Top Horror Films – #26 – Dawn of the Dead

Dawn of the Dead
1978; written and directed by George A. Romero

Ben: Romero’s follow up to his outstanding zombie horror film Night of the Living Dead took a great, original concept and expanded on it in a most unusual and interesting way. Instead of simply going for the typical adage of making a sequel that is more gore, more horror, and less substance, Romero takes a step in a diagonal direction, both lateral and forwards. Here he crafts the story of several survivors in the midst of the zombie apocalypse who band together and search for a way to continue living life. While Night of the Living Dead was survival horror, Dawn is what happens next, after that initial survival. How do you find a way to cope with this horrific world coming down around you? The film goes even further by acting as an examination of not just survival, but what the society was that we are now leaving behind. By setting the film in a mall, Romero uses zombies as a commentary for the effects a consumerist culture leaves on us as humans. Dawn of the Dead is life in microcosm as seen through the eyes of these few survivors and their struggle to rebuild the only existence they know.

In a move that helped secure the assurance of a great horror movie, Romero, as a way to viscerally employ the terror behind this world he created, brought on then unknown make-up and special effects wizard, Tom Savini. Savini had grown up with a passion for movie make-up effects, and having done a tour of duty as a photographer in the Vietnam War, was well equipped with the knowledge and desire to bring a graphic intensity of realism to the film’s gore. Without Savini, who went on to an illustrious career of creating great horror movie effects, this film would certainly not be the powerhouse that it is.

Brandi: I remember seeing Dawn of the Dead when I was about 15, just coming off a long period where my sister and I rented every slasher film we could get our hands on. I hadn’t seen Night of the Living Dead. This film really gave me my first understanding of what horror can do, how the genre creates a very specific kind of space for social commentary, creativity in storytelling, and experiments in tone. This is the sort of film you point to when someone scoffs about the validity of horror. Also, clearly the best tagline of anything, ever.

Ed: This is just a documentary, isn’t it? Every trip to the mall I take looks like this.

Team Rankings:
Ben – #5
Mike – #12
Brandi – #29

About

Brandi is one of those people who worries about kids these days not appreciating black and white films. She also admires great moments of subtlety, since she has no idea how to be subtle herself.

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