Dawn of the Dead (1978) Take Two

Year: 1978
Directed By: George A. Romero
Written By: George A. Romero

RYAN’S REVIEW

To read our original review of this film follow this link. If you would like to read our review of the 2004 remake follow this link.

This is my favorite horror movie of all time and without doubt one of my favorites films to watch during this time of the year.  What this film does right is capture the fear that has taken over society.  The desperation that rises as the enormity of the situation sets in.  The movie doesn’t waste time with any build up it just drops you right into the thick of things and we follow the four main characters as they get the heck out of dodge and seek refuge in a shopping mall. We see the weight the new world has laid on their shoulders and we see how futile their efforts are in the face of the threats that rise after the zombies do. The zombies we see in this film aren’t all that intimidating.  They are slow-moving, clumsy, and they aren’t overly aggressive.  The zombies we saw in the remake are the complete opposite.  In the 2004 film we see what I like to think of as the new age zombies.  Zombies that don’t just run but sprint at full speed with an intensity and aggression that will scare the hell out of anyone.  The differences in these two zombies completely change the face of this title in the remake film but it wasn’t for the better. It was nothing more than just shock value because these upgraded zombies were scary but they didn’t make for better film, only better scenes on occasion.

I had a discussion this weekend with someone about the merits of the two differing zombies and that’s what I’d like to focus this post on.  I can completely understand the new generation of viewers that prefers these new age zombies.  It’s shocking to see these zombies with such ferocity like we see in the 2004 remake of this movie, World War Z, 28 Days Later, and other new zombie films.  These zombies are scarier when watching the movie but they are almost too much.  This type of zombie is practically an overwhelming threat that can’t be subdued and therein lays the problem.  With zombies, I don’t think the real threat is the one they pose but the consequences they have on society.  When a zombie epidemic spreads throughout the world governments fall, the infrastructure falls apart, and society crumbles.  If they are the slow-moving stumbling zombies they can be defeated but the overwhelming amount of them is too much for anyone to handle. By the time some survival group does get a handle on the zombies the damage is done, and the way the world was working is just too big a puzzle to simply put back together again. When everything is lost and everything stops the people of the world have to learn to live again. We have become too reliant on technology and too many can’t live without it. The fear then doesn’t come from the zombies but from the world they have created because in the new world anarchy reigns. The zombies are simply a manageable threat that’s overwhelming at first but can be subdued over time. When they simply become another part of everyday life the real threat comes from the people who want what you have, because they will do anything to get it, and there is no authority around to stop them. With these new aged zombies that simply can’t be stopped, because they are so fast and aggressive, I see no possible outcome other than the extinction of humans.  Maybe that is what some people like about it but I think the threat of evil men, who are capable of thinking, who can take over society in the aftermath is much scarier.

We see these differences in the two versions of this film.  In 1978 the survivors find peace in the mall for a long time. The zombies outside their fortified home are still a threat but one they have learned to keep at bay and live with. Their safety and livelihood isn’t threatened until evil men come to take what they have.  The men in the motorcycle gang haven’t lived in the comfort of security, they’ve been out there in the dog eat dog world and they are looking at the mall with hungry eyes.  Not for the security it offers but the spoils available to them from within. They ride in and destroy the mall and everything the main characters have worked to achieve because they can. They are the real threat in the world created by zombies, and they are much scarier than the zombies ever could have been. In 2004 things are much different. The threat posed by the zombies is too great and the survivors are simply fighting to survive, but there is no survival in this scenario. We see some of the characters escape but there is no hope for them out there in a world full of new age zombies and eventually we are led to believe that they all die. The 2004 ending is scary but it’s all over then.  There is something to be said about that outcome and I can understand the appeal.  I just think there is so much more potential the other way around.  Things get bloody and awful in 2004, but in 1978 a story was told, and it was a story with the possibility to continue and offer us so much more. Speaking only under the parameters of “scenario,” I think the 1978 type offers more because the door is open for things to come, crazy things that might blow our minds like what we have already seen has.

This is what makes The Walking Dead so good.  Since reading the comics the show is based on I have become obsessed with the series.  The zombies are merely a dangerous annoyance in The Walking Dead world.  The real threat comes from the men who have risen out of the ashes to seize power for themselves. The Governor, the roaming cannibals, or the current and most awesome badass of all time Negan. Negan is such a cool bad guy I actually find myself wanting him to defeat Rick and following him through this new world of the undead as it is.  Negan actually berates Rick at one point, calling him an idiot because he actually uses guns on the dead.  Negan doesn’t do this; he saves his bullets for the enemies that require more than a simple head bashing to beat. In a world where the old school zombies have destroyed everything it’s better than new age zombies taking over because there are men like Negan out there, and Negan is scarier and more dangerous than all the zombies in the world put together. I have read that people really want Negan on the show but I don’t.  I love the show and I love Negan but it’s not a union that will work the way it should.  One of the things I really love about Negan is his proficiency with the Fuck word and profanity in general.  To take it away from him to put him on TV would seriously drop his cool factor, and I don’t know that any actor in the world could live up to the expectations I would have as a fan of the comic.

I think Hollywood is destroying the effectiveness of the old school zombies because they keep going for that shock factor.  It’s like overloading a film with too many explosions because you want to blow people away instead of getting inside their heads. The top example that comes to mind is World War Z. So many things are wrong with this film.  First of all it’s rated PG-13 so that they could take advantage of the teenage market, but no zombie film should be PG-13.  The Walking Dead is literally more graphic and it is contained by the limitations allowed on television.  Secondly, they are the new age zombies in World War Z and it wasn’t like that in the book.  The movie shows zombie running at full speed in hordes and building giant zombie ladders.  In the book the zombies aren’t like that, but that is why humanity was able to eventually prevail. In the book society crumbles due to the threat and the story is really about how the world survives and then manages to put itself back together.  The consequences are so significant. The damage done isn’t because of the zombies but because of the chaos and fear the zombies create.  When society breaks down resources become scarce, communication falls apart, and the world as we know it comes to an end.  People are forced to adapt if they are to survive and it’s not a simple thing to do.  The movie was really nothing at all like the book and just a pathetic attempt to make money on something that was successful.  Everything that made the book successful though is gone from the film and it’s just taking advantage of the name recognition.

This is all just my opinion but I’d invite you to sound off now on how you feel about the new age zombies vs. the original.  I think it is an interesting topic and there are valid points to both sides of it.  Let us know how you feel about it. Also, if you are a fan of The Walking Dead and know who Negan is let me know what you think about the guy.  To put it as Negan would, “I fucking love the fucking guy.” I don’t know anybody who has read as deep into the comic as I have so I have nobody to talk to about him.  I’d love to hear what someone else thought about him.  Otherwise, check out the original Dawn of the Dead as Halloween approaches, it’s a great movie that really sets the tone for the holiday.

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