“When there is no more room in hell; the dead will walk the earth……”
A national emergency grips the country. Corpses of the recently-dead are returning to life and attacking the living, devouring their victims. In the big cities the situation is acute as people panic and confusion reigns. Two members of a Philadelphia S.W.A.T. unit decide to escape the city. They are Roger and Peter. The two escape with their friends Francine and Stephen in a traffic helicopter taken from a television station where they work. The four manage to land on the roof of a huge out-of-town hypermarket. The building is a temple to consumerism.
The shops within the giant structure represent every possible fulfilment of material human desires and needs. The living dead wander through the mall aimlessly, having inherited the temple from the disintegrating human civilisation. Sustained by the last word in supplies and armed with weapons from the sporting goods store, the four survivors manage to secure the shopping mall. They set up living quarters in a Civil Defense storage area, and so are able to live in the building for months… One day a band of hippie types, on motorcycles and in vans, raid the mall to loot the shops.
The bandits manage to reopen the secured entrances and the zombies move back into the building. In an extraordinary battle sequence many of the raiders are killed. The fate of the besieged four is in the hands of the band of scavengers and the horde of zombies closing in from all sides. Can they escape? Will it be worth it even if they do…?
Loved by horror fans worldwide and considered the very best in not only George A Romero’s zombie universe, but the entire horror genre. Dawn of the Dead still manages to thrill, chill and impress fans today on the eve of its 40th Anniversary. For this reviewer though, shockingly enough my first viewing of the film (on the budget 4-Front VHS label) wasn’t something I was impressed with! Considering I popped my zombie cherry with Tom Savini’s excellent 1990 remake and then seeked out the originals. Watching a pastel coloured version of ‘NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD’ then doubled billed with the UK theatrical version of ‘DAWN OF THE DEAD’ which basically had its balls cut off in regards to gore and on screen violence thanks to BBFC censorship, I stuck with the 1990 remake (and Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters) for my zombie fix. Then during the mid-90’s, the so called ‘Director’s Cut’ got released in the UK on VHS. Wanting to give the film another go, it was immediately picked up and re-evaluated.
Seeing a more complete version of the film greatly improved the film for me (a majority of censored scenes had been restored but it still had slight BBFC imposed edits). The additional scenes were a worthy addition to the film and made it more enjoyable for me to the point where this is my go to version now (Theatrical version just doesn’t cut the mustard anymore). I’m still of the opinion that Day of the Dead was the best film in the original trilogy but Dawn of the Dead still holds up today with its social satire and general near apocalyptic atmosphere which gives our band of survivors that extra depth of emotion as they comes to terms with the world falling apart and fight for survival from Zombies and bandits. George’s well written characters (my favourite being the slightly Dr. Gregory House looking ‘Flyboy’) carry the film the entire way and really kick into action during the gory final act.
The version being reviewed is the extended cut which has had a limited release on Blu-ray around the world (Japan and Germany I believe). Just to clarify what versions exist, the theatrical cut (127 minutes) is George’s ‘Director’s Cut’ and is the version available quite freely worldwide on Blu-ray (if it isn’t OOP), the ‘Extended Cut’ (originally marketed as the ‘Director’s Cut’) is an earlier version of the film prepared for its premier at the Cannes film festival. It’s around 13 minute’s longer (139 mins) and includes more of George’s ‘library’ music on the soundtrack. It’s a bit rougher round the edges though in terms of editing as it was a cut that was quickly put together. Finally you have the European Cut (119 mins) entitled ‘Zombi – Dawn of the Dead’ which was overseen by Producer Dario Argento and is more fast paced, focusing on the action elements of the film, with additional music by Goblin.
Dawn of the Dead shuffles on Blu-ray with a 1080/24p MPEG4-AVC codec that preserves the film’s original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The film itself has had a very sporadic release on Blu-ray in general due to the licensing issue that producer Richard P Rubenstein holds to ransom for a ridiculous amount of cash apparently. Most Blu-ray / HD sources come from aged and problematic masters due to studios not surrendering to Richie’s ransom note for them to perform new scans on the original negatives. Most studios have managed to squeeze releases out based on local HD masters that come in all shapes and sizes which has resulted in less than perfect presentations. The Japanese release is a curiosity since this disc is part of a bigger boxset that contains all three cuts of the films in HD.
Dawn of the Dead is presented with a selection of audio tracks for this release. First up is a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio mix (mastered at 96Khz!), the original mono mix preserved as a Dolby Digital 2.0 dual mono track and finally a Japanese dub presented again as Dolby Digital 2.0 dual mono. Firing up the amp and getting comfortable for this upsampled TrueHD mix, It quickly dawned on me (pun intended) that despite maxing out the bitrate for the audio track wouldn’t improve what came from a very limited source.