***** Out of 5
Tagline- When There’s No More Room in Hell, the Dead Will Walk the Earth
Release Date- September 2nd, 1978
Running Time- 127-Minutes
Writer/Director- George A. Romero
Starring- David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger, Gaylen Ross
Released in 1978 (but hit the States in 79) George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead is considered by many as the best film of his career and the holy grail of the zombie film and if that isn’t enough Dawn of the Dead also gets classic status among the mainstream critics. The film was produced on about a 1-million dollar budget and what Romero pulled off is nothing short of amazing. This film is very much an epic and changed the way zombie films were made and I also love Night of the Living Dead and its impossible for me to pick between the two films, but it sure isnt difficult to see why many people prefer this. In some ways I also prefer Dawn of the Dead and both films were a huge impact on me and I kind of like them about the same for different reasons.
1978 was a fantastic year for the horror genre with 3 films being in my top 10 (a case can be made for top 3). Obviously Dawn of the Dead is one and also John Carpenter’s Halloween and the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Also that year while not top 10, but films I thought were very good; Toolbox Murders, I Spit on Your Grave, Grapes of Death and the TV films Are You Alone in the House and Carpenter’s Someone’s Watching Me. So as you can see 1978 was one of those landmark years with some truly great films and with some very good films. Of the three films I rate so highly it’s impossible for me to pick one over the other since they are all so different and each have something I love more than the other. Dawn of the Dead is one of those rare films (even more in the horror genre) where everything falls perfectly into place and we get a true masterpiece of cinema.
In past reviews I have written on about the films by George Romero I always mention that while he’s an amazing director he’s also a fantastic writer who creates complex characters that are deep in development. Dawn of the Dead is prime example of that. As far as the writing goes this was by far Romero’s best screenplay in regards to plotting and more so characters. Dawn of the Dead in my opinion has the best set of characters in any film I have seen. Some know each other and others don’t and their forced to work together in the mass confusion. All the characters have their own identity and fully developed and I couldn’t really pick any of the main 4 as my favorite. Dawn of the Dead is one of those films where you get attached to the characters and when in any sort of danger the tension is high. That’s a credit to 3 things; first Romero for creating these characters, his direction and cast. Overall Dawn of the Dead features a truly brilliant script with a smart plot, smart social commentary and brilliant characters.
As amazing as the script was without the proper director this is a film that could have been boring despite how well written it was. Thankfully George Romero is as good a director as he is writer. From the very opening of the scene, Romero establishes a dark and bleak tone to go with the mass confusion all the characters are going through. The film is well paced and despite running a little over 2-hours each scene adds to the film in terms of story, characters or suspense and tension. Romero always keeps the film going strong through the entire running time. Due to the characters being as strong as they are, Dawn of the Dead is filled with some of the very best suspense and tension of any film I have seen. Romero doesn’t really have many jump scares for the most part, which filmmakers use as a cheap gimmick, but by establishing an eerie and bleak tone to go with these great characters, there is always a feel of suspense and even more so when any of the 4 characters are in any danger. However in with a dark tone there is also a light and fun tone, which some people didn’t like. I didn’t mind the lighter parts and I think most complaints stem from some of the comedy like the pie in the face scenes to the zombies. Though some of the lighter scenes with the characters I thought were great and adds a lot of depth to Dawn of the Dead.
The mall setting helps us feel comfortable since its something we know. You’ll always feel safer when in an environment that you know and we’ve all been to a mall and despite the dangers that lurk around we the viewer can still feel comfortable since we’re in a place we all can relate to and I think that’s part of why for the longest time Day of the Dead wasn’t as highly regarded since it takes us away from our comfort zone. But being set in a mall is something we can all relate to and Romero uses this place we’ve been to a million times and makes it something eerie. But I do think setting the film in a mall was brilliant as again its something we can relate to.
The acting was terrific and in my opinion Dawn of the Dead features some of the best acting in any horror movie. As I mentioned I feel as if this movie has the best set of characters and the cast is a big part of that. Like I said I really can’t pick a favorite since everyone of the main characters were likable.
Overall there is a reason why Dawn of the Dead is so highly regarded not just as a horror film, but as a film in general. The writing and directing is great as is the acting. The production values are amazing and for a film shot for about 1-million it not only looks far bigger in budget, but looks more expensive than a good portion of big budget Hollywood releases. There really isn’t much more I can say that others haven’t, but Dawn of the Dead truly is a masterpiece of filmmaking.