As the zombie horde begins to outnumber the living,
four survivors take shelter in an abandoned shopping mall.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Written and Directed by George A. Romero
Starring Ken Foree, David Emge, Gaylen Ross, Scott H. Reiniger
Sequel to 1968's Night of the Living Dead
If there is one director who has made the biggest impression on me, it is George Romero hands down. He is a household name in the horror genre and one of the best storytellers in cinema. You can't just watch a Romero film and be passive; he makes you work for it. There is always more to what George is putting on screen, he's also asking us to look at ourselves. From the beginning with Night of the Living Dead, Romero weaved social commentary into a genre well known for its shock value. In using that as a kind of Trojan horse, he slipped in his take on the civil rights issues of the day and not so subtly showed us that we had a long way to go to teach true equality.
So it is with Dawn of the Dead and this time around, he pokes at the burgeoning consumer culture that is ubiquitous today but only in its infancy in the late 70's. The characters we follow in this installment are SWAT officers Peter (Ken Foree) and Roger (Scott Reiniger) and WGON TV employees Francine (Gaylen Ross) and Stephen (David Emge). After escaping the city in a helicopter, the group come upon a new site that will gain significance and power in the coming decades: a mall. While this might date the film a little for some, I think it's message about society still rings true and there are metaphors aplenty about consuming both in life and death.
Our heroes take refuge and somehow make a tolerable existence there as the world continues to crumble around them. We learn early on that Francine is pregnant and she serves as the timetable for their occupation of the mall. They carve out a life for themselves for months before another, more familiar, threat emerges: another group of people. If you've never seen this and only had The Walking Dead as reference you could see just how influential George Romero and his films have been. Romero uses his zombies and the humans occupying his decaying world as a mirror for us to gauge just how much "progress" we've made. The fact that his films still resonate to this day says a lot about his effectiveness as a filmmaker and storyteller and just as much about the shambling horde we are and how relentless we are in consuming ourselves.
This is a film I can never get enough of and there is so much more that I have not touched on like the Dario Argento connection and his involvement with the genesis of the film. Not to mention the legendary Goblin providing the soundtrack. I think I need to take a deeper dive into this and the rest of Romero's zombie canon. I highly recommend this flick and other Romero classics like Martin, The Crazies, and Knightriders for a good perspective on his oeuvre.