Romero’s masterpiece. Zombies were never my favourite horror ghouls as a kid and Romero was never really one of “my guys” in the same way Raimi, Carpenter and Craven were. Nevertheless I saw Dawn of the Dead multiple times and enjoyed it plenty yet it wasn’t until this recent rewatch that the film really hooked me in.
Not only is Romero’s film perfect on a conceptual and thematic level, but on a scene-by-scene basis the film has such a sense of rhythm, vigour and irony that it is never anything less than overwhelmingly entertaining. The opening twenty minutes, pre-shopping mall, must be among the most chaotic and relentless to ever open a horror movie. We see a TV station descend into madness and a siege on a housing complex become a gun-blazing massacre. As far as stage-setters go, this one left me in awe. Even the opening shot of a fuzzy red wall somehow feels totally representative of the film’s mood and texture.
In theory, Romero’s preferred technique of shooting endless coverage and sculpting the film in the edit goes against my preferred brand of filmmaking. I like directors who make fewer, deliberate choices with a pre-set idea of style, yet Romero gets a pass from me. He is one of the great director/editors and has such a distinct sense of pacing and energy that his films take on a rhythm of their own, completely unique within genre cinema. It is frenetic and a tonal whirlwind – we go from slapstick to stomach churning violence in mili-seconds – but every shot brings about new information or a new detail that is a delight.
So much of this film’s DNA should be wrong, wrong, wrong but when all is said and done it all amounts to something perfect and complete. The bizarre library music cues, the kind-of-shitty-but-not-really zombie make-up and melted red-crayon blood are Dawn of the Dead as much as anything else. The film feels epic and huge. Almost every cut-away to the zombies stumbling around in the shopping-mall suggests an entire subplot I would be happy to follow for huge stretches of time. The effort put in to this thing is up there on screen. All of these zombies (and it feels like there are genuinely thousands in this thing) look individual and Savini’s inventive effects are quite endless.
As far as horror cinema goes, even genre films in general, Dawn of the Dead really is the ultimate. I love everything about it and it is one of those movies I could quite happily watch every day for the rest of my life.