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Movie Review: Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Wounded head rising from the horizon.Summary:
The zombie uprising has struck, and chances of survival are looking dire.  Two American soldiers, a newscaster, and a helicopter pilot go on the lam looking for a place to hole up and hopefully survive.  They find it in a classic suburban mall, but how long will they be able to hold off the hordes–not just of zombies, but of other survivors?

Review:
This Romero classic is the follow-up to Night of the Living Dead (review).  Some similar themes may be found–holding off both the zombies and fear–but new ones exist as well, such as the danger presented by groups of other survivors.  Perhaps most interestingly, the question of how much does this apocalypse create a new world and how much of the old world should be held onto.

The beginning sequence in this film is less strong than in the previous one.  It is jumbled and confusing as we land right in the middle of the uprising, as opposed to at the beginning of it.  Everyone is talking at once, and it takes the viewer a bit to get acclimated.  Additionally, the scene in which the soldiers are introduced is confusing.  Plot-wise, it makes perfect sense, but logically, it makes no sense why the people the soldiers are going after are refusing to kill the zombies.  It does not seem like it should even be a problem, and yet it is.  This hesitance at killing zombies as if they were still people is present throughout the film.  Perhaps this reflects the ideals of the 1970s, but as a modern-day woman, I was completely unable to relate.

After the opening scenes, however, the story quickly picks up.  The four main characters are all well-rounded and interact well together.  Moving the plot to the mall was a brilliant choice on Romero’s part.  Much could be said about the commentary on the zombie movements through a shopping center, relentlessly wandering, up and down, around and around, surrounded by consumerism.  In fact, after the opening scenes, the entire film seems to be a commentary on consumerism.  Characters get into trouble when they want too much or try for too much.  In any case, the scenes of zombies wandering through the mall are incredible and clearly became iconic for a reason.

The concept of being able to have fun in the middle of a zombie uprising shows up here.  The characters run around the mall, blasting zombies, looting, learning to shoot, and more, and mostly seem to have fun doing so.  The distress mostly comes from boredom and feeling trapped, not so much from the zombies themselves.  This theme is certainly its own special section of zombie stories.  There are the stories that focus on the virus and the being eaten alive, and then there are the stories that focus on being trapped.

The special effects are dismal.  In fact, they are worse than in a black and white film because in color, it’s easy to see that the colors are off.  Obvious face-paint is used on the zombies.  Incredibly fake-looking blood that flows too slowly is present throughout the film.  One does wonder why they couldn’t at least get realistic-looking blood.

Overall, although the reasons this became iconic are abundantly evident, I still did not fall in love with it.  The plot was rather meandering, followed-up by a cliche ending, and there were portions that were just too illogical to suspend disbelief.  It is a fun watch for fans of zombies curious to see how they have developed over time, and it is those people to whom I recommend it.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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Movie Review: Night of the Living Dead (1968)

February 1, 2011 5 comments

Black and white images of horror.Summary:
Dead bodies start inexplicably returning to life.  The horde slowly bears down on an old farmhouse full of a random group of survivors.  The night wears on, and eventually only one person is left.

Review:
George Romero’s classic is essentially what jump-started the cult fascination with zombies.  It established a lot of the unofficial rules for zombies–you have to destroy their brain to destroy them, they’re slow moving, etc…  I guess its status as a zombie classic left me with certain expectations.  Some were met; others were not.

It is filmed in black and white and makes excellent use of shadows.  The soundtrack is exactly what is to be expected from an old horror movie, and honestly some modern horror movies could learn a thing or two from it.  The collection of a bunch of strangers in one house to fight off the hoarde is now considered to be a trope, but it was interesting to see the collection of characters assembled by George Romero.  There’s the terrified woman, the cowardly man, the brave intelligent man, the brave man who’s a follower, and the person who’s been bitten.  The decade certainly shows in the characterization as none of the women are the kick-ass female character we’ve come to expect in modern times.  That was a bit disappointing.

I was completely shocked to see that the role of the last survivor went to a black actor.  This was incredibly progressive for the 1960s, and he was truly there as a man who just happened to be black, not the requisite black guy.  It was refreshing and pleasant to see, particularly in such an old movie.  ‘The zombies though, just didn’t look like zombies.  They were rather gaunt, but none of the decay or general zombie-look we’re used to in modern movies was present.  Also, when they say slow-moving, they mean slow-moving.  I’m pretty sure the actors were mostly moving in place for a lot of the shots.  That was a bit too slow-moving for my taste.  Another interesting factoid, the word “zombie” is never used once in the movie.  The dead.  The living dead.  The arisen dead.  But not zombie.

By far the most frightening scene and one that is repeated in zombie movies to this day is when the arms reach through the boarded windows at the people inside attempting to hold the boards on.  The clawing hands and moans of the undead sent shivers down my spine.  The movie is worth viewing for that scene alone.

Overall, viewing this classic it is understandable why it came to be one.  Although certain aspects of zombies have been improved upon with time, the ground-work is evident here.  I highly recommend this film to any fans of the horror genre or those interested in the presence of 1960s culture and mores in film.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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