Dawn of the Dead
Picking up shortly after where Night of the Living Dead left off, Dawn of the Dead starts in a TV studio where they are still frantically arguing over the origins of the outbreak and trying to broadcast information about safe places, trying to move people away from the overrun metropolitan areas. Meanwhile, SWAT teams are clearing apartment blocks by ordering the living to leave and shooting the dead.
Two of these soldiers, Peter and Stephen, hitch a ride with TV technician Francine and her helicopter pilot boyfriend, Roger, desperate to get away from the madness and find somewhere safe to stay. After a hairy refuelling stop, they come across an abandoned shopping mall and break in and try to make themselves comfortable. After assessing the place, they find that they can hold up and, by manipulating the undead into going where they want, have virtually free reign of the place.
Whereas Night was a low budget exercise in monochrome tension drawing on Vietnam and the politicisation of youth, Dawn took aim at the worst excesses of commercialism in a capitalist society. With ten years in between the two films, George A. Romero had honed his craft and teamed up with Tom Savini, a war photographer so the tone and pace in Dawn is very different to Night, with quick cuts and Savini's special effects make-up. There is an air of lunacy here with Hare Krishna and nurse ghouls which intersperses the tension and gore when Peter and Steven begin clearing the mall.
With the doors barricaded and the mall ghoul-free, the four begin living out their consumerist dreams but slowly realise that their safe haven has become a prison of their own making. Before they can dwell on this for too long, a biker gang breaks in, allowing an influx of ghouls to follow. This is where Savini comes into his own, having already established a level of gore in the tenement building clearout with an exploding head and bloody neck bite. The gun battle that ensues features gut-munching, decapitations and other inventive and gory ways of despatching both the living and the undead.
Made for a modest budget and released without a certificate, Dawn of the Dead was commercially and critically successful with Fangoria naming it the best horror of the year and Roger Ebert (a man not easily pleased) describing it as 'One of the best horror films ever made'. Romero assembled a 139 minute cut for Cannes, which he subsequently trimmed to 126 minutes for the American theatrical release. Handling the European side of things was Romero's friend and horror-meister Dario Argento, who re-edited the film into a more action-oriented piece with a quicker pace and different music.
It is an apocalyptic masterpiece and the most celebrated of Romero's Dead trilogy, picking up new fans every year and spawning a very respectable remake in 2003 and, in Shaun of the Dead, a loving homage. I like all three of the original Dead trilogy for different reasons, but my favourite is Dawn, a film that I've bought at least twice on DVD, including the magnificent R1 Ultimate Edition, so had high hopes for this Blu-ray release. They were certainly met and Arrow Films have done a sterling job with this release - now for Day of the Dead to get the Hi-Def treatment!
The three discs contain four feature-length documentaries: Document of the Dead, Fan of the Dead, The Dead Will Walk and Scream Greats.
Document of the Dead is a terrific piece made by Roy Frumkes and begins with an analysis of Romero's filming style, using Martin and Night of the Living Dead before moving on to Dawn of the Dead where Frumkes interviews Romero on set. It then moves on ten years to the Two Evil Eyes shoot where Tom Savini is working on an elaborate set piece and Romero talks about the industry, his films and the possibility of further Dead movies. This documentary is supplemented by seven minutes of deleted scenes and twenty minutes of cut interviews with Adrienne Barbeau, George Romero and Tom Savini.
Illustrating how obsessive some fans can be is Nicolas Garreau's documentary Fan of the Dead in which the Frenchman travels to Pittsburgh to try and visit every location from Night, Dawn, Creepshow and the Night remake. This is a fascinating look at the lengths that some will go to in order to pay homage to their favourite film and takes in ComiCon where he interviews various zombies and other cast members.
The Dead Will Walk is as comprehensive a 'Making Of' retrospective as you will find, containing interviews with all members of the principal cast and crew and is a fantastic watch.
Finally, Scream Greats is one of the Fangoria series of documentaries about greats in the horror genre and is a fascinating and funny portrait of Tom Savini. I hadn't seen this before and it is a great watch.
Although you don't get the commentaries on the European and Director's cuts from the R1 UE, there are the commentaries on the theatrical version, the first with George A Romero, Tom Savini and Chris Romero and the second by producer Richard P. Rubinstein. The first is lively and revealing and one of the better commentaries - I have listened to it twice before and enjoyed it the third time. Rubinstein's isn't quite such a treat as he's doing it by himself and not with friends, but there's plenty of information and is a worthy listen.
Rounding off the bonus material there are a selection of TV and radio spots, trailers and promotional material for Arrow Videos' Masters of Giallo releases Macabre, Sleepless and The House by the Cemetery.
Also included is a double sided poster with all-new Rick Melton painting on one side and the original UK theatrical artwork on reverse and For Every Night There is a Dawn booklet written by Calum Waddell.
The whole set apparently comes in a slip-case with two reversible sleeves, so you can choose which artwork you like from the four options.
The Theatrical Cut is presented here in 1080p with Dario Argento's European Cut and the Director's Cut included on DVD. The most critical will ask why not all three are on Blu-ray, but apparently the quality wasn't good enough on the source material, requiring more time and money than was available. Despite falling short of the quality that full HD offers, these DVDs look remarkably good when upscaled. Unlike the US Anchor Bay release, Arrow haven't gone overboard with DNR and the picture is a little grainy but this is a small price to pay for a more realistic depiction of the source material and you don't lose detail when the picture is 'smoothed out'. The colours are very good and the size of the Monroeville Mall makes it a perfect location - having a huge place to yourself isn't necessarily much better than being under siege in a small farmhouse. Cinematographer Michael Gornick did a great job of lighting the enormous set and making the exteriors look as good as they do.
As the first of the Dead Trilogy to be shot in colour, the decision had to be made as to what colour the undead should be, with Savini settling on a grey hue. The made the appearance of the ghouls change under different lighting conditions, with some blue, some slightly green and the rest grey - I quite like this as no one really knows what a reanimated corpse would look like!
Savini's effects are still superb and though you know the tricks of the trade regarding props and prosthetics, the overall impression is of visceral horror that will turn the stomachs of all but the most hardened fans - even after multiple viewings, the screwdriver in the ear still makes me wince a little! The make-up is quirky, with the edges on the face-paint all too evident, but gathered together, the eclectic group of undead still make a formidable force.
For a film that was originally released with a stereo soundtrack, I did wonder whether a DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack was necessary or would be any good. This track uses the rears a little too much and I preferred the uncompressed LPCM stereo option, which is beautifully clear and conveys the atmosphere and terror just as well.
The music by Goblin is a real feature of the film, creating tension and adding to the both the horror and surreal elements. Romero chose a variety of library music to complement the score, most notably The Gonk, which has become part of popular culture.
A long time in the making, Dawn of the Dead's Blu-ray debut in the UK is a welcome release in itself but coming with the other two cuts, a multitude of extra features and some fan-friendly packaging, this is a terrific package that definitely lives up to Arrow's boast that this is 'the horror movie Blu-ray release of the year'.
Adding to the appeal is the extremely attractive RRP - £17.99 and retailing at a lot less - which makes this a must-buy Blu-ray for any horror fan.
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