As I have probably mentioned on this blog before – I have a phobia of zombies. It’s up there with my fear of drag queens. If someone if in zombie make-up and comes towards me I get a huge fight or flight response. I am also someone who finds it extremely nerve-racking to play video games where I am having to face off against zombies (so not looking forward to Resident Evil 2 and 4). I am fine, however, with zombie movies.
Dawn of the Dead is truly one of the great zombie movies. It’s the second in the line of six Living Dead movies and the sequel to Night of the Living Dead, which is also on the 1001 Movies list. The difference between Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead is staggering. For one thing, the zombies are far more front and centre in Dawn of the Dead. Also, the scope of effect is widened from people inside a house to, effectively, the whole United States.
The film also answers every teenagers dream of “what if the world ended and I could live at the mall”. This idea of holding up in a mall during a zombie apocalypse started here in Dawn of the Dead and has stayed in our pop culture sensibility. Hell, Dead Rising (the fun Capcom video game that I can barely play out of paralysing zombie fear) is basically Dawn of the Dead – The Video Game.
Also to note is the use of make up and special effects. This film is well known for the headshot at the beginning of the film – a bit of almost comic book violence that really sets the tone for what is to follow. The same goes for the bright orange-red blood. I mean, the biting and ripping of sinew and organs is gross enough, at least with the slightly odd blood Romero is still able to root this in fantasy rather than real life.
Speaking of real life, there are some legitimately funny parts in this movie. Not that I am saying a real zombie attack would be a laugh riot, but there would be opportunities to make light considering the circumstances. Most of the humour comes from absurdity – namely the pairing of mall muzak with zombie shuffling. Hehe.
What makes Dawn of the Dead an outstanding horror film is how it is able to bring across the gruesome elements of horror and still force us to examine human psychology in a way that feels neither trite nor overdone. True, the performances from the central cast are not award winning but in the end they don’t need to be. The concept and the set pieces alone make this an essential horror viewing.