With mankind overrun by a sudden and unexplained plague which turns humans into flesh-craving zombies, two TV reporters (Emge, Ross) and a pair of SWAT cops (Foree, Reiniger) take refuge in a shopping mall. Though locking the place down and creating a safe-haven, their peace doesn’t last…
Dated though it may be, George A Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead is among the very best zombie movies to have ambled about in film land. An overdue follow-up to his seminal first ‘Dead’ movie, Night Of The Living Dead (black and white, downbeat ending), this second instalment might not be as significant or important, but it terms of quality it easily equals and, in many ways, even surpasses the original. Interestingly, it’s also not a direct sequel, with overall events continued from last time (an unexplained phenomenon is causing the dead to walk the Earth), but with new characters and a different setting. Of course, given the previous ending, this was perhaps inescapable.
Starting off in a panicked news room and then moving to a zombie-infested ghetto tenement being raided by a SWAT team, the movie peaks when our four survivors arrive at the ‘deserted’ shopping centre. Given this location, there’s inevitably comments on mindless consumerism (the undead wandering about shops as they remember wanting to be there), but this isn’t why Dawn works so well. As the pearly-toned Ken Foree and co chillingly negotiate their new plaza home, there’s a sense of impending, anyone-could-get-bitten doom that the majority of today’s counterparts can’t come close to.
Slow-moving as they are, there remains something terrifying about these walking corpses and each time they hungrily swarm on the living your body naturally tenses up in anticipation of gruesome horror. Effects man Tom Savini might have admitted that his blood effects sometimes appear like “melted crayon”, but the abundance of gory chomping is genuinely raw and surprisingly affecting nonetheless. There are plenty of different versions out there (the tighter cinematic version, Romero’s extended cut, the gorier European version), yet the basic movie itself is retro horror at its skin-gnashing best.
The second in horror supremo George A Romero’s celebrated Dead series might not be as seminal as the first, but it’s an equal in terms of quality and, in some ways, even better. It’s dated yes, but remains one of the best zombie movies to have walked the earth.