Movie Review #28 / 250 : ‘DAWN OF THE DEAD’ (1978)

Spoilers ahead. Arm the cricket bat.

Erm. Yeah. Well. Zombie films. They’re a whole genre to themselves, aren’t they? Not content with merely sitting under the ‘horror’ umbrella, they often hop the boundary to ‘comedy’ purely on the basis that zombies are the most ridiculous foes in cinema. Full stop. They might move in hordes, but they move at a gnat’s pace, and they’re easily felled by innocuous objects like, let’s say, a sandwich. You could beat a zombie half to death with the blunt end of a hard-crusted BLT. Seriously.

So, again, like I did with Inglourious Basterds, I suspended all belief from the very off. Looking for plot or any meaningful characterisation in a George A. Romero zombiefest is a redundant move. This one is the sequel to Night of the Living Dead – and it’s been a while since I’ve seen that. But from what I remember, I liked it. In Dawn, four people find themselves trapped in a mall at the height of a zombie epidemic, finding themselves having to fight off various grey-coloured goons whilst nicking radios and high-end clothing. And why bit? I would. And you would, too.

They have a lot of fun with the genre in this one. There’s a lot of darkly comic moments as the humans manage to live alongside the baying goons, adapting to a liberated life inside the mall – and there’s a grim fascination that runs throughout. I think that’s probably what kept my interest. It’s such a grim, yet chaotic series of ridiculous events that you somehow find yourself eager to see how the next lot of corpses is going to be felled out.

Unfortunately, my interest came through in drips and drabs. Like Spinal Tap, this hasn’t fared well with age. And first and foremost, it is a B-Movie, so as discussed, expectations shouldn’t be skyrocketing. But there’s a lot here that’s just plain unforgivable, regardless of the era, regardless of its status as a trailblazer (the whole ‘mall zombies’ concept falls at the feet of this one). Most of the acting is abysmal. Oh, and I hear you – acting doesn’t matter, as it’s just about flogging zombies off, not about any deep melodrama – but we cannot connect with these characters. Most moments of supposed terror are unintentionally hilarious due to the misguided hams wandering around, delivering lines as if it’s rehearsal number two. If a character is fumblingly transparent, it turns a story, a film, into something else. This is first and foremost a horror film – and a lot of it is lost due to a sheer lack of actual delivery from a lot of the cast.

This would be forgivable, if the film was reasonably edited, with plenty of subtlety and moments of high suspense. The suspense is there, but the subtlety isn’t. The scenes cut wildly from one to the next, cameras switch from one to another furiously during action scenes, and the quieter, more suspenseful moments don’t hit in until about half of the way through. The film switches from quiet talky bit to muddled chaos frequently, and if this were coupled with delivery I could believe, I’d find it all a bit more entertaining.

But I can’t give this an abysmal score. For the most part, it’s certainly visually and conceptually interesting, and as discussed, there’s a lot of fun moments – but on the whole, I was left pretty underwhelmed. This is revered, through history and through many an IMDB review, as ‘one of the best horror movies of all time’. Some go so far as to call it the quintessential horror flick. It isn’t. Not in my opinion. But it is a trailblazer. This probably helped kick-start the wave of horror films that would take over 80s cinema (one of them, The Thing, I’m reviewing next), and for the right audience, I’m sure this is the right film. But even after suspending my belief, and taking into account the age of the thing, there’s a lot of crucial factors that get fluffed here – inexcusable ones which lower the entertainment value, certainly for me, irreversibly.

PROS: It’s zombies. Lots of brainless arsing about, sometimes played for laughs. Visually and stylistically interesting. Iconic.

CONS: Bad acting, horrible editing, dissonant soundtrack, too long by at least half an hour

4/10. It’s an iconic film. But it ain’t for me.

One response to “Movie Review #28 / 250 : ‘DAWN OF THE DEAD’ (1978)

  1. Pingback: Movie Review #30 / 250 : ‘BLUE VELVET’ | Graham The Cat

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