Available for the first time in UK, this is the uncut version of the 1997 director’s cut, with six seconds of shots (previously deemed unacceptable by the BBFC) all reinstated. This is the second film in Romero’s loose zombie trilogy, following up Night Of The Living Dead (1968), with a more comic approach to the gruelling horror of ‘when there’s no more room in hell…’ and preceding the psychological blunt force trauma of Day Of The Dead (1985). Dawn Of The Dead is notable as the most popular choice of genre fans when rating zombie movies; although I consider the hard-hitting dramas of Day make it the superior film of this trilogy.
The basic plot should be familiar to all by now. TV reporter Fran (Gaylen Ross) and her fiancé Stephen (David Emge) escape via helicopter, with the aid of rogue SWAT troopers Peter and Roger (Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger), from a besieged US city where the undead outnumber the living. They land on the roof of an out-of-town shopping mall, swiftly eject its shambling zombie inhabitants, and fortify the whole building against further intruders. Shoplifting sprees and grisly urban warfare played out like an extreme sport provide much needed diversions for our survivors. The quartet appear quite unwilling, at first, to face the consequences of their status as outlaws or consider their present apocalyptic plight, let alone what the future may hold for a species on the brink of extinction. With fun gunplay and slow-moving targets, the seriocomic action sequences are still highly entertaining nearly 25 years later, but nowadays the undercurrent of dark irony and a scathing critique of consumerism seems a trifle dated, despite the prescience of Romero’s brooding vision of all-American capitalism.
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When the situation goes from bad to worse, and our thrill-seeking protagonists have to face the truth of their own vicious amorality in confrontations with a gang of crazed bikers (including prosthetic effects’ maestro Tom Savini), the film offers a picture of simple hope tinged with more than a little regret. Without pretension, Romero has created a thoroughgoing modern mythology of a 20th century where the soulless political system could be overcome if individuals accept their share of social responsibility. It suggests that our real choices are more varied than wolf or sheep, hawk or dove, and it is this ambitious ethical message which, ultimately, makes Dawn Of The Dead a piece of cinema history to be treasured.
DVD extras: exclusive commentary by Tom Savini, and a stills gallery.