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Dawn of the Dead

Dawn of the Dead
Dawn of the Dead ***

Cast: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Mekhi Phifer, Michael Barry, Lindy Booth, Ty Burrell, Jayne Eastwood, Michael Kelly, and Kevin Zegers

Director: Zack Snyder

Writer: James Gunn

Country: USA

Length: 100 min

MPAA Rating: R (for pervasive strong horror violence and gore, language and sexuality)

Released: 2004

"When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth."

I haven’t seen George Romero’s version of Dawn of the Dead since it was first released on video tape, so I really can’t say how faithful Gunn and Snyder followed the original story. I have heard that the original was more than a standard horror movie, but also a social commentary on American commercialism and consumption. Be that as it may, it doesn’t detract from the fact that this newer version is a fun, fun movie with its own strengths and message. The message of course is that if you run across a zombie that looks like Jay Leno or Burt Reynolds, shoot the hell out of it and laugh your ass off, because there aren’t too many things to guffaw at when the whole world wants to chew on you.

I am really impressed with new version of Dawn of the Dead. Usually, horror movies tend to be so ludicrous or so poorly acted that I just want to bury my head in my hands and take a nap before the conclusion of the film, but this one had me engaged from its fantastic opening sequence to its highly imaginative and stylish ending. Now, unless you shun television because of the fear inducing local news or the self-esteem killer of popular celebrity, you have never seen the trailer for this film which shows much of the opening sequence. If by chance you have missed it due to the reasons cited above, or you happen to be Amish (what the hell are you doing using a computer then?), the opening begins with Ana (Polley), a registered nurse in Everett, Wisconsin who is just leaving the hospital when her shift is over. When she pulls into her drive-way, she sees the precocious Vivian, an 11 year old neighbor girl who wants to show off just how adorable she is by showing Ana her newest rollerblading skill. Ana goes into her home, has amazing standing up in the shower while the water chafes your skin sex with her loving and perfect husband (who cares his name, he’s Alpo 5 minutes later), and lays down for a peaceful sleep befitting an Angel.

When morning comes, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, all is pure Disney until cute little Vivian enters the bedroom because either her television is on the blink, or there’s no more raw meat at home to satiate her new born hunger. Poor old no-name husband feels sorry for the bloody darling because he knows what its like to miss The Power Puff Girls and runs to Vivian’s side to consol her; then wham-o! No-name is running around with teeth marks in his neck and trying to scream, which is hard to do when you have a gaping hole in your throat. Somehow, Ana is able to put a door in between her and Vivian, who happens to still be hungry, and watches as her husband dies…and rises again. Instead of jumping joyously screaming, “It’s a miracle!”, Ana is fighting for her life because no-name would rather eat her instead of his usual bran muffin, which is wholly understandable. Ana barely escapes with her breasts still on her chest instead of in no-names gullet, runs out to their car, and
there we get to see one of the coolest, “We’re not in Kansas anymore” sequences ever made. Her once peaceful and placid neighborhood is now an open buffet for the undead. Fire and screaming is everywhere she looks, people running for their lives, and other people running for their breakfast. Ana gets into her car just in time before her husband can goose her from behind, peels out of her driveway, and hauls ass to anywhere but there while her husband chases her, which he quits doing once he sees some other prey unlucky enough not to make it his Desoto. From a birds eye view, we see Ana driving pell-mell on the highway where she causes a truck to swerve into an old farmhouse causing a spectacular explosion…then the opening credits appear.

I was hooked, so was most of the packed theater there to see the show. I’ve got to hand it to Gunn and Snyder, because they really know how fish. I was baited, hooked, and reeled in only 10 minutes into the movie. The audience was thrilled. People were yelling, cheering, and laughing from beginning to end. Everyone was overjoyed with the special effects, the shock, and the dark humor that’s prevalent throughout the film. I really enjoyed the subtle humor used with the ‘muzak’ used over the loud speakers in the mall. For instance, when one of the survivors is checking the mall for zombie straggler’s, the muzak version of Shirley Bassey’s All By Myself is playing in the background. I kept expecting to hear Hall & Oats Man Eater, but they didn’t play it. Pay attention to the muzak, it’s a real treat.

I’m sure that you all know that the survivor’s make it to a mall and that’s where they make their stand, if you want to call it that. We meet the cop Kenneth ( Rhames), a big giant bad-ass with a shotgun and an attitude, Michael (Webber), a guy that first appears to be there to either be a living villain or weakling, but becomes a principle character
Ana, Kenneth, and Michael
with fortitude and intelligence, Andre (Phifer), who is accompanied with his soon-to-be-bursting-baby wife, Luda (Korobkina) and CJ (Kelly), a security guard who has a superiority complex and a gun. The rest of the people may as well have worn their red Star Trek uniforms, which doesn’t mean they all bite it, but that they aren’t the emotional center of the movie at this point. All of these actors did a very good job acting realistically in a setting of pure make believe. I especially like Webber’s role, who you may remember as the villain in Meet Joe Black. He is often cast as a smarmy, and arrogant jerk, but is cast here as the true center of the band of survivor’s. I always love it when actors are cast opposite of their usual type. Here he excels as the bravest and smartest survivor.

But, the true star of any zombie film are the zombies. I know that, you know that, and fortunately for us, Gunn and Snyder know that. No more of the lumbering hulks that are only dangerous if a character gets trapped or if the character happens to be a female, because she will surely fall down over and over again until the zombie catches up and at that point she will just scream with a hand over her mouth until…well you know. In Dawn of the Dead, as well as in 28 Days Later, the zombies have all taken track in high school. They run at blistering speeds, show acrobatic talents as they fly through the air, and swallow their food without adhering to the Surgeon General’s warning that every bite should be chewed 26 times. They also show a greater strength in their problem solving skills, unless, of course, figuring something out would be detrimental to the plot. I really dug these living dead guys and gals, especially when we are shown the multitudes waiting for the Mod Squad outside the mall. It is very convincingly frightening.

If you’re only there for the gore, you won’t be disappointed. There’s enough of that to keep even the most disturbed individuals anchored in their seats. There are also some really cool explosions, imaginative death scenes, a cute little doggy to feel afraid for, and a very large body count. It also shows why you shouldn’t play with Daddy’s chainsaw while standing up in a fast moving truck, just in case you weren’t sure. To be honest, I’m not much of a slasher or gore person, but if a movie is made where the gore is a part of the overall movie, and
The horde
not the center of it, I can enjoy it. There are too many movies that rely on gore to keep the audience interested when they should be building relationships between characters we care about, telling us a story which is entertaining by itself, and by giving us a healthy balance of carnage and story. If more horror films followed the example laid out by 28 Days Later and Dawn of the Dead, there just might be hope for the waning horror industry. I might just become a fan again.