Why Dawn of the Dead May Not Be The Greatest Zombie Film Ever Made...
*"NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Zombob's Zombie News & Reviews
First off, let me start off by saying I am a diehard zombie fan. Ever since I was a young’n old enough to take a wee on my own – I’ve been into zombie films. They are what got me into the horror genre which has been a lifelong obsession. While many complain there are TOO many zombie films – I complain there aren’t enough.
With that said; I am not the biggest fan of the original DAWN OF THE DEAD. Yes folks, get them pitchforks ready cause I’m about to unload.
Let’s get a few things straight first because this may sound harsher than I want it to. I don’t HATE this film by any stretch. In fact, I do enjoy it for its merits that I find appealing and am no stranger to popping it in on occasion. I understand its significance and importance, its cultural impact, its impact on zombies in general, all of the above – I get that. That however does not stop me from groaning at every top ten zombie films list ever made when this tops the #1 spot, or when it’s listed as being the main influence as whatever zombie film being made at the time to entice fans to check out what schlock the director/writer/producer is churning out. It’s more times cited for influencing the modern zombie film than the actual film responsible for the achievement, the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, which in the grand scheme of things doesn’t make a TON of sense.
“It’s DAWN OF THE DEAD meets…” screams aplenty blurbs on the back of several recent zombie film releases – it’s the zombie film that does what zombies refuse to do; die. And in some aspects, that’s fantastic. I appreciate the fact that this film has such a massive fan base, that it has such a following that it’s endured for nearly half a decade and has inspired a generation of filmmakers to go off and make their own films. That’s really wonderful, especially to a genre enthusiast like me, that something is so powerful that it’s made others create their own films in response. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – and if a film could blush it would be a permanent stain of blood red.
Here’s where I’m about to come down, off the pedestal and to exactly as to why I believe DAWN OF THE DEAD is NOT the greatest zombie film ever made.
Let’s get into the plot itself; we got four schleps who decide to hold up in a shopping mall during a zombie outbreak. That’s basically the short n’ skinny of it, not too much else to throw out there, there’s of course the subtext of consumerism, which in time may end up being something folks will be scratching their head at. It will turn into a “you had to be there” kind of thing to get. With the evolution of online shopping the idea of finding everything in one place that you can go shopping in physically will be strange, perhaps even a primal concept which will certainly lessen any of the impact that subtext has.
So how about those four schleps?
There’s Frannie, the “strong” female lead who is basically a slightly better idea of a female character than Barbara while she utters more than a handful of lines – she’s just as useless. Stephen, a moron that gets himself overpowered by one zombie not once, but twice in the film, the guy can’t shoot for shit, is stubborn as they come and oh yeah – he’s kind of full of himself. Roger, a happy go lucky guy – perhaps the most likable of the bunch – that thinks the whole thing is a great big game. Finally there’s Peter, a redwood tree that has as much personality as a wet mop.
Okay really, I may be undermining the complexity of these characters; however, this is pretty much them at face value and for me they never seemed to go much beyond that. I will say Frannie has SOME moments where she’s…useful, however, they’re few and far between in a two hour film.
Which brings me to a lesser problem, but a problem none the less, the damn movie is two hours long. Now I know it was the 70’s and the attention span of most audiences were able to get through a two hour film without much fuss; but there is this great big, action packed opening that fizzles to an hour inside a mall watching four boring, uninteresting people become more boring and uninteresting. Even the finale manages to be kind of meh compared to the film’s opening which is probably the best portion of the entire film. If that sequence was the whole film; I’d get it.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not opposed to a slow moving film, nor am I opposed to character development; if these characters bothered to be developed much outside of what we know of them from the beginning. Spending two hours watching four people just mulling away at life is about as entertaining as it sounds; go to a mall and follow some people around – it may end up being more entertaining or as equally tedious.
Let’s discuss the zombies shall we? How threatening are these things? I mean really. There are slow zombies, and then there are these zombies. Characters in the film have to literally put themselves in their path for them to be any kind of a threat and even then, you can push one down and when you’re on your way back after 20 minutes or so – it’ll still be getting up. Even Fulci’s walking flower pots pose more of a threat than these things, and they are perhaps some of the slowest zombies on record. It’s a wonder why the characters feel the need to kill them at all and not just keep them around for entertainment value. I mean seriously, every character that’s attacked by a zombie in this film is attacked because they put themselves right in their path.
Flyboy in the boiler room, idiot starts shooting willy nilly and one zombie nearly makes a meal out of him. I don’t expect the guy to be some kind of expert marksman – but for someone who’s so gung ho about “surviving”, he’s doing a terrible job in the common sense department. Roger playing around in the trucks while zombies are all around him, we all know how that goes down. There is only one character that is attacked by a zombie who doesn’t put themselves in its way and she ends up not escaping because she forgets how to climb a ladder. Way to go Fran, one for the blondes eh?
These actions are often criticized by zombie fans in the hit TV show “The Walking Dead”, yet they are forgivable here. At least the zombies in “The Walking Dead” seem dangerous – these ones, they’re just there, more of a nuisance than anything else. Other films get raked through the coals for having characters that do almost precisely what these characters do; yet this one, is provided a pass.
I’ve spent many nights looking at this film, trying to figure out exactly what it is that sets it up on the pedestal that its managed to rock for nearly 40 years – and again, while I can see why it was such an important film at one time; I can’t get past that it still is. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t hate the film, as much as this article makes it seem I do.
With each passing generation, its influence seems to have less of an impact – however, it is the zombie film that simply refuses to die. Perhaps I’m a tad on the biased side since DAY OF THE DEAD has always been my favorite of the three films – and it’s a film I have felt has never received its just due. At any rate, it’s a film that has managed to thrive and doesn’t seem like it’s going anywhere anytime. However, one must wonder, how much longer could this film have a shelf life with the newer generation of zombie fans who salivate over fast moving zombies and all too realistic make up? Will the ever so slow grey faced zombies survive another forty years or will it be a film that may slip into obscurity? Not if its fans have anything to say about it, but that can be said for any horror film. Passion and fans keep films like this alive and as long as it’s accessible it will continue to live on. How highly regarded, well, that’s another matter altogether.
That being said; this film, in my opinion has its faults, of which there are many. Ravenous fans who drool over the film are keeping it alive and rightfully so. I however, wouldn’t blink an eye if it took the back seat making room for a new “best zombie film” ever.