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Case Number 00714

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Dawn Of The Dead

Anchor Bay // 1978 // 128 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // September 18th, 2000

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All Rise...

Editor's Note

Our reviews of Dawn Of The Dead (2004) (published October 25th, 2004), Dawn Of The Dead (2004) (Blu-Ray) (published September 29th, 2008), Dawn Of The Dead (Blu-Ray) (published October 4th, 2007), Dawn Of The Dead: Divimax Edition (published March 16th, 2004), Dawn Of The Dead (HD DVD) (published August 30th, 2007), and Dawn Of The Dead: Ultimate Edition (published December 13th, 2004) are also available.

The Charge

When there is no more room in HELL…the dead will walk the EARTH!

Opening Statement

Part two of George A. Romero's Dead Trilogy, Dawn Of The Dead has been hailed by critics such as Roger Ebert as "One of the best horror films ever made!" He also thought that 1492: Conquest Of Paradise was a wonderful film as well, so apparently he's not putting all his eggs into one basket. Released 10 years after Romero's original Night Of The Living Dead, Dawn Of The Dead had a much different tone than its predecessor. Not only was this one in color, but it had more humor and social satire than the original. Where as Night Of The Living Dead had a small and tight budget, Dawn Of The Dead looks like a much bigger picture, due in part to the grotesque effects created by make-up master Tom Savini. But once you leave the Night, is it really worth it to enter the Dawn?

Facts of the Case

It's a National Emergency as Dawn Of The Dead picks up right where Night Of The Living Dead ended. A TV broadcast station is futilely trying to give out information on the recent return of the dead, but it's hopelessly out of date and inaccurate. To escape, a few survivors leave by helicopter and land on the roof of a local mall. There they set up shop and barricade themselves inside, trying to avoid the zombies at all cost. In the mall they have most all that they need to survive, including food, water and clothes…although just imagine if this took place today! Free DVDs and as many of those Sharper Image massage chairs as you could handle!

Time passes and four survivors (David Emge, Ken Foree Scott H. Reiniger, Gaylen Ross) set up their new home in a room near the top of the mall. They are able to barricade themselves inside and generally keep the zombies out until a bunch of bikers break into their little haven. Through this series of events, the zombies are also able to gain access to the mall as well. Suddenly everybody still alive becomes part of the "sucks to be you" club.

So, there you have it. It's human vs. the undead. The zombies move right! The humans counter to the center…they fumble, bite…SCORE! The zombies get themselves a meal of pure human shish-ka-bob! They're goin' to Disneyworld!

Romero does it again, and our lives are all the more richer for it.

The Evidence

Dawn Of The Dead is a great film for splatter-buffs. The story line has an interesting premise: Where do you go when the world is ending? I think that a mall is probably as apt a place as any. I'm a big fan of all zombie movies, and have always liked everything that Romero has put out in this genre. Dawn Of The Dead is no exception, as it once again deals with my one true fear in life: being surrounded by dead people (waiting at line at the DMV excluded.)

The performances in the film are good, if not a little '70s-ish. I realize that it was made in the '70s, but this one really, really retains a '70s feel. I mean, white guys have afros.

I think that says it all.

Ken Foree turns in a good performance as Peter, a Ben-like character from the original Night Of The Living Dead who is strong and seems to be the central performance of the film. He seems to be able to make good decisions that will keep the group safe from the Dead. Gaylen Ross as Francine also does a nice job playing a scared yet strong character, unlike Barbara from the first film. Whereas Barbara was a weak, frightened woman, Farncine is strong, willing to fight for her life if need be.

Romero keeps the pace of the film moving nicely, reaching to high points of tension (especially when the men try and move some trucks to block the entrance of the mall) to the overly comedic (especially when the bikers break in and use the zombies as punching bags.) Romero has a strong hand when it comes to penning dialogue that rings true, most often noted when the characters are frightened. I could easily sympathize with their fears and doubts about being able to get out of their situation alive.

One of the most impressive factors of the film are the make-up effects employed by Tom Savini. At the time, this film set a standard for realism for gore effects and the way horror was shown. Savini has often said that he does "realistic effects" because it helps him get through the horrors he saw in Vietnam as a photographer. If this is the type of stuff he puts in films, I can only imagine the stuff he saw in Vietnam. Oy vey.

The widescreen (1.66:1) transfer on this film is good, the best that Dawn Of The Dead has ever looked. Although it shows a small amount of grain (Keep in mind it was filmed over 20 years ago) the transfer is surprisingly clean and clear. The audio is mono (why does it seem like every disc I review has only Mono?) and is passable. It's a decent mix, with the music (by the group Goblin) and the dialogue not sounding as muddled as I have heard it on other versions. It does not utilize sound system speakers as well as most films, but it'll suffice. If you're looking for a good sounding, clear transfer DVD version of Dawn Of The Dead, for now this "Anniversary Edition" will fit just fine.

The extras on the disc are less than stellar, especially for the fact that this is called an "Anniversary Edition." We get a full frame theatrical trailer for Dawn Of The Dead, which I always find interesting, especially films from the '70s. If this trailer were any more slow paced it would be going backwards. But it's still a nice little piece of nostalgia.

Also included are some scenes that were cut from Dario Argento's original cut of this film (titled Zombi) that are in widescreen format, but in rough stages. They tend to add a little more to the character development, but I can see why Romero decided to omit them.

Finally, we get a very weird commercial promo for the Monroeville Mall. It's a strange little promo from the '70s, and like the theatrical trailer, it's a fun thing to watch, although I am not so sure what it's repeatability factor is. However, I do know that after this review, I'm goin' shopping!

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Dawn Of The Dead has been hailed as a masterpiece of it's time. Though I won't squabble with the praise laid upon the film, I will say that, as mentioned before, it does feel dated. This is not so much a complaint as it is a fact of life. You can't really take a film from the '70s and not have it look…well, like the '70s. Some films like The Shawshank Redemption will always seem to feel like they were made just yesterday (if you want this judge's humble opinion.) Dawn Of The Dead is not one of them. One scene in particular that cracks me up is in an arcade, where the survivors are playing video games. The excitement on their faces as they play "Pong" is priceless. They literally look like they need a cigarette after they are finished. Other than that, my complaints are minimal.

Closing Statement

Folks, this is the Empire Strikes Back of the great zombie trilogy. The DVD is a good deal especially for the price (usually about $19.99-$24.99) and should please most horror fans. Word on the street is that Anchor Bay is working on a new anamorphic transfer and a 5.1 soundtrack (and maybe a Romero commentary as well) for a near-future release. Until then this should make a lovely centerpiece to your "Dead" collection.

The Verdict

Acquitted because it says "Anniversary Edition" on the title. Anything less would have been uncivilized (and I think there's enough of that in the film already.)

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Scales of Justice

Video: 81
Audio: 78
Extras: 56
Acting: 66
Story: 88
Judgment: 79

Perp Profile

Studio: Anchor Bay
Video Formats:
• 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• None
Running Time: 128 Minutes
Release Year: 1978
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Horror

Distinguishing Marks

• Theatrical Trailer
• Alternate Scenes
• Monroeville Mall Commercial Spot


• IMDb

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