Dawn of the Dead DVD: Review By Dodd

  • Feature
  • Extras
  • Replay Value
Lately, I have felt a sense of distaste for Hollywood and their choice of horror films. In the past months I have seen two of my favorite horror films receive the remake treatment: Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Dawn of the Dead. Michael Bay (director of sappy, generic hits such as Pearl Harbor) took producer duties for Texas Chainsaw Massacre and turned one of the most frightening, outrageous films in horror history into a "jump out and scare you", big-budget boo-fest that the modern teens probably love. After seeing this film I experienced more terror from filmmaking choices than I did from the film itself and I feared the worst for Dawn of the Dead following in Chainsaw's footsteps. To my great surprise, Dawn is a pleasing slice of shock, splatter, and scares.

As in George Romero's original, Dawn of the Dead deals with the US population turning into flesh-eating zombies. In the middle of the mayhem, a pack of survivors take shelter in a shopping mall. Amongst the group we see a group of underrated, talented actors including Sarah Polley (the nurse), Ving Rhames (the cop), Jake Weber (the salesman), and Mekhi Phifer (the father-to-be). In an effort to avoid joining the army of gruesome undead, our mallrat protagonists form a game plan to escape land and seek salvation by way of the water.

I have to give credit to director Zack Snyder. Romero's original is remembered for its campy gore and zombie executions made possible by special effects wizard Tom Savini. Snyder battled with the MPAA to ensure that the remake would pass with a theatrical R-rating while keeping the spirit of its predecessor's gory effects. Not only that, but Snyder directed this flick with slick style. He uses superb long shots combined with a moderate dose of special effects to show us the society that has been ravaged by evil in an overnight span of time. The first 15 minutes of this film demonstrated some of the best camera work I have seen as it follows speeding cars while simultaneously capturing the chaos outside of the vehicles.

Speaking of the film's opening...wow! This is a movie that does not waste time pulling you in keeping a firm grip. Dawn of the Dead is indeed about the world falling apart due to the outbreak of zombies, and it gets straight to the point. Sarah Polley's character, Ana, comes home from work on what is another quiet evening in the suburbs. When she awakes the next morning, she finds the world around here in sudden disarray. As an act of survival and desperation, Ana has to make a sudden exodus from her previous life and begin running in terror with no idea of what is to come next. It is this opening sequence along with the opening credits that are accompanied by Johnny Cash's "The Man Comes Around" that sends out multiple forewarnings. The first being to leave the room if you couldn't handle the intensity you just witnessed. The second being to kick back and enjoy the pleasurable dose of adrenaline that is about to come with this film.

The music contributes a great deal to the film's tone and pace as well. The mall speakers playing such hits as "Don't Worry Be Happy" in Muzak while zombies hungrily stalk their prey is quite chilling. Not to mention a soundtrack that mixes Johnny Cash, upbeat jazz, and hard rock while horror ensues. There is a memorable moment in the shopping mall when the survivors take the time to enjoy a period of freedom and play while lounge singer Richard Cheese belts out a jovial cover of "Down With the Sickness" by Disturbed. The tunes range from dark to peppy, and this contributes to the film's versatile ability to focus on not only moments of horror, but also moments of comedy and drama.

In comparing the remake with the original, I still have to give the upper hand to Romero's classic. Sure, the remake was able update everything from special effects and zombie makeup to better actors, but the original established the premise and did a superb job considering the 1970's time frame and its limited low budget. I could tell that the remake paid homage to its predecessor as opposed to replacing it. The stars of the original Dawn, Scott Reineger and Ken Foree, pop up for cameos as well as the special effects guru himself, Tom Savini.

I've learned something in the past few months: Michael Bay is the anti-Christ. After destroying Chainsaw, word has it that he is moving on to redo The Amityville Horror. Why the director of Armageddon is being trusted with the horror genre is beyond me. But that is beside the point. I am talking about Dawn of the Dead, and Michael Bay is thankfully not involved with this project. Dawn of the Dead is a remake that seems to have entrusted the horror buff instincts of director Zack Snyder, as opposed to studio forces that just want to see some cash flow. I never thought I would say this, but I bestow my blessing upon Dawn of the Dead. It is an originally done horror flick that aims to scare and provide a fun ride.
Unrated Version

Zack Snyder introduces the unrated cut of the film as his preferred version. There are extra scenes of gore and violence here that I am sure can be detected by the keen eye of a horror fan.

Commentary by Director Zack Snyder and Producer Eric Newman

I have to respect these guys. These gents provide a very insightful commentary that reinforces my comment earlier that the Dawn remake pays homage to the original. Cameos by original team players are pointed out as well as the indication that the mall stores hold fictional names due to real-life franchises not wanting to affiliate their brand name with splatter. One of the fictional stores is called Gaylen Ross paying tribute to the actress from the original Dawn.

The Lost Tape: Andy's Last Days

At one point in the film Ken (Ving Rhames) forms a long distance friendship with a survivor named Andy. Andy is stranded on a gun shop roof across the street while Ken is stranded on the mall roof. The two of them play games of chess using binoculars and giant dry ink boards until Andy meets his fate. This special feature chronicles what occurs from Andy's perspective across the way. This is a clever concept that makes for a fun time-filling view, but nothing much is learned here that adds to the plotline of the feature.

Special Bulletin: Zombie Invasion

While the survivors of the film scurry around destroying the undead and fighting for their lives, news footage plays in the background to add to the feel of national crisis. This is basically that footage. Another special feature that is more filler than exciting, which is why it serves as a background detail in the movie. The real treat is the horror in the foreground of the film, not news footage!

Deleted Scenes with Commentary by Zack Snyder and Eric Newman

These scenes join the ranks of most DVD deleted scenes by not contributing important details that solve unanswered questions about the film. However, they are not all pointless. With approximately ten short deleted scenes, this could be worth a quick look.

Splitting Headaches: Anatomy of Exploding Heads

Here is a little something for you horror fans out there. This short doc details the visual effects behind the destruction of zombie heads throughout the film. Very fun stuff here.

Attack of the Living Dead

Another gore effects feature that explains the mechanisms behind specific death scenes in the film. This is another worthy view for gore hounds.

Raising the Dead

I found this doc to be especially fascinating. While watching Romero's original Dead films years ago, I curiously pondered the process of transforming many extras into zombie creatures. Raising the Dead takes the viewer through the make-up process and explains the difference between certain looks such as "freshly killed" and "rotting".

A very nice anamorphic widescreen presentation. I do not own the top of the line equipment to experience the quality to the fullest, but the film does succeed visually with its creative direction and visual effects that do not look too noticeably fake.
Dolby Digital 5.1; It sounds amazing coming from my PC harman/kardon speakers. I can imagine it is probably even better on a surround system.
When I first saw the Dawn of the Dead remake in theaters, I thought it was a worthy and impressive remake well done. Since then I've had time to dwell and I've come to the realization that I like the movie even more than I thought I did. Now that it is finally on DVD, I had the opportunity to enjoy this DVD once more and confirm that, yes, this is a must-see flick in the horror genre.

The special features are quite a treat as well. The doc*mentaries about the gory effects are a delight to watch, but I wish the disc included a regular behind-the-scenes featurette. I have a feeling the cast and Zack Snyder would have had more interesting things to say compared to your average, superficial set exclusives.

Are you a horror fan? Do you just like that occassional scary movie fix? Then please rent or buy this movie! Dawn of the Dead is a very impressive outing and a great example of how remakes should be done. With Halloween approaching, add this to your must-see list. You will not regret it when you feel the adrenaline of its entertainment value.

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