The George A. Romero Zombie Cycle Part 2: Dawn of the Dead

The George A. Romero Zombie Cycle

Wel­come to The George A. Romero Zom­bie Cycle Film Fes­ti­val. Join The Dork Report in revis­it­ing all five canon­i­cal episodes in the orig­i­nal epic zom­bie saga:

Dawn of the Dead movie poster


Zom­bie god­fa­ther George A. Romero waited more than a decade to cre­ate Dawn of the Dead, the first sequel in his zom­bie cycle that would even­tu­ally num­ber five (soon to be six) install­ments. Night of the Liv­ing Dead was mar­keted under the tagline “They won’t stay dead,” which beau­ti­fully told audi­ences all they needed to know. Still, the mar­ket­ing teams behind Dawn of the Dead were able to find room for improve­ment and crafted the even more mem­o­rable “When there’s no room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.” Gone is the clas­sic oxy­moron “Liv­ing Dead.” Now and for the rest of Romero’s zom­bie movies, the foes are known sim­ply as “The Dead.”

Dawn of the Dead doesn’t fea­ture any char­ac­ters from the orig­i­nal film (unsur­pris­ing, as none of them made it through alive), but there’s no rea­son why it can’t be seen as tak­ing place about three weeks after the onset of the same plague wit­nessed by an iso­lated bunch of peo­ple in the Penn­syl­va­nia coun­try­side in the orig­i­nal film. This time around, we open in Cen­ter City Philadel­phia, as a dif­fer­ent batch of sur­vivors nobly keep a tele­vi­sion sta­tion oper­a­tional as soci­ety slowly col­lapses about them. Con­di­tions even­tu­ally break down in the stu­dio as well, and two of them self­ishly escape to seek safe ground via heli­copter. As they lift off, note the best image of all Romero’s zom­bie films: in the back­ground, lights eerily switch off floor-by-floor in a sky­scraper. In a rare case of art­ful restraint on Romero’s part, his cam­era lingers on the scene just long enough for it to register.

Dawn of the Deadbring­ing new mean­ing to the phrase “shop ’till you drop”

The team of sur­vivors includes two con­trast­ing pairs. Pilot Steve (David Emge) is the weak link in the group, while sta­tion man­ager Gaylen (Francine Parker) is the heart and brains. Two very dif­fer­ent SWAT com­man­dos throw their lot in with these civil­ians: the diminu­tive but ath­letic and enthu­si­as­tic Roger (Scott H. Reiniger), and the tall, quiet, and seri­ous Peter (Ken Foree). But together, the two sol­diers are more than the sum of their parts and man­i­fest lead­er­ship qual­i­ties. Echo­ing the social sub­text of the orig­i­nal film, race becomes irrel­e­vant (Peter is black and Roger is white) and the two become fast friends.

David Emge, Francine Parker, and Ken Foree in Dawn of the DeadGaylen, Steve, and Peter in their con­sumerist paradise

The four set down upon the roof of a sub­ur­ban shop­ping mall, a rel­a­tively new Amer­i­can inven­tion in 1979. They purge it of lin­ger­ing zom­bies and turn it into what is equal parts fortress and par­adise. It is here where one real­izes that Dawn of the Dead is prob­a­bly the most openly satir­i­cal of all Romero’s zom­bie movies. It’s impos­si­ble to miss the cri­tique of our mate­ri­al­ist con­sumer soci­ety, as these sur­vivors glee­fully take what­ever they want off the racks, for free. Even the stoic com­man­dos are thrilled by the oppor­tu­nity to go on an unlim­ited shop­ping spree. They live off fine wine and canned caviar as the bar­bar­ians are lit­er­ally at the gate. You know it’s the end of the world when shop­ping mall muzak is the sound­track for our heroes’ sys­tem­atic mass zom­bie slaugh­ter and corpse col­lec­tion. Infa­mous Ital­ian hor­ror direc­tor Dario Argento com­posed the sound­track as well as served as script consultant.

Scott H. Reiniger in Dawn of the DeadRoger is not a morn­ing per­son, it seems

Unfor­tu­nately, Dawn of the Dead fiz­zles with a weak end­ing, espe­cially com­pared to the piti­less con­clu­sion of Night of the Liv­ing Dead. Inter­nal strife and the zom­bie hordes assem­bling out­side are not their only prob­lems. A rag­tag car­a­van of road­war­rior sur­vivors arrive and dis­rupt the stale­mate. But the cen­tral con­sumerist satire still res­onates enough for the movie to have been effec­tively remade in 2004 by direc­tor Zack Sny­der, with­out Romero’s involvement.

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Must read: Inter­nal Bleed­ing Zom­bie Week ’08

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