31 Days Of Horror continues at Last Movie Outpost as we count down to Halloween. Today we tackle George A. Romero’s all-time great Dawn Of The Dead.
Dawn Of The Dead is the greatest zombie horror film ever made. It is also Romero’s best film. Let’s just get that out of the way. Yes, there are some I like better, like Return Of The Living Dead because it’s more fun, but it is a horror comedy. Dawn Of The Dead, however, is the best straight horror film made with zombies. There is so much to like about this film. It set the standard. The standard that imitators can’t even approach.
The movie starts with tension and a feeling of impending doom. We are spared the zombie outbreak origin story. That story wasn’t even a cliché yet when the movie was made. Viewers are treated like they have some brains and already know we are in the middle to late stages of the end of the world with virtually no explanation or exposition on events beforehand.
Viewers are dropped into a news studio as things are in the middle of becoming unraveled. We are introduced to two of the main cast. Fran works in the studio of the news station, and we see her come out of a nightmare while trying to get rest in the studio.
Immediately we are plunged into a newsroom of chaos as a reporter tries to interview an official who is pleading with the public to follow the government’s orders – evacuate and hand over the recently deceased for destruction.
This isn’t going over very well with the general public. Soon Fran’s boyfriend, the news traffic reporter who flies the station helicopter, shows up. He tells Fran he is bugging out at 9:00 pm and for her to meet him so they can get out of the city before it falls to the zombie horde.
Next we cut to a group of SWAT team, Army, and regular cops as they try to coerce the residents out of an apartment complex and to evacuate to a safer area, selected by the all-knowing government.
They clearly don’t believe the .gov has their best interests at heart and refuse to move. This results in the SWAT team forcing their way into the building to protect and serve the hell out of the poor residents. These residents turn out to be trying to protect their kinda-dead-but-not relatives and loved ones they’ve been keeping in the basement.
One of the SWAT cops loses it when confronted by the undead threat, and we get to see him pop a zombie’s head with a shotgun blast. One of the most famous scenes in horror movie history. Thank you, Tom Savini.
Another cop named Roger, who is part of the main cast, tries to stop him as he goes postal and gets knocked down. Peter is another SWAT officer and he frags the nutcase to stop him from going on a killing spree.
The zombie apocalypse has been hard on the mental health of most of the population and at this point, people are bugging out. We see another SWAT cop kill himself after seeing the horrors in the apartment complex. Roger and Peter meet up in the basement and discuss an escape plan, but they can’t go before they have to re-kill a basement full of the recently dead.
It turns out Roger is friends with Stephen, the news chopper pilot who is taking off for greener pastures with Fran. Roger invites Peter and they all meet up at the police dock on the waterfront. A tense stand-off occurs, with some other cops, who are also bugging out, while Stephen uses the gas at the police dock helipad to refuel the chopper.
The four take off in the bird to try to find somewhere safer. That illusion is shattered as everywhere they fly turns out to be falling apart, the same as it was back in Philly.
As the chopper gets low on fuel, the group spots a mall in Monroeville, PA. This is right outside of Pittsburgh. They land the chopper to get some rest.
It doesn’t take long for them to realize the mall would make a great place to turn into a fortress, with plentiful supplies. So they get busy getting rid of the zombies inside and blocking off the doors on the outside.
The rest of the movie, well you are going to have to see for yourself.
This movie is a masterpiece. It never lets up. On a first watch, you can’t escape the feeling of tension and desperation. This is not just for the main characters, but for the world the movie is set in.
It is much more intense than Night Of The Living Dead and the remake can’t approach it, as good as it is. One of the things rarely seen in other zombie movies is zombie kids.
Ken Foree who plays Peter, is attacked by two kids in a gas station and has to waste them with his M-16. That is pretty ballsy for a movie, even for 1978. The Walking Dead is the only other zombie franchise I can recall that shows characters blowing away re-animated kids. And I do mean kids, not teens. So, a trigger warning for the faint-hearted out there.
Like all of Romero’s films, there is social commentary and some of it is pretty heavy-handed. The movie is so good it doesn’t ruin it though. It does produce some eye-rolling from me, now, many years and many rewatches later.
At the start, we get the poor minorities in the apartment complex being victims of the government machine. Imagine that! Back when center-left, people still didn’t trust the government.
Then we get George’s disdain for the rural people of Pennysylvania that are out popping zombies with deer rifles while pounding beers. Never mind that those would be the people who really would save the day if zombies were a real thing.
We get some abortion commentary, as Fran is pregnant by her chopper pilot boyfriend. And, of course, we get the giant neon sign with flashing lights about consumerism and the mall shopping culture that was just starting at the time.
I wouldn’t call the movie woke, I’m just saying subtlety was not George’s strong suit. None of this stuff ruins the movie, but I confess the last decade has made all of us more sensitive to picking this stuff up in media. I wouldn’t want the new viewer to go into it blind without some context.
The movie has something for everyone. If you have never seen it, it is a must-watch. If you have seen it, watch it again.
There are seemingly endless cuts of this film. The European cut, the director cuts, the theatrical cut, the extended cut. It can be hard to choose. My advice is to watch the Extended Mall Hours fan cut of the movie. This edits in all the footage from all the different cuts, and presents them as a single movie. It really is worth watching the fan edit. You can even find it on YouTube for free:
The people they kill get up and kill.