Combustible Celluloid
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With: David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger, Gaylen Ross
Written by: George A. Romero
Directed by: George A. Romero
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 127
Date: 09/02/1978

Dawn of the Dead (1978)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Mall Tales

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

If all things were equal, George A. Romero's Dead trilogy (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead) would be considered an achievement equal to that of the first Star Wars trilogy and the Lord of the Rings films. Few, if any, other trilogies have been so perfectly sustained from the first film to the last. The second film in Romero's trilogy has been re-released on DVD in Anchor Bay's new "Divimax" format, timed with the theatrical release of the 2004 remake.

Upon a second viewing, Dawn of the Dead is still just as scary and just as relevant (more so than the remake). Romero spends no time explaining the zombie situation and gets right to the heart of the story. Four humans escape in a helicopter, looking for some kind of high ground. They find it in an abandoned shopping mall. They set up house, stock up on guns and food and figure out ways to pass the time. Unfortunately a gang of violent bikers invades the mall and our heroes find themselves with two kinds of menace to fight.

The film gets lots of mileage from the mall footage, showing zombies stumbling around to the beat of "Muzak," trying to ride up and down escalators, and banging on the glass of closed shops. But our live humans take just as much pleasure in "shopping" as the zombies do. It's an extremely pessimistic film with not much good to say about humans as a species.

And yet it's still very scary; our will to live rises above all as the slow, shambling zombies attack. The faster zombies in the new film as well as in 28 Days Later provide a kind of sudden shock, but the slow zombies cause a rising, sickening terror. You might think you can run through them, but when one gets hold of you, everything slowly goes downhill and the only thing you can do is scream.

Anchor Bay's initial DVD release presents a letterboxed transfer of the 127-minute U.S. theatrical cut, complete with the Goblin score. It has a commentary track by Romero, make-up genius Tom Savini, assistant director Chris Romero and moderator Perry Martin. It also includes trailers, TV spots, radio spots, posters and ads, one of Anchor Bay's excellent, in-depth biographies on Romero and a preview of a new Dawn of the Dead comic book.

Note: Anchor Bay released the previous single-disc edition back in March to capitalize on the theatrical release of the remake. Now, in September of 2004, it has released the "Ultimate Edition," which replaces every single previous edition, be it VHS, laserdisc or DVD. It lays to rest the debates among zombie fans over the "proper" version. This four-disc set contains the 127-minute U.S. theatrical cut, which is Romero's preferred cut; the extended version (138 minutes), which premiered at the Cannes Film festival; and the 118-minute European version, which was prepared by Dario Argento and contains a more complete Goblin score.

The plethora of extras begins on Disc One, which is identical to the March, 2004 release. Disc Two includes a commentary track by producer Richard Rubinstein, a commercial for the Monroeville Mall, a photo gallery, a memorabilia gallery and stills. Disc three includes an audio commentary by actors Davis Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger and Gaylen Ross, trailers and TV spots, lobby cards, posters and advertising, a pressbook gallery, home video and soundtrack album artwork, and a Dario Argento bio.

Disc four an all-new documentary, The Dead Will Walk (75 minutes); the original documentary shot by Roy Frumkes on the set, Document of the Dead (92 minutes); on-set home movies by zombie extra Robert Langer (13 minutes) and a Monroeville Mall tour with Ken Foree (12 minutes). The box also comes with a 28-page glossy color comic book. This "Ultimate Edition" goes down in history as one of all-time great DVDs.

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