Dawn of the Dead (1978) – Blu-Ray Review

Dawn of the Dead is the second film in George A. Romero’s Dead series, and probably the best of the lot. It’s not as important of a film as Night of the Living Dead, which I see as the most important horror film of all time because it really changed how you could made horror movies and the fact the hero of the film was a African-American was game changing. It’s much more satirical than the first, and Romero was one of the most left-wing directors, so the film is a very savage critique of consumerism. 

It starts with a great 30-minute stretch showing the breakdown of society, which is done in just a genius way. It starts in a newsroom, and then expands. Eventually a group of survivors of the ongoing zombie apocalypse takes refuge in a shopping mall. Looking down from the roof, Steven (David Emge) says: “this was an important place in their lives.” He and the others barricade themselves in, and try to survive on what’s in the mall while picking off zombies. It’s well-written by Romero, who delivers a top-notch script with very quotable dialogue. As always with his films, it’s well-cast with mainly local theatre actors. Most did not go on to work with other directors, with the exception of Ken Foree (Peter Washington), the Black lead, who became a much-seen character actor in TV and film.

It’s Romero’s most epic entry in the series, even though at under a million it was also one of the cheapest. It’s over two hours in length, which is incredibly rare of these kinds of films—and an even longer cut is included in this set. I would say it’s really the definitive zombie movie: everyone has ripped it off. Shaun of the Dead even uses the same library music from De Wolfe. It’s the first zombie film that Tom Savini did the makeup for (he was supposed to do Night of the Living Dead, but he was in Vietnam – where he got ideas while working as a combat photographer) While it may seem a little primitive and cheesy now—the face makeup is clearly just that—it’s still very effective.

So—it’s the best zombie movie. Everything clicks, and the 4 main characters and the supportive actors are good in it. It also has some very memorable zombies, like the Hari Krishna zombie. They all have a personality, which has been lost in many other zombie movies (although I’m not a huge Shaun of the Dead fan as some people, Edgar Wright understood that this was needed, and that’s one of the things that makes the film work). In Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead, this develops  further. Most importantly, it’s well made, shot in an epic widescreen style a massive contrast to the claustrophobic Night. The use of colour comes from Romero’s love of Powell and Pressburger, with great use of blue and red (as you would). It’s the one that will stand the test of time, although of course the other two in the initial trilogy are also great.

On the disc there are three different cuts, based on a huge 4K restoration project that’s been going on for years. I would say that really the only one you need is the theatrical cut, the others are many only good for historical value (especially the Argento cut, which takes out what made the film an intelligent social commentary—which is what I think people really go back to the original for). The extended cut that played the Cannes Film Festival is also here. The extended cut was really rough, and has been wrongly attributed as a “director’s cut” especially when the editor for the theatrical was Romero! Each version has a separate commentary. The Romero commentary and the others have been ported over, except for a new one with film historian Travis Crawford.

The fourth disc includes five new featurettes Zombies and Bikers, Memories of Monroeville, Raising the Dead: The Production Logistics, The FX of Dawn, and Dummies! Dummies, which is an interview with Richard France. This includes all the old stuff you want: a 90-minute and 100-minute version of Document of the Dead, the contemporary making-of; The Dead Will Walk Again, a documentary initially made for the Anchor Bay Ultimate Edition release in 2004; the old 20 minute interview with Romero along with trailers, TV and radio spots.

The limited edition includes a two-part compilation of the De Wolfe library music, which is mainly used for the theatrical cut. The Dario Argento connection brought in Goblin for the soundtrack, and the Argento cut has much more Goblin music in it. All of this is included, along with a giant, 160-page hardback book that features 17 new essays along with an archival article and Romero interview, on-set stills, marketing materials and so on. There’s even the novelisation by Romero and Susanna Sparrow, which was released when the film came out. Second Sight has confirmed there will be a 4 disc version of the Blu-Ray discs only sometime in the New Year.

★★★★★

Ian Schultz

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