In 1968, filmmaker George A. Romero, changed the face of horror movies, along with the definition of the word “Zombie” forever with the release of his horror classic Night of the Living Dead, a film about a group of people who are besieged by an army of reanimated corpses with a hungry for human flesh. They hole up in a farm house and make every attempt to fight off the undead horde that awaits them outside.
Night of the Living Dead was such a genre changing movie, that Romero continued the trend with what is known today as “The Living Dead Series”. A collection of films, none of which are technically sequels but rather a continuation of the overall story of the zombie apocalypse, each featuring a different cast of characters facing the legion of the undead:
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Day of the Dead (1985)
Land of the Dead (2005)
Diary of the Dead (2007)
Survival of the Dead (2010)
But I’m not reviewing any of those. Not today, anyway.
No, today I’m turning my focus to the often underrated 2004 remake of the 1978 George A. Romero classic, Dawn of the Dead.
Year Released: 2004
Written By: James Gunn, Michael Tolkin, Scott Frank (based on characters/story from the original 1978 George A. Romero screenplay)
Directed By: Zack Snyder
Starring: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Mekhi Phifer
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the emergency medical profession. Without them, the emergency room would fall apart and people would die. Because of this, most nurses work long and horrible hours, nurses just like Ana. Coming off of a double shift at a hospital that seems to be seeing a spike in patients lately, most of them bite victims, she arrives in the perfect little cul de sac she calls home. She’s met by Vivian, her adorable roller skating neighbor child, who shows her how easily she can roller skate backwards now, a skill that will aid her much in life. Ana shuffles into her nice modern home, kisses her nice modern husband named Luis, and they proceed to have their long planned and much needed “date night”, while completely ignoring the emergency news bulletin on their television.
The sun filters in through the windows as their bedroom door is slowly pushed open. Luis wakes first and sees Vivian standing in their bedroom doorway, her tiny nightgown stained red with blood. Alarmed, he approaches her, to make sure she’s okay, which ends with Vivian biting Luis and ripping out a chunk of his throat. Ana screams, knocking Vivian away from Luis and out of the bedroom. She jumps into nurse mode and makes every attempt to help her dying husband, none of which work, and he dies choking on his own blood. Ana shuts the door before Vivian can do the same to her, but when she turns around Luis is on his feet, his eyes cold and dead. He chases her into the bathroom, where she locks him out and then injures herself falling into the bathtub. Ana struggles through the small bathroom window just as the reanimated body of Luis breaks through the bathroom door and grabs for her legs. Ana makes it outside and runs for her car, but is stopped in her tracks by what she sees.
The entire neighborhood is in chaos, guns are heard being fired in the distance, people are running away from the reanimated corpses of their own loved ones, and suddenly Ana realizes this might not be an isolated case. This might be something much, much worse.
This movie gets a lot of bad energy thrown at it, and I completely understand why. In fact, I distinctly remember being in the group of people who immediately rejected the whole concept of remaking Dawn of the Dead before the trailer was even released. Yes, I was one of those people. I suppose, in a way, I still am. When I heard about the Fright Night remake, I shuddered. For years, there have been persistent rumors surrounding a possible (oh, let’s be realistic: inevitable) remake of An American Werewolf in London. These rumors make me want to cry.
In March of 2004, I was twenty years old and worked at a movie theater. Working at a movie theater grants one certain perks, such as being able to screen movies the night before they are released. This was my introduction to Dawn of the Dead. I reluctantly took my seat for the free screening of what I was certain would be a travesty of modern filmmaking. I drank my soda, I ate my candy, I grumbled like a proper twenty year old who hates the world and most things in it.
An hour and a half soon passed and I was impressed. It was no George A. Romero film, but it was a well-crafted horror film. It was fast, mean, nasty and scary. Just like the zombies themselves.
Yes, that is one of the biggest things holding people back from enjoying this movie, it seems. The debate between horror fans about what exactly constitutes a proper zombie has been raging for years. The Romero style zombie climbs from the grave and shambles through the streets like a slow moving plague of death. This is considered by many zombie purists to be the only “proper” zombie, while a select few believe in the modern zombie, like that of this film, that transform from dying human to flesh hungry killing machine in a matter of minutes and that runs at incredible speed.
I’m in the camp that prefers the Romero style zombie, but the fact of the matter is this: The fast zombie is simply more frightening than the slow zombie. The terrifying thing about a slow zombie is the number in which they travel. You’re more likely to be devoured by a slow zombie thanks to being unable to avoid the undead mob descending upon you. But if a single fast moving zombie is chasing you, depending on what kind of physical shape you’re in, you would be screwed. Let alone if you put the aforementioned mob scenario into the mix. A mob of sprinting zombies, which you do end up seeing in this remake, is one of the most horrifying things I can think of.
The writing is surprisingly good, or at least it was surprising to me. But I didn’t know James Gunn wrote it going into the movie. If you’re aware of the work of James Gunn, then you probably wouldn’t be surprised either. There’s a dark humor to this movie that you would come to expect of something James Gunn has worked on and it balances with the horror elements very well.
The acting is very good for a film of this genre, though many of the characters border on annoying for most of their screen time. You’re really meant to root for only a few of them to survive, anyway (the Heroine, the Good Guy, and of course, Ving Rhames).
Plus, the soundtrack is enjoyable.
Should You See It:
If you’re a fan of fast moving zombies, movies with Tom Savini cameos, and Ving Rhames being a badass, then yes. Yes, you should.