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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 9.39%
Average: 2.76%
Pretty Bad: 4.97%
Total Crap: 8.84%

6 reviews, 145 user ratings

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Dawn of the Dead (1979)
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Zombies DO NOT RUN."
5 stars

As every horror fan knows, George A. Romero was once slated to direct the movie version of Stephen King's epic "The Stand" (the job eventually went to Mick Garris, who made a faithful if pedestrian miniseries). Some fans of Romero and King have long mourned the unmade Romero "Stand" movie -- as if he hadn't already made it.

Right around the same time King's novel came out, Romero's own bleak dystopian vision hit theaters. I submit that Dawn of the Dead captures more of the essence of The Stand (obviously due to synchronicity and not a conscious echo by Romero) than any Romero version of The Stand would have. It is, really, The Stand in miniature -- forget about the zombies and this could be the untold story of four Captain Trips survivors holed up in a mall. It's obvious that Romero and King both had similar dark things running through their heads, back there in the late '70s. King's book and Romero's movie are spiritual brothers, bookends, companion pieces. In both works, the "malaise" of the Carter administration, Jim Jones, post-Vietnam, and the eerie strains of the Eagles' "Hotel California" provide the tonal backdrop. The book and the movie are about working-class people dealing with the end of the world. If Romero and King had collaborated on a movie version of The Stand, it would have been as redundant as a King novelization of Dawn of the Dead would've been. (Romero co-authored a Dawn novelization, by the way, and it stands in relation to the movie much as Garris' The Stand does to King's book: nice effort, but can't hold a candle to the source.)

Few opening sequences in movie history are as realistically frazzled and hectic as Dawn's first reel. We begin in a chaotic TV station, where pundits argue about what is to be done about the growing zombie problem, while the station manager insists on scrolling the names of inactive rescue posts because viewers will tune out if the TV doesn't show something. Station technician Fran (Gaylen Ross) gets a visit from boyfriend Stephen (David Emge), a stressed-out helicopter pilot, who says it's time for them to take off. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Pittsburgh, a SWAT team is busting into a slum building to deal with a man who's taken the building hostage. One of the SWAT guys, the relatively compassionate Roger (Scott Reiniger), runs into a guy from another unit, Peter (Ken Foree). A member of Roger's unit had gone apeshit and blown away a few of the minority tenants until getting shot himself, and there's the suggestion that Peter took him down. After dealing with some of the zombies in the building, Roger and Peter join Stephen (an acquaintance of Roger's) and Fran, and they take off in Stephen's chopper.

Dawn of the Dead is often referred to as an epic, though nothing much happens. Once the four survivors land on the roof of a shopping mall and decide to stay there for a while, the action is as contained and limited in scope as either of the bracketing Dead films. There's a lot of downtime, a lot of waiting. Yet all of it works, because Romero, who was his own editor this time out, keeps the scenes clipped and purposeful, wedded to a hybrid soundtrack of library music and a menacing, John Carpenter-esque synth score by the Italian rock group Goblin. (The library music really fails only once, I think -- right near the end, when Peter arrives at his final decision about whether to stay or leave. The music Romero uses here is exceptionally cheesy even by '70s standards; for a brief moment, the movie is awful.)

The added running time gave Romero a chance to dig into the four characters. Stephen, we see repeatedly, is a rotten shot who fancies himself a gunman. He wants to protect and care for Fran, but he's just not the survivalist that Peter or Roger is. He's realistically flawed but never really annoying -- the tension between him and Fran seems to have a history beyond the movie. Fran, as ably played by Gaylen Ross, suggests a real woman caught in the midst of an unreal situation. Her best moment comes when she's sitting behind a closed glass door and a lone zombie in a softball uniform sits mesmerized, staring at her as if her beauty, not the flesh and guts that constitute zombie food, were attracting him; Fran sadly stares back at him. Peter is a strong, stoic figure, once again the black hero of a Romero Dead film, though he also gets some telling lines like "We're thieves and we're bad guys -- that's exactly what we are." Even when Peter aims his gun at Stephen, to show him what it feels like (Stephen's bad aim has almost killed Peter), Ken Foree plays the moment as something that regrettably has to be done, not as a sadistic laugh on the white boy.

The most interesting character, though, is Roger. An experienced SWAT guy, he's seen a lot of shit, but he still seems to have a laid-back, almost sunny demeanor. He's the joker in the deck, and also the wild card: at a certain point in a mission involving trucks, he loses his cool and forgets his bag in one of the trucks; this leads to his eventual downfall. Nothing in any of the Dead films has as much pathos as Roger's knowledge of his certain fate. And he has a moment worthy of any hyperbolic scene in a King novel: the delirious Roger needs to hear that the humans have triumphed over the zombies -- "We whipped 'em, didn't we? Didn't we? ... We whipped 'em and we got it ALL!" In tone and dialogue the scene is so perfectly King-esque that you might see what I mean about Romero's The Stand being beside the point.

The best part of Dawn is yet to come, though: a gang of marauding bikers, led by special-effects master Tom Savini, find their way to the mall and have a good ol' time harassing, killing, and defacing the zombies before the tables are turned. Savini has been on hand throughout the movie, behind the scenes, rigging such memorable gags as Zombie Vs. Helicopter Blade and various squib hits. At the climax he goes all out, letting the zombies loose on the bikers, with guts squirting and being shoved right into the camera, in bright red color. (Oddly, Savini -- who plays a rather obnoxious, racist biker -- doesn't give himself a spectacular send-off; he just has a zombie throw him off a balcony.) The survivors are halved in number, and Peter, aiming his gun at his head, seems to flash on the fate of Duane Jones in Night of the Living Dead and think better of it.

Romero gives his survivors a relatively happy ending -- an escape of sorts, but to where and to what? The final images are not of escape or humanity, but of the left-behind zombies in the mall as rinky-dink Muzak plays. It's a chilling premonition of what the cities of America, overrun by the dead, will soon look like.

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originally posted: 09/19/06 22:42:01
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User Comments

10/30/16 morris campbell good but night of the living dead is better the 68 version of course 4 stars
3/24/14 Justin R. Not just the best zombie movie, but one of the best movies ever created. 5 stars
10/07/13 Nick Truly a perfect film, great characters, Especially Scott Reiniger's Roger. This is tops. 5 stars
8/06/12 Jeff Wilder Brilliant mix of satire and horror. A masterpiece. 5 stars
3/17/12 Silkworm Crap acting but who cares it still rocks 4 stars
12/29/11 David Hollingsworth Romero's stellar zombie magnum opus 5 stars
11/16/11 Golden J. Williams Jr. Scary to think about, fun to watch. 4 stars
6/12/11 art white zombie and zombie are the only Zombie flick's i've seen, i want to keep it thatway. 1 stars
7/06/10 art 1932's WHITE ZOMBIE,and lucio fulci's 1980 ZOMBIE,makes you forget about ROMERO"S FILM"S! 1 stars
6/03/10 User Name George A. Romero created the zombie flick with Night; he topped himself with Dawn. 5 stars
1/11/10 excitement love art is right zombie is a better ultra gore film 2 stars
12/26/09 Chad Dillon Cooper The Citizen Kane of horror films. Enuff said 5 stars
6/10/09 art said it before and i'll say it again,ONLY A ZOMBIE WOULD LOVE THIS JUNK! 1 stars
4/23/09 blah blah amazing zombie film 5 stars
4/02/09 action movie fan us against them-gorehound,s movie -silly more funny at times than scary 2 stars
12/19/08 Craig D. Lives up to its reputation as the best zombie movie ever made. 5 stars
1/09/08 art only for DEAD-HEAD"S 1 stars
11/04/07 Ivana Mann The Citizen Kane of horror films.Witty,scary & smart-they don't make em like this anymore! 5 stars
2/16/07 Joe Morris if i ever meet who stopped this guy from directing resident evil, i'll kick their ass 5 stars
1/08/07 Carlie and Katie OMG Great movie! we totally did a school project on the DEAD movies! AWESOME! 4 stars
12/05/06 Stanley Thai A very good film with scares and laughs. 4 stars
10/29/06 brandon This is by far the best zombie movie I have ever seen, remake sucked. 5 stars
10/25/06 Drew G Why does everyone say zombies shouldn't run... who said these are zombies? 5 stars
10/05/06 william c. none better 5 stars
10/01/06 Agent Sands Incredibly imaginative, spectacularly well-made epic sequel. 5 stars
9/23/06 David Pollastrini great make-up 4 stars
9/20/06 Pritchett The HOLY BIBLE of zombie films...and anyone who says otherwise is, simply, wrong. 5 stars
8/25/06 havthat There are so many layers to this movie, it's worth watching even if you're not into zombies 5 stars
8/09/06 Dragon The Artist Yet another horror classic to be owned!!!! 5 stars
8/02/06 dan one of the all time great horror films.must see 5 stars
7/17/06 mark claustrophic as hell-this movie stayed with me for months 5 stars
3/24/06 Dethbyhashi Great movie with some small flaws 4 stars
2/20/06 chris f a tue classic 5 stars
12/14/05 Steven Lewis Great Romero Film. A Must have for any collection. 5 stars
10/30/05 K. Sear Spectacular. Nothing else needs to be said. 5 stars
10/20/05 Eden Big empty and dull. I dont why this is considered a classic. NOTLD is much better 2 stars
9/23/05 Jethro In cut scenes Peter was really a bad guy who stole the swat uniform then murdered wooley 4 stars
8/23/05 Eden Overrated 3 stars
8/20/05 T-100 crap 5 stars
8/18/05 ES The original paved the way for the remake, I've seen both, the updated version is better 3 stars
8/06/05 Pierre Classic! 5 stars
8/01/05 Martin brilliant satire and commentary. forever a classic.cheesy effects only increased the realis 5 stars
7/28/05 Cooper I'm sure most people agree that the best part of this movie's when Wooley goes apeshit! 5 stars
7/26/05 manuel This was his best! 4 stars
7/25/05 Eric Rollins Said to be a classic, actually truly amateurish trash. 1 stars
7/04/05 Ice Queen masterpiece 5 stars
6/26/05 DennyRoss I loved this one - cops & robbers for adults...with zombies!! 5 stars
6/25/05 Kankasaur Loved the remake, the original's different but no less cool 5 stars
4/25/05 Indrid Cold The cheesy look and music are quite annoying and the story is actually fairly ponderous. 3 stars
3/28/05 William It doesn't get any better. Loved it so much, I bought the collectors edition. GREAT! 5 stars
3/22/05 Uncle Phucker Thank goodness we have DVD to watch. The new re make was a goof. 5 stars
1/21/05 das hilarious!!!!!!! 5 stars
1/19/05 Stefan Halka Shallow characters, overlong, dull and just plain overrated. 3 stars
1/10/05 Lucas Stenz Great film, best sequel I can think of 5 stars
11/14/04 Diana Popescu Waist of time, put me to sleep 1 stars
11/12/04 American Slasher Goddess One of the best zombie movies ever. 5 stars
11/07/04 J.D. No real fan could actually like this boring flick. A great idea that was wasted! 1 stars
11/04/04 Lord Durvok 2 One of the best horror films ever. This is not an opinion. 5 stars
10/31/04 asina almost perfect. 5 stars
10/28/04 fagabeefy cool flick , the make-up effects sucked hard though 2 stars
10/25/04 Ric A decent apocalyptic vision, but it's not scary, thrilling, or even particularly funny. 2 stars
10/21/04 Kevin it was ok, but not horror 2 stars
9/24/04 RiverRat Truly a great film - not for morons who only want "splatter-porn" crappola. A classic. 5 stars
9/15/04 yo amazing 5 stars
9/14/04 Shane snell this movie was grate i really like it 5 stars
9/03/04 me satire for the smart guts for the layman 5 stars
6/24/04 Neil Simple, Silly, Low Budget, Mediocre and Incredibly Magnificent 5 stars
5/24/04 sherone rose i loved dawn of the dead and its cast they were brilliant 5 stars
5/05/04 lewis hall all time classic. they dontmake flims like that no more iz romero got out new?????/ 5 stars
5/01/04 dead next door CLASSIC 4 stars
4/19/04 Josh are you people serious? this is so cheesy its unwatchable, worst zombies ever 1 stars
4/18/04 Father Merrin There is only 1 zombie movie & this is it! A true classic. A re-make is unnecessary! 5 stars
4/13/04 Adam D just seen this late night a few days ago and thot it was insanely good. 5 stars
4/10/04 American Slasher Goddess One of the best zombie movies ever. 5 stars
4/08/04 Eloise sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo much better than the crappy 04 remake. 5 stars
4/06/04 glenn good movie, new one is better, also try phantasm!! 5 stars
4/01/04 tediboy this classic is still the BEST!!! 5 stars
3/29/04 true review - correct review everytime notld is masterpiece because it wasn't written by romero, his movies suck 1 stars
3/23/04 Morally Sound My second favorite movie of all time. The best in the Living Dead Trilogy! 5 stars
3/21/04 Samuel don't know if its better than Night of the Living Dead, but its still a damn good movie 5 stars
3/20/04 truth zombies are cheesy, movie is pretty boring, not scary, NOTLD is much better 2 stars
3/14/04 Jack Sommersby An innovative masterpiece. Nothing's ever come even close. 5 stars
3/13/04 Carl This movie KICKS ASS!! 5 stars
3/11/04 Robin Flores This was a disturbing movie along the lines of Edgar Allen Poe's Masque of the Red Death. 5 stars
2/13/04 Kai A total classic. 5 stars
1/24/04 Elena At least it's honest about being a cheesy zombie flick, and doesn't try to be smug... 1 stars
1/16/04 Kimberly Lynn Cole ROGER RULES!!!! I LOVE SCOTT REINIGER what a cutie pie!!!! 5 stars
1/15/04 Matt A great cult classic!! One of my favorites 5 stars
12/07/03 Richard Long Best Horror Movie Ever Made 5 stars
12/05/03 Makaveli greatest movie eva made - Hands down! 5 stars
11/29/03 chris k my fav movie of all time 5 stars
11/27/03 John well it's simply of the best horror movies ever made 5 stars
11/02/03 American Slasher Goddess The best zombie movie ever. 5 stars
10/20/03 zombie lover dude this movie is awsome!!!!!! love the spfx!!!!! 5 stars
10/06/03 Jack Sommersby Original and brilliant. Standout set piece after standout set piece. Grade A stuff. 5 stars
8/14/03 Johnny P Awesome zombie flick. You go George! 5 stars
8/03/03 bronson fantastic 5 stars
7/04/03 Dave Hopman Bring on the fourth Dead Movie, George!! 5 stars
6/18/03 Jim Myers I saw this Masterpiece when I was 14...I will be 37 in August, and I still think it is The 5 stars
5/25/03 Scott(first watched when 5) Night:67% - Day:45% & Dawn:93% "Complete Masterpeice" 5 stars
5/05/03 Jon "Thumb the Toad" Lyrik I saw the Director's Cut. Brilliant. 5 stars
4/12/03 William Stewart Has to be on my top 5 best horror films--Good Stuff George! 5 stars
1/17/03 mans0n i dont think i will ever be able to get the music played inside the mall out of my head! 5 stars
1/13/03 Stevo stunningly evocative and creates a unique picture. beyond horror 5 stars
12/29/02 Jack Sommersby One of the best. Brilliantly realized and executed. 5 stars
10/26/02 Charles Tatum The sequels were better than the first one 5 stars
10/01/02 murat Good film but what was about that raid on apartment at the beginning huh? 5 stars
9/22/02 Morally Sound George Romero + Tom Savini = A+ Horror Movies 5 stars
8/14/02 palaboy101 George Romero, you're the best! 5 stars
7/12/02 .Choadushouse. This movie really just licked balls (maybe good for laughs)...and so does the original! 2 stars
4/25/02 Phoenix Not a classic at all. Horrible movie and terrible acting. Stick with the original. 1 stars
4/03/02 Edfink Lombardo A masterpiece of horror...Wonderfully atmospheric. Delivers the goods with consistency! 5 stars
2/09/02 Ebony One of the best...I heard that BeaconPictures is remaking this. Hope they don't ruin it. 5 stars
1/04/02 Jake Trashy, not funny or scary. All I got was gore and a hate for people. 1 stars
12/15/01 Peter Herman shocking... not because of the gore but because of the analogy made... 5 stars
12/09/01 Keith Up there with Evil Dead, The Shining and Dead Alive as greatest horror film 5 stars
11/03/01 Mike J I still haven't been brave enough to revisit the one movie that scared/scarred me as a kid! 5 stars
9/30/01 Mohammad J. Indeed fucking awesome 5 stars
8/07/01 palaboy THIS IS THE BEST HORROR MOVIE, PERIOD. 5 stars
8/06/01 E-Funk The only good mall is a 'dead' one. This movie kicks ass and takes names. Foree is the man. 5 stars
7/19/01 Ted Villavicencio This movie is the reason i loved the horror genre! One of the greatest zombie flicks ever! 5 stars
6/30/01 Zombie In the not too distant future. 5 stars
6/23/01 Ian Barr Brilliant. Satirical and Wild. 5 stars
6/20/01 Elvisfan Great frigging B-movie; if you didn't like it, keep it to yourselves 5 stars
6/19/01 Xx-Bull-xX Not only does the movie rock, but the soundtrack kicks ass! 5 stars
6/15/01 zombie one of the best horror films ever made 5 stars
6/05/01 Just like a Wop . . . Saw this last fall and was completely engaged. Wonderfully dreary. 5 stars
3/26/01 Atir 2,000 Zombies bite the dust,in a mall of all places!Horrible makeup job,wardrobe&acting 1 stars
10/16/00 The Bomb 69 campy and funny, i laughed throughout 5 stars
10/14/00 B.J. Charles This movie is one of the most interesting zombie films I have ever watched. 5 stars
7/03/00 DAVID This is truly the best horror film ever made!!!! 5 stars
5/03/00 PJ Even better than the first, absolutely scary, funny, smart, and brilliant, Romero's best 5 stars
4/12/00 Adrian Pickworth One of my all-time faves! 5 stars
11/14/99 J. Shopa Absolutely the best movie ever 5 stars
9/20/99 Travis D'Souza This is the best fucking movie I have ever seen. 5 stars
8/11/99 Japtalian One of the best zombie movies ever. Soundtrack is eerie. 5 stars
7/18/99 Eric Would be a lot better if the action scenes weren't so badly choreographed 3 stars
7/05/99 David Keech A complete gore-fest. Absolutely hilarious if you recognize the satire. 4 stars
6/28/99 Steve Bashakus This is the best horror film ever made - the yardstick by which all things are measured. 5 stars
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  10-Apr-1979 (NR)
  DVD: 07-Sep-2004

  02-Jul-1979 (18)

  02-Jul-1979 (R)

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