Dawn of the Dead Review
The nature of the internet is that it inspires cultish types and fanboys. The "buzz" of these groups often yields new enthusiasm for the next fad or flavour of the week and nowhere is this more the case than with horror films. The next "great" horror movie is often released with plenty of fanfare from the esoteric margins and no little puff from the PR agencies. Exhibit A is the recent DVD release of Cameron Romero's Staunton Hill which claimed greatness ran in the family when the truth was much less flattering.
Well it's not a fad, a viral or a popup that just won't go away that confirms that Dawn of the Dead is one of the greatest horror films ever made. Produced by the Argentos, scored by Goblin, and boasting top quality splatter from Tom Savini, George A Romero's film has endured and caused the world around it to change. It's hard to see where the plethora of horror movies with a message would have come from without Romero's anti-capitalist gut muncher. I can't imagine that great films like REC, 28 Weeks Later and their ilk could have been made without the bearded one's work.
The horror of humanity on the edge of apocalypse is what Romero's best work exploits. He shows that scared human beings fighting for their lives often display the very qualities that caused the apocalypse in the first place. In the case of Dawn we begin within the world of the media, a constant obsession of the director's, as the world comes to realise that the dead are coming back to life to hunt the living. Presenters ridicule the facts, false information is pumped out to keep ratings and one by one the people involved escape or succumb to the threat of the living dead.
Where can the living run? Can they lock themselves up in a basement or board the doors like in Night of The Living Dead? No, this time they find refuge in a shopping centre, stocked to the rafters with consumer durables and everything they need to forget the threat around them. Everything that is except for an answer to the lumbering dead who return to the centre out of memory and routine, and must be dealt with for the human's fortress to be complete.
Where NOTLD relied on rather straight techniques of narrative, the sequel is much more interested in montage, satire, and out and out gore. Some sequences are played as almost silent movie comedy with accompanying knockabout music, and more time is given over to what these zombies retain as elements of their previous life. The theme of humanity protected behind fortresses is extended with two of the survivors being troops, and these ideas would further develop in the military silo of Day of the Dead, the guarded communities of Land of the Dead, and so on.
What marks Dawn out amongst Romero's films is the perfection of the satire. This setting provides him with ample opportunity to lampoon man the consumer, man the hunter, and man the animal of comfort. The more secure the survivors become then the more their ways revert to the routines of the civilised world that they've lost - the need to shop, the need to go to the restuarant, and the barbers. With such an engineered and false culture, the director makes hay with the comic parallels even at one point comparing the survivors to a nuclear family on a shopping trip.
Like all of his Dead films, we end with an unclear sense of what the point is in continuing. Unlike his other works Romero has so thoroughly dissected and dissolved any cultural ideas of normalcy that this conclusion is gloriously subversive as the director has reminded the audience time and again of the parallels to their consumerist, capitalist existences too. There are few perfect horror films but Dawn of the Dead comes very close with the fantastical action delivering quite a blow to the real world we re-enter as the film ends. The survivors may have got out but what for, and the audience is forced to wonder the same the next time they are in the mall or at the checkout.
The three versions of the main feature are presented with only the theatrical cut being a high definition transfer. The director's cut runs at 2:19:25 and is slightly windowboxed with the presentation being at the 1.78:1 ratio. Video quality is goodish with perhaps a hint of very minor edge enhancement and colors are restrained but not as impressive as on the high def transfer. My favourite cut of the film is the Argento edit with more of the Goblin score and a slightly better tempo, and this runs at 1:59:05 with the same ratio and presentation as above. Visually this cut is weaker, softer, darker and slightly redder in the colouring.
The theatrical cut on the blu-ray runs at 2:07:03 and is encoded using the AVC/MPEG 4 codec. I have taken a little time to compare it against the existing Anchor Bay blu-ray which was criticised for a bit too much DNR being used to clean up the image. The filesize for the US transfer was 31.7Gb and here its a similar 30.5Gb. I have included stills below, but DNR does not seem to be present here and the bright colours and improved contrast seem an improvement on the existing blu-ray. I would note that in comparison the Arrow release is a lot less red in hue, see the flesh tones below.
Anchor Blu-ray above
The Arrow disc does not include the original mono track of the US version or the lossy 5.1 mix from that disc and offers two different HD sound options. The lossless sound comes from a LPCM stereo track and a master audio mix. I would favour the LPCM track for its clarity and simplicity unless what you're after is speaker coverage. The master audio track approximates a decent surround soundstage but some effects and directionality are less than convincing, and unless you're in to making the living room rock the stereo option seems preferable. There are no lossy options on the theatrical cut but both standard definition cuts have decent original mono tracks and English subtitles.
Arrow's new edition is currently available from HMV with a more wide release planned for March next year. The edition comes in a robust cardboard sleeve with clear pane to show off any one of the four possible sleeve images - a nice touch that! The main package includes a central plastic leaf which can accommodate two discs whilst the normal back panel accommodates the final one. A rather fetching double sided poster is included inside, along with Calum Waddell's splendid essay on the film included in a 16 page booklet. Here's a nice snap of what goodies are in store...
The theatrical cut offers two commentary options taken from previous Anchor Bay releases with Perry Martin leading Savini and Mr and Mrs Romero on one and producer Richard Rubinstein on the other. The blu-ray includes the wonderful Document of the Dead with its studious approach and clever voiceover. It appreciates the techniques of Romero's montage and direction of actors, and despite a very technical tone at times retains some humour such as with the excellent Groucho Marx clip at the beginning. Footage and interviews from the filming are used extensively for a real treat for serious minded fans. The deleted scenes include contributions from the actors as well as clips from Martin and NOTLD. The lost interviews are with Adrienne Barbeau, the director and Savini. Barbeau covers her experience of working with Romero on Creepshow and comparing him with John Carpenter and Wes Craven, Romero talks about his influence and Savini discusses his remake of NOTLD.
The final extra on the blu-ray is Nicolas Garreau's Fan of The Dead which covers Garreau's pilgrimage to the states to visit the sites where Romero shot this film and others. Garreau is mostly behind the camera thankfully as his English is not great and he is a little creepy looking to be honest. We are taken on a tour of the Monroeville mall by Ken Foree, visit a convention in Pittsburgh and go on a road trip to the cemetery in NOTLD.
All of the extras on the blu-ray are standard definition.
The second disc features the director's cut with the sole extra of Perry Martin's excellent The Dead Will Walk which features Romero and his collaborators looking back at the film. Romero explains that he was inspired to make movies because of seeing The Tales of Hoffman and how he and friends started out making commercial films and accrued equipment and experience before effectively making NOTLD on their days off. This was not an instant success and although offers came the directors way he turned them down to make The Crazies and Martin before the idea for this film came up and the Argentos offered him the opportunity to put it together. Dario contributes and mrs Romero describes him as "flamboyant and wild" and selected cast and crew give their memories of making the film. Martin's documentary is a warm sympathetic piece made with an amount of love and straightforward application.
The final disc contains a documentary focusing on Tom Savini from a Fangoria series called Scream Greats. Savini is much praised and his famed energy comes through as we see him working on the effects that made his name. The conceit of him being like a hired hitman is a little silly though but it is always nice to hear from a talented enthusiast like this man. The remainder of the disc features TV spots, trailers and publicity materials alongside the Argento cut of the film.
Possibly the greatest of all horror films gets a decent transfer with better sound options than previously available. The package of extras includes pretty much everything you'd like as a fan of the film but the door is open for a release which offers the other cuts of the film in high definition as well.