Dawn of the Dead

When there is no more room in hell, the dead shall walk the Earth!

And we’re not talking about the upcoming Presidential election.

You can’t keep a good zombie down, and in the revisionist remake of “Dawn of the Dead,” those zombies are power walking. Gone are the images of lumbering zombies in George Romero’s landmark 1978 original.


Director Zach Snyder and writer James Gunn have streamlined the living dead, giving them unexpected mobility that makes them deadlier. And scarier.

Aware that they are tinkering with a classic, Snyder and Gunn reinvent Romero’s apocalyptic tale of a virus that transform most of the population into flesh-eating zombies. Gunn retains the basic structure, a group of survivors holed up in a shopping mall, while giving the story a few new spins. More characters have been tossed into the mix, the zombies are mean and lean, and the action sequences are larger than life.

Gunn wisely corrals an eclectic group of strangers into the mall, some important to the advancement of the plot, others as human sacrifices. This dynamic allows Snyder to explore issues of trust between the survivors, creating another layer of tension. Romero employed this device in the original, showing us that even in a life and death situation people can act just as irrational as the zombies outside their door.

The filmmakers fail to capture the original film’s sense of irony about mass consumer consumption. These zombies didn’t show up at the mall because it’s familiar to them, they showed up because that’s where the food is. Clean and clear cut. Gunn occasionally allows the characters to catch their breath, but once they’re neck deep in the living dead, the film becomes a nerve-racking game of hide and seek.

While we don’t get to spend a lot of “quiet” time with the characters, the actors and writer use shorthand to distinguish between them. We learn just enough so that they leave an impact. Sarah Polley is quite gripping as Ana, who wakes up one morning to learn that her Wisconsin town is being overrun by the living dead. Ana’s rude awakening (even zombie kids need love) forces her to seek shelter at the local mall, where she tags up with other survivors and a gleefully sadistic security officer (Michael Kelly) who is just as dangerous as the zombies.

Chief among her compatriots are police officer Kenneth (Ving Rhames, very authoritative), nice guy Michael (Jake Weber), couple Andre (Mekhi Phifer) and Luda (Inna Korobkina), expecting their first child (and providing the film with one of it’s most devastatingly shocking moments), and the security guard’s flunkies Terry (Keven Zegers) and Bart (Michael Barry). Even though some of the characters make unconscionable decisions, and Gunn doesn’t fully take advantage of the mall setting, I really liked this new “Dawn of the Dead.”

Snyder, a commercial director making his big screen debut, has created a completely new vision that constantly catches you by surprise. Anyone familiar with the original will appreciate the various twists and turns taken by Snyder and Gunn. They create an explosive finale that puts the nightmare into perspective, a harrowing armored car ride through a sea of zombies. Throw is an out of control chainsaw and some propane bombs and you have all the ingredients for disaster.

Snyder’s “Dawn of the Dead” may be for a new generation, but at least he doesn’t disrespect fans of the original. He knows he’s walking on sacred ground, and manages to give both audiences just what they expect.

Fans of the original 1978 “Dawn of the Dead” might want to check out Anchor Bay Entertainment’s new DVD release of George Romero’s classic, complete with a crisp, widescreen digital transfer that brings out the reds and adds strength to the shadows and detail. While Romero’s vision was less grandeur, he still delivered the shocks (and laughs). Far too graphic in its violence and gore, the film was unleashed into theaters without a rating, allowing Romero and make-up artist Tom Savini to push the envelope, and the intestines, and legs, and arms.

Both Romero and Savini join moderator Perry Martin (along with Romero’s wife Christine) for a full-length audio commentary, reflecting on their past glory with the passion of young boy who has just discovered his first horror movie. The DVD also includes the usual plethora of promotional hype, including commercials, a poster gallery, radio spots and trailers. Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” still musters numerous recoil reactions, while the film’s satirical message remains intact after all these years.

Bite Me!

The Dawn of a New Dead

DAWN OF THE DEAD

Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Mekhi Phifer, Ty Burrell, Michael Kelly, Kevin Zegers. Directed by Zack Snyder. Rated R. 100 Minutes.

LARSEN RATING: $7.00



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