Look back on a classic Zombie film – Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Score: 4/4 Bite Marks

Following an ever-growing epidemic of zombies that have risen from the dead, two Philadelphia S.W.A.T. team members, a traffic reporter, and his television executive girlfriend seek refuge in a secluded shopping mall.


Shopping Announcement – “Attention all shoppers. If you have a sweet tooth, we have a special treat for you. If your purchases in the next half hour amount to five dollars or more, we’ll give you a bag of hard candy free! For the kiddies, or enjoy yourself. So hurry and do your shopping!”

As the second film in Romero’s Living Dead series, he ramped up the scale while keep all the personality of the original film, Night of the Living Dead. In this second movie, it shows the effects of a zombie outbreak on a modern suburban city (modern for the late 70’s) and the mass hysteria of the town. In this review I will try to focus on two aspects of the film; The special effects and the social commentary.

Social Commentary

The opening of this film does nothing but build suspense and hype as everyone is seen running around the news station while a debate raging on whether or not the infected are cannibals. This is the first introduction to the theme of humans fighting among themselves rather than working together to kill the zombies.

Roger – “One-stop shopping: everything you need, right at your fingertips.”

This theme is reinforced during a scene showing the gathering of military and militia with guns to clear the countryside of the walking dead without any fear or threat of being overrun. Cutting from shots of zombies dying to people standing around talking while drinking tea.

Throughout this film it is shown that zombies are slow moving and a long as the characters pay attention and don’t get cocky that they can both outsmart and outrun the zombies. This is the downfall of almost every single main character in this film. During the swat raid it is only when they become cocky and complacent with running rings around the zombies is when they are caught and bitten.

Along with this, the other theme that runs along side is that of material possessions during an apocalyptic event. Shown heavily as in a shopping montage and bank robbery that once they had settled in the mall, it’s the small luxuries that are unnecessary in an apocalypse. While providing short term join after looting, the items that are worthless if there aren’t others to show off to. Following Rogers death it becomes quite apparent that the luxuries of every material good in the mall does not equal happiness. It is not until the second half of the film that this is re-enforced by the first theme.

The first combination of these themes is when Roger is losing grip on reality and his situation within the shopping mall. He is ultimately bitten while trying to take an unnecessary risk to get his backpack that he left in the truck despite them having unlimited resources inside the mall.

Motorcycle Raider – “O.K. Hey, you, in the mall, listen! We don’t like people who don’t share. You just fucked up REAL bad!”

The second is when Stephen attempts to defend the mall from the biker gang rather than stay hidden. While Peter suggests that they stay put, don’t respond to the bikers radio calls and let them take whatever they want, Stephen decided to attempt to defend. Despite fighting and killing many bikers Stephen is wounded and later attacked by the horde of zombies that had entered the mall while following the bikers. While the mall could have provided a safe space, and more than enough resources for both parties. It is the fighting between humans for the material possessions that provided the down fall for both parties.


Special Effects


While dated when compared to the amazing effects done of shows like The Walking Dead, many of the effects used and seen in this movie were cutting edge for the time. While most of the ‘basic’ zombies were coated in a blue-grey makeup with clothes that they had worn to the set, it is the ‘special zombies’ and fight scenes that really ramp up the scale.

One of the opening scenes shows this to the full effect. During the Swat raid you can see the vivid blood, the practical effects and the bullet sprays. Mid scene, a door swings open as one of the Swat Officers fired their shotgun causing the head of the man standing inside to explode in a shower of tiny head fragments and blood.  While only captured for a few seconds, it holds so much weight as one of the most important scenes in the movie. It combines all the effects at once to produce a jaw dropping experience. I am not sure how many times I have seen this movie but every single time, I am stunned.

One of the massive stands outs is the blood. Throughout many scenes it comes across as a bright fluorescent magenta, orange or red. This helps remove this movie for reality and helps the comic book feel of the film to settle in. In many scenes it also helps as a stark colour contrast between the often white or dull costumes and the background colours of the mall.

Blades – “Say goodbye, creep!”

Other scenes in the movie also use the fake blood and gore to its effect to show the damage weapons have against the walking dead. From everyday items like screwdrivers, knives, large mallets to the spinning blade of a helicopter are shown as useful tools again the dead. While they are great kills, the machete raises the bar in two scenes. The first being, a zombie is kicked over only to have a machete driven into its skull from above by Blades, the biker. Once again the scene is only a few seconds long but is considered one of the most famous zombie kill featured in the film has since seen many homages in other movies and shows. The second of which is while Blades is traveling in a motorcycle and uses the blade to remove the head right off the body of the zombie. 

While this movie is quite dated and might be a little slow for some, there is both charm and horror hidden within the fluorescent blood, grey zombies and strong themes of human nature that helps this movie stay popular among fans of the genre.

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2 Comments

  1. Dan O. says:

    Got everything a great horror movie should have. Nice review.

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    1. Broll says:

      Absolutely, it’s one of my go to classics. Thanks for the comment, still working on the longer format review. Glad you liked it.

      Like

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