Posted in Film Commentary

Review: Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Sorry for the late review, but I hope everyone enjoyed Thanksgiving and Black Friday! Instead of reviewing a movie that maybe had a Thanksgiving scene in it somewhere, or was completely devoted to shenanigans while trying to cook Thanksgiving dinner or something similar, I decided to review a film that reminded me of Black Friday. Thus, I present you with Dawn of the Dead from 1978.  This film had such a low-budget that it is relatively unfair to compare it to horror classics from its time, as the 70’s were an excellent time for horror films. Its predecessor, Night of the Living Dead from 1968, raised the bar for horror films of all kinds, and this film attempts to top it mostly by being filmed in color and being slightly more gory. That being said, I am not going to give this film a lower review because of bad special effects or cheesy acting. These are the kinds of things you get when a film has a budget as low as the one this film had (by the way, the budget was $500,000 for anyone wondering).

One thing that is interesting about this film is how irrelevant the plot is. The plot in this film is merely a device to introduce the audience to bits of imagery and social commentary. Whether that means scenes with white cops shooting African-American and Puerto Rican apartment residents while shouting racial slurs, or zombies wandering around a shopping mall much like the average consumer, the film does not place importance on how we got to these scenes, as long as you (the audience member), are paying attention to what matters.

The movie has some rather awkward ways of portraying its messages, but the points it gets across are important and are easier to digest in such a surreal, comedic setting. For instance, it’s funny watching zombies shuffle around a mall with perky music in the background, but it says a lot about our main characters who have locked themselves inside the mall for months when a biker gang comes to ransack the place and they pie zombies in the face. They aren’t even trying to avoid the zombies, they just zoom right past them most of the time. The desire for a materialistic lifestyle portrayed by the lavishness of the main characters is exemplified when we are shown just how easy avoiding zombies really is. The main characters are not hiding in a mall because it is their only chance of survival. They are hiding in a mall because it is their only chance of pretending nothing has changed.

Is social commentary all that it takes to make a movie good though? Of course not. What makes this movie a decent sequel to Night of the Living Dead isn’t the continued social commentary, but the improvement in cheap special effects. This movie does try to get extra scares by showing gruesome scenes instead of trying anything psychologically scary, but that’s pretty much the entire point of the film. It was hard to tell exactly what was being used for organs in Night of the Living Dead due to the black and white, and this film takes everything a step further. By being filmed in color, they couldn’t hide behind using roast ham covered in chocolate sauce anymore and went the extra mile on just-believable-enough special effects. The zombies may be an awkward shade of blue instead of actually looking dead, but you have to admit that watching a guy get his intestines ripped out is pretty creepy.

Overall, you have to be in the right mindset to enjoy this film. I feel like anything else I have to say would just be unfair nit-picking at the acting and other things caused by budget constraints. However, if you’re into social commentary, horror films, zombies, or all of the above I would recommend this movie. For the rest of the world, I would describe this movie as awesomely bad and suggest that you watch it with friends and be ready to laugh the entire way through.

It’s hard to find specific scenes from this film, but the whole film is posted at the moment. Enjoy!