reason given for the outbreak in zombie-it is, and I maintain that if the movie is good then there doesn’t ever need to be.

And this movie is verrrrry good.

When I originally watched it 6 or so years ago I remember thinking “that couldn’t have been that good could it?” and I watched it again the next night. I was amazed to find that even after the second viewing I was just as blown away.

Since then I have happily introduced this film to many others, and even though Mr Snyder has let me down with both 300 (overrated and super-cheesy) and Watchmen (actually pretty terrible) I still know that sometime in the future he is capable of creating some absolute classics.

After all Dawn of the Dead can’t be the only one surely?

Final Rating – 9 / 10. Proof that remakes don’t have to be simply lazy cash-cows. This is ferocious, adrenaline fuelled and original in its own way. Even though this is not particularly scary it is still a modern horror classic, and should form part of any discerning horror fan’s DVD collection.

About OGR

While I try to throw a joke or two into proceedings when I can all of the opinions presented in my reviews are genuine. I don't expect that all will agree with my thoughts at all times nor would it be any fun if you did, so don't be shy in telling me where you think I went wrong... and hopefully if you think I got it right for once. Don't be shy, half the fun is in the conversation after the movie.
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