The 70s produced some seminal horror movies, but few can truly said to be as influential as Dawn of the Dead. The sequel to the equally essential Night of the Living Dead (1968) starts mere hours after the end of the first; society is beginning to unravel under the onslaught of the flesh-eating zombies, and four people seeking sanctuary manage to barricade themselves in a shopping mall - but at a very high price.
Left to his own devices, writer/director George Romero has always leavened his movies with a healthy layer of social commentary. Consumer culture, epitomized by the then-new phenomenon of the shopping mall, was up for the skewering this time around, but it is ample proof of Romero's skill as a storyteller that this never overrides the movie, or falls to the level of mere preaching. That the movie dooms its protagonists to a subtle damnation by giving them every material thing they could possibly desire is a piece of genius, and Romero's most telling shot at his target.
During its initial release, one viewer told me that the movie "looked like what happened when you give a 10 year-old a movie camera." That, unfortunately,is the viewpoint of someone who can't get past the gore to the story beneath, and chances are he was not alone. Tom Savini's makeup effects set the bar for gore films for quite some time after, and it wouldn't be set higher until the next - and to this date, sadly final - film in the series, Day of the Dead.
This is the U.S. Theatrical Version - there is an 118 minute International Version edited by producer Dario Argento that reportedly throws in more gore and cut out some of the humor. Playing under the title Zombi, it was so successful that it sparked a cottage industry in Italian horror movies in the 80s, and its influence is still being felt today, in movies like Bio-Zombie and Wild Zero...not to mention the seemingly inevitable remake.
Divimax is defined as "a high definition (HD) film transfer process that provides state-of-the-art picture quality and can be viewed on any home entertainment system". Compared to Anchor Bay's earlier "Anniversary Edition" of this movie, the transfer does indeed seem to be an upgrade, and there was nothing wrong with that transfer. The colors in this version seem more saturated, while the picture, overall, is a bit darker, and I seem to detect some additional picture on the sides. Where this version wins hands down is in the audio department - the effects were way too lively in the old mix, and the 5.1 remix is simply superb. Even the animated menus aren't too offensive.
CAVEAT EMPTOR: While this is a very nice edition of Dawn, you can bet it was rather hurriedly pushed out the door to capitalize on the theatrical release of the 2004 remake. Anchor Bay will be releasing a deluxe two-disc version later in the year. Since their 1999 Anniversary Edition has been out-of-print for a while, a dead-o-phile snatching up this version would be understandable - but if you demand discs that are heavy on the extras, you might be better advised to wait for the later set.
This version has a fair number of extras, though, particularly at the price point. There are two theatrical trailers, three TV spots, nine radio spots, and a gallery of twenty-five posters, lobby cards and newspaper ads (my favorite is the one quoting Siskel and Ebert). A "George Romero Bio" is a nice 26-page text piece tracing his career. "Comic Book Preview", however, is merely a picture of the cover and a text page flogging the comic.
There are two Easter Eggs. On the "Extras" page, highlighting the "Main Menu" option at the bottom and then pressing right will highlight a zombie's silhouette. Press "enter" and you'll be taken to a portion of an interview with assistant director Chris Romero, in which she tells how she met her future husband. And on the "Audio Setup" page, following the same procedure takes you to a clip of Tom Savini talking about practical jokes.
The commentary track, with George and Chris Romero, Tom Savini, and a moderating Perry Martin, is pleasant enough, occasionally meandering too close to dwelling on the long-awaited fourth film, but always brought back to the film at hand by Martin. Perry Martin (who produced the disc) is a well-prepared moderator who keeps the ball rolling - dead air is at a minimum on this track.
See you later this year for the two-disc set.
Dr. Freex, 3/31/2004