After a zombie epidemic has turned the larger cities into warzones, a pair of cops ( Reiniger and Foree) join a news chopper pilot (Emge) and his girlfriend (Ross) as they flee to the north in hopes to find a remote place to wait out the plague. When the group realise they need supplies, as well as a place to rest, they find a shopping mall only lightly inhabited by the living dead. After they clear out the zombies and fortify their new home, they soon realise that, in this brave new world, zombies aren't the only danger.
Dawn of the Dead is a zombie film on the surface, but it's underlying social satire is a fairly obvious swipe at late seventies American materialism. For example, when the foursome first arrive at the mall for a quick rest and supplies, they find ample amounts of the latter in the relatively safe upper office level. However, a quick peek at the bounty offered in the zombie-infested levels below, and the survivors turn into scavengers of the highest order. Their cautious survival instinct gives way to full on greed as they make the mall their home, and it's products their possessions. It wasn't enough that they had perfectly serviceable food and a roof over their heads; they want it all.
When another group of survivors makes contact with our "heroes" (in the vaguest sense of the word), they instantly assume a defensive posture to protect their "property". While we, the viewer, are privy to the motorcycle gang's intentions, those in the mall seem determined to keep what they have for themselves, regardless of the newcomer's alignment. For all they know, the people on the other end of the radio transmission could be a band of hungry families seeking shelter! Whether or not this was a matter of condensing the plot for pacing, or a conscious decision on Romero's part, I am not sure, but it sure jibes with his protagonist's behaviour up to that point, and, in my opinion, underlines his message.
Dawn is a classic, but isn't without it's faults. The acting, for the most part, is atrocious. This isn't simply a case of looking back at an old film and pointing out a weakness from it's era; the acting simply stinks. Emge and Foree are decent, but when your best performance is delivered by the special effects guy (Savini), you know you're in trouble. The dialogue is also pretty weak, but somehow I don't think it's deficiencies would be as noticeable were it delivered by skilled thespians. Then again, anyone would sound pretty bad saying things like "We got this, man. We got this by the ass!"
Of course, Romero isn't exactly Hitchcock either, and his commercial/industrial film background lends something of a documentary style to his films, especially the early ones. However, this is what makes these films so effective; the lack of polish makes them all the more visceral and compelling. Night of the Living Dead, for example, wouldn't have been nearly as effective were it helmed by someone schooled in the glossy Hollywood approach, and the same holds true for Dawn. Bad acting, corny dialogue, and a somewhat pedestrian look would be the death knell for most films, but in Romero's case, it's part of the overall charm.
Oh, and Dawn of the Dead also features one of the most unitentionally hilarious moments in motion picture history. There's a scene in which Peter (Foree) seems to have decided it would be better to die than live life amongst the zombie hordes. However, just as he's about to kill himself as a mob of the undead close in, he literally springs into action as a ludicrously inappropriate piece of inspirational action music blares away in the background!! As Peter spins about throwing some of the most laughably choreographed Karate kicks at the zombies, I usually fall to the floor, drenched in laughter-induced tears. It is, perhaps, the silliest thing I've ever seen in my life, and I love every second of it.
What can I say about Dawn of the Dead that hasn't already been said? This is widely recognised as "the" zombie film by genre fans and critics alike; the Empire Strikes Back of the living dead movies! While many (including myself!) favour Romero's first film simply because it's the one that kick-started the genre, most agree that this middle chapter showed the director at his subversive apex, weaving a tale that was both terrifying and telling of his disdain for everything ranging from classism to materialism. It's a classic, baby, and now it's on Blu-ray!
Anchor Bay delivers a virtually flawless transfer of a movie that’s nearly as old as me (well, not quite, but I lie about my age). Dawn of the Dead has never looked better, with vivid colors (the zombie skin greens and Tom Savini’s red/orange blood formula look remarkable), rich blacks, and incredible depth and detail. Think Divimax on steroids!
The uncompressed soundtrack is a rich aural experience that heightens the impact of the film tremendously. Goblin fans will want this one for the superlative mix of the score alone! The opening sequence, in which the police invade the projects, is particularly intense!
Anchor Bay carries over extras from previous releases, including an excellent commentary with Writer/Director George A. Romero, Special Make-Up Effects Artist Tom Savini, Assistant Director Chris Romero and DVD Producer Perry Martin, as well as standard definition featurettes, “Monroeville Mall Tour” and “The Dead Will Walk”, “On-Set Home Movies”, and more.
As with Halloween and Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn, Starz/Anchor Bay have managed to take a well-worn classic, and make it an entirely new viewing experience on Blu-ray. If you're even remotely a fan of the film, Dawn of the Dead is an essential addition to your BD library.