“My granddad was a priest in Trinidad. He used to tell us, ‘When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth.'”
Unlike Night of the Dead, it only took me one viewing to fall in love with Dawn of the Dead, and this time through, I liked it even more. This sequel presumably picks up pretty shortly after Night because it starts with a news team arguing over whether or not they should continue to put up the safety zones that are shown from the first film. Things are a hell of a lot more chaotic at the news station than at the house in Night, though, and that feeling of chaos lingers throughout most of Dawn, making it arguably an even more interesting film. In Dawn, we follow a group of people trying to escape the big city during this zombie apocalypse. They take their helicopter, and end up at a mall outside of the city. They hole up there and do their best to survive.
Where Night takes place almost entirely in a house, Dawn takes place almost entirely in a mall. Fortunately, a mall is a much bigger area, filled with virtually everything these people need to survive. I always loved this idea, and Romero executes on it so damn well. Even though this is a movie about zombies, it still feels incredibly realistic with the way Romero has his characters handle this situation. This time out, the gore is cranked up to ten, and Tom Savini’s signature practical gore effects are on display right from the start. I adore Savini’s work, and it looks fantastic here.
Most people say there is a strong consumerism message in Dawn of the Dead, and I could see how that argument could be made, I guess. But, for me, much like the first film in Romero’s Dead series, this is really more about the dangers of man. In the original, the person that our main characters have to fear the most are not the zombies, but actually the other people in the house, and whether or not they’ll sabotage their plans to survive. Then, of course, there is the ending, which I won’t spoil. In Dawn, I feel like the same message is emphasized, but turned up a few notches. Even though it is literally the living versus the dead, the humans cannot help but lose their friggin’ minds, reducing themselves into chaos. Eventually, this message is driven home because, again, the animal that our main characters have to fear the most becomes other living people rather than the zombies. That’s why both of these movies are less about consumerism for me and more about the dangers and selfishness of human beings. Yes, our heroes are in a mall, and eventually turn to the creature comforts that said mall offers, but that’s because it provides them much needed comfort more than anything else.
Whatever message you take away from Dawn of the Dead, there is no denying that it makes you think more than most films in this sub-genre. It has a wonderfully engaging story that never feels too slow, it has excellent special effects that make it much gorier than its predecessor, and it just builds on this incredible universe that Romero started with Night of the Living Dead. Dawn is easily one of the greatest zombie films ever made, and it’s one that can be watched over and over again to appreciate even more.