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Dawn of the Dead
Review written by: Alex Sandell
For decades now horror fans have been waiting for something real to sink their fangs into. Celluloid meat raw enough to leave an aftertaste of blood in their mouths for weeks. Something with balls – and any other juicy exposed organs that could be splattered across the screen. It's been a long time since horror has been heavy metal or punk rock. As soon as Freddy started in with the wisecracking, terror flicks became less AC/DC and The Sex Pistols and more Dokken and Bon Jovi.
For decades horror fans have been clamoring for a director with a spine. Someone able to make them laugh, cringe, squirm and scream all in the course of a scene. Someone with the guts to spill them on the screen. "Where," horror fans have been asking, "is the next George A. Romero?"
In a way it's fitting that we've found our knight in soiled armor at the helm of a remake of Romero's classic, Dawn of the Dead. He's here and he's providing us with the horror, gore and grit we've been after for what seems like forever. The 2004 Dawn of the Dead is punk rock. It's irreverent, it's raunchy, it's witty, it's daring, it's Janet Jackson's tit at a halftime show, it's a middle finger in the face of authority and it's about fucking time!
Admit it, gang – we were getting desperate. 28 Days Later?!? The only reason that piece of crap made any money at all is because a bunch of mainstream critics heaped praise on it due to the fact that their knowledge of horror history doesn't go back any farther than 28 days. Cabin Fever?!? It had its moments... every single one of them stolen from superior horror films. But we took what they gave us, didn't we? Swallowing down Jeepers Creepers 2, Darkness Falls, Cold Creek Manor -- okay, maybe not Cold Creek Manor, but you get the idea. We were pathetic horror whores, humping whatever bone Hollywood threw our way.
Then, to add insult to injury (caused by excessive bone humping), we find out that between writing crappy Scooby-Doo movies, James Gunn typed out a remake of Dawn of the Dead. Horror fans everywhere cringed in response. I think a couple even got drunk and typed mean things on message boards.
In an apparent attempt at pissing us off past the point of no return, Universal went and hired a complete unknown to direct Gunn's work. His name was Zack Snyder, not that it made a mucous squirt of a difference. "Our salvation may still come at the hands of an Evil Dead 4 or a new Romero Dead flick," we sighed, "but it's certainly not going to come at the hands of two dudes whose names sound like they were borrowed from an 80s' hair metal band." I'm not sure if we actually used the word "certainly," but if we did, we deserve to be whipped like an actor portraying Jesus in a Mel Gibson movie.
But Hollywood was throwing us a curve ball, when we most expected a bone. Zack and Gunn have created one of those near perfect horror films that will be scaring people for generations. This one is right up there with Phantasm, Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2, Night of the Living Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the original Dawn of the Dead. This movie screams to be played on a gigantic drive-in screen at 2 in the morning. It yearns to disturb you. It sets out to reward you for being a horror fan. "The wait is over," it tells each of us, "and we're going to make sure every minute each of you waited was worth it."
Dawn of the Dead is a remake in name, only. People are holed up in a mall and surrounded by zombies. The comparisons pretty much end there. In this Dawn of the Dead the zombies are fast. Not 28 Days Later fast but more like the T-1000 running after the car in Terminator 2 fast. Is this a good thing? Not really, but it isn't the end of the world.
Unlike the generic looking crap they passed off as zombies in Resident Evil, the zombies in the new Dawn are ugly as hell. When fans of great horror makeup artists see the infected fat lady they'll breathe a sigh of relief: David LeRoy Anderson does Tom Savini proud. The work he did on the fat infected zombie woman is really incredible. The audience shuttered every time any character in the film went near her.
But a dead fat chick isn't all we get. There are zombies cut down at the legs by a chainsaw. There's a pregnant zombie chained to a bed (now that one's gonna keep me up nights). There are zombies called "twitchers" that can't even get being a zombie right and simply twitch around until a sympathetic human puts them out of their misery.
While the variety of zombie is arguably better than in recent zombie films, there still isn't the multi-flavored lot of cannibals that Romero gave us in the original Dawn of the Dead or Day of the Dead. While he gets a lot of things right, Snyder can't inject personality into his walking dead in the way George always did.
Where Snyder succeeds exceedingly well is in his comedic timing. Yes, this is a horror movie. Yes, the scares are taken seriously. But damn is this thing full of some sick humor. Snyder can move from a nail-bitingly intense scene to a hysterically funny moment in the blink of an eye. And this director is one twisted bastard. When a newborn baby (albeit zombified) is shot at point-blank range it becomes obvious that all bets are off. This movie isn't a "safe" film. It's doubtful you'll be able to figure out who lives and who dies.
This is the movie edges of seats were invented for. I watched this in a theater full of horror veterans. The "been there, done that" type who've seen it all. These people cheered for Tom Savini (makeup artist from the original Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead films). They laughed and clapped when Ken Foree (star of the original Dawn of the Dead) made his cameo appearance on the big screen TVs in the mall playing a televangelist. This was definitely a seasoned crowd. But they were scared. They were jumping. And, if ever there was a sign of a good horror movie, they were talking to the screen. They were yelling advice to the characters every step of the way. And they loved it.
This is what they had been waiting for. This is the excellent horror movie they've sat through hundreds of crappy horror movies hoping to see. The movie's not perfect, but it's as close to perfect as a remake could ever get. It's ironic that last year's remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and now this year's remake of Dawn of the Dead both turned out to be far more unique than "original" films such as 28 Days Later and Cabin Fever.
Get yourself a ticket and a big bucket of popcorn. Sit back and enjoy the ride. As a fellow horror fan, I know you've earned it.
NOTE: Stay through the credits! Do not -- I repeat -- DO NOT leave when the credits begin. Watch 'til the very end. You'll thank me later.
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