Ten years after Romero’s landmark debut film, a sequel was finally released. Collaborating with Italian director Dario Argento (of Inferno and Demons fame) and having Tom Savini handle special effects and make-up, Romero took his vision of an apocalyptic, zombie plagued future to new heights. The first time I saw anything regarding this movie was actually in a special concerning special effects in horror movies and they featured some scenes from this movie and the next one in the series when they were talking about Tom Savini. Having seen Night Of The Living Dead, and being a massive horror movie junkie at the time, I knew that I was going to need to watch this movie. Of course, it would also entail me buying a copy of it as well, which is what bring us to today’s movie, Dawn Of The Dead.
The plot: At a television station in Philadelphia, Francine Parker is trying to help keep the station running as more and more people start leaving due to the zombie outbreak in the city. As a federal doctor and a news anchor are arguing on TV about what is going on, Francine is approached by her boyfriend Stephen Andrews, who tells her to meet him on the roof at 9 that night and they will take the news helicopter and leave the city. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia SWAT team is at a housing project to deal with the tenants, who refuse to hand over their dead bodies for disposal. When some of the tenants start shooting at the police, they are quickly killed and the SWAT move in to escort the rest of the people out of the building. When one of Roger’s teammates starts killing people at will, Roger tries to stop him but the man easily knocks Roger aside and goes to kick in another door when he is killed by a member of another SWAT unit. When some zombies start attacking the cops, Roger kills some of them and then sees a police officer commit suicide after being bit. Heading down to the basement level to get some air, Roger runs into the officer that killed the crazed SWAT member, who introduces himself as Peter Washington, and Roger tells him about leaving with his friend in a helicopter. When a priest tells them that the tenants stored the dead bodies in the basement, Roger and Peter go down and take care of them, then head to the airport to meet Stephen and Francine. As they fly overhead, they witness the National Guard and a bunch of hunters dealing with the zombies out in the woods. The group stops at an abandoned airfield to refuel the helicopter and get attacked by some zombies but manage to escape. As they argue about where they should go, they fly over a mall and decide to land on the roof and find an empty store room where they can rest. As they are sitting there, Roger and Peter decide to head down in the mall and get some supplies, finding some keys to all the stores as they make their way down. Stephen, who had been sleeping when Peter and Roger left, decides to go down after them but runs into a zombie and ends up attracting some of them to the stairwell they entered from. Peter goes and rescues Stephen, taking him back to the department store that they were in and while most of the zombies follow after them, one of them starts making it’s way upstairs. As Peter, Roger, and Stephen try to figure out their next movie, Stephen shows them some maps of the store he found and they find an access tunnel in the elevator shaft that will take them around the stores. They use it to get back to the stairwell and manage to rescue Francine from the zombie, then start bringing up the supplies. As they are eating, Stephen tells them that Francine is pregnant and they decide that they will be able to stand a better chance of surviving if they find a way to seal off the mall and kill the zombies inside. Stephen uses the helicopter to fly them to a nearby truck yard and Roger and Peter start using the trucks and trailers to block off the entrances to the mall but Roger gets reckless and ends up getting bit by some zombies. After tending to Roger’s wounds, Peter and Stephen make their way to the hunting supply store to grab some guns and ammo, then the four of them work together to lock all the entrances, then kill the zombies that are left inside. Peter and Stephen work on building a wall to hide the stairwell and dispose of all of the zombie corpses, then the 4 manage to reap the benefits of their hard work but Francine starts pushing Stephen away as she deals with the hormones during her pregnancy. Roger starts succumbing to the effects of the bites and while Francine and Stephen watch a TV broadcast where a scientist tries listing their possible options, Peter stands watch over his body as it starts to rise and he shoots Roger in the head. Months go by and the zombies continue to come to the mall and they start making plans to travel up north to Canada and start loading up the helicopter. As Stephen give Francine lessons in flying the helicopter, they are spotted by some scouts for a large army of looters, who make plans on raiding the mall. Peter, Francine, and Stephen hear the looters talking over the radio and realize that they won’t be able to stop them so Peter and Stephen head into the mall to put the gates down to the stores to make it harder for them to get in. The looters break into the mall and start looting the place and Stephen, getting upset that they will lose the mall, starts firing at them. As Peter and Stephen are forced to fight with the looters, and Stephen ends up being shot in the arm as he hides in the elevator shaft. With the doors open, the zombies pour into the mall and start to overwhelm some of the looters and manage to attack the injured Stephen. As the looters leave, a zombified Stephen exits the elevator and heads towards the stairwell and begins tearing at the fake wall, eventually breaking it down with the help of some other zombies. As Stephen leads the zombies up the stairs, Peter shoots Stephen when he enters the room, then tells Francine to leave. As zombies start to enter the room and make their way to the roof, Peter contemplates killing himself but at the last second, changes his mind and makes his way to the roof and get in the helicopter with Francine. As they leave the mall, Peter asks how much fuel they have left and when Francine tells him not much, they resign themselves to facing an uncertain future together.
In spite of the gore, Dawn Of The Dead met with high praise from the critics, holding a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus on the site is that it is, “One of the most compelling and entertaining zombie films ever, Dawn of the Dead perfectly blends pure horror and gore with social commentary on bourgeois society.” This would be the second collaboration between Romero and Savini, although Romero had wanted Savini to do the effects on Night OF The Living Dead but was unable to as he was drafted to serve in Vietnam as a combat photographer. Originally, Peter and Francine were scripted to die and some of the setups to these deaths were left in the finished film but Romero decided to change it. The movie was a box office success, earning $55 million off of a $1.5 million budget.
This is, without a doubt, my all time favorite zombie movie. The acting was good, with everyone going through a myriad of emotions throughout the movie; from hopeful to despair and all the stressful moments between the two. The story was good, continuing to showcase Romero’s vision of an undead apocalypse and it’s effects on society, only on a larger scale with this starting out in a city. Tom Savini’s effects were pretty good for the most part but I will admit that there were some times where they did look pretty fake. All told, a fantastic zombie movie whose story is as long lasting as it’s undead stars.
Rating: 5 out of 5