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’We’re coming… and we’re ready!’

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The global influence of George Romero’s seminal 1968 film Night of the Living Dead gave the horror industry a swift kick up the jacksy. Though there were other filmmakers who had started to push the boundaries of what was acceptable in order to make a quick buck—Herschel Gordon Lewis had already been knocking out crudely-made gore-fest purely in the interest of making cash—there was little in the way of horror films that were able to mix graphic violence and genuine tension.

 "Why I oughta'..."
Before Night of the Living Dead, zombies were merely the trance-like undead revived through voodoo; Romero brought zombies out of the pages of E.C. Comics (the director was hugely influenced by the likes of Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, et al) and out of the Caribbean and onto the big screen, reinventing them into flesh-eating ghouls.

Reflecting critical reception, the influence of Night of the Living Dead was subtle at first, but gathered momentum, particularly in Europe, where movies ‘inspired’ by Romero’s breakthrough hit began to surface. Amando de Ossorio’s Blind Dead quartet and Jorge Grau’s wonderful Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue are among the superior examples of this trend. Romero and the Image Ten team might have lost money through signing away their rights to the movie, but it gave the director a name in the genre—although this was not a welcome development.

Romero did not want to be pigeonholed or typecast as a horror director, so he tried his hand at other movies in other genres—have you ever tried to sit through There’s Always Vanilla? Jesus… - but even with artistic triumphs such as the sublime urban vampire movie Martin and the riotously enjoyable The Crazies, Romero’s movies failed to more than modest business and a big box-office hit eluded him. Should he swallow his pride and completely immerse himself in the genre again, he needed sufficient inspiration to motivate him.

 A quick succession of bullets - what was the frequency, Kenneth?
In 1974, Romero was allegedly asked by a friend of his to visit the Monroeville shopping mall and he was shown some of the areas that were out-of-bounds to the public and this, coupled with the fact that observing the patrons of the shopping centre almost mindlessly wandering around the place in a trance, fired his imagination and he decided that the time was right for his zombies to make their cinematic return.

For those who haven’t managed to see the movie in the thirty years since it was released, Dawn of the Dead tells the story of four survivors of a society that is in meltdown because of a zombie epidemic. Francine Parker (Galen Ross) and Stephen Andrews (David Emge) are a couple working for local television station WGON in Philadelphia—Stephen is the helicopter pilot who provides traffic reports and Francine works in the gallery of the station. They plan to escape from the situation in the station’s helicopter to the relative safety of Canada. Along with two members of the local National Guard, their friend Roger DeMarco (Scott H Reiniger) and tagger-on Peter Washington (Ken Foree), they encounter raiders disguised as policemen, trigger-happy rednecks and hoards of zombies before finding a deserted shopping mall, which they take refuge in and eventually turn into a luxurious fortress from the outside world. Though they may be safe from the zombies outside, tensions flare up within and it is only a matter of time before others covet what our not-so happy band have and try to take it for themselves…

 Galen Ross contemplates doing a Timotei commercial...
Dawn of the Dead was an ambitious movie that is grand in scope and looks far more expensive than the very modest budget with which it was filmed. Italian director Dario Argento and his brother Claudio were brought onboard to help finance the movie after Romero and US producer Richard P Rubinstein failed to get domestic backing. The Argentos negotiated the exclusive European distribution rights in exchange for sinking money into the film and Dario Argento also got to make his own cut for his territory—more on that later. Another stroke of genius which allowed the film to be made on the small budget was Romero and Rubinstein being able to secure permission to film in the Monroeville shopping mall out of hours. This meant that they had access to pretty much any store in the complex and greatly helped flesh out the film by showing various locations that barely cost the production a penny—or even a JC Penney.

Romero consciously chose to include characters who would have conflicting views on various subjects and situations; Fran is the cynical one who is always wary of any situation she finds herself in, preferring to see the worst in any situation so if the worst happens; Stephen is also cautious but has more of a sense of optimism than his partner; Peter is the wise, mysterious one who has seen much in his life and is barely phased by anything that comes his way, also having a sense of practicality that at times makes him appear almost callous; finally, Roger is the young, callow member of the group who treats the whole situation without the sense of seriousness demanded, with his cavalier attitude ultimately spelling disaster for him.

In performance terms, the movie pretty much rests on the shoulders of the main four cast members, as they are on-screen for almost the entire movie. For Night of the Living Dead, Romero and company cast people they knew, so though most of them were not professional actors, the sense of documentary-like realism helped to sell the whole thing as the cast gave naturalistic performances. With a bigger budget and international backing, the search was on for four professional actors who could carry a major movie.

 Roger about to tear a calf muscle...
David Emge had studied drama at university in Indiana and had appeared in the soft-core sex comedy The Booby Hatch (masterminded by Romero’s old Image Ten cohorts, John Russo and Rudy Ricci); Ken Foree studied acting at Michael Shulman’s Performing Gallery in New York had already gone toe-to-toe with Telly Savalas in Kojak and had appeared as a goon in The Bingo Long Travelling All-Stars & Motor Kings; Scott H Reiniger studied theatre at Rollins College in Florida (one of his classmates, Christine Forrest, would go on to marry Romero) and went on to study in various other places, including the Stanislavski Theatre and had previously been in the 1977 family movie, Danny; Galen Ross had no cinematic roles under her belt before Dawn of the Dead, but she was being taught acting and took advice from her drama teacher in preparation for the shoot.

The style of shooting employed by Romero was honed during his Latent Image days where he shot TV commercials that were punchy, fast-paced and delivered a message in a very direct manner. Romero used the cinematic equivalent of a machine-gun, firing shots in rapid order that was considered unconventional at the time, but given the ADHD mentality that many blockbuster movies have now, it looks fairly tame and conventional these days. Romero rarely (if ever) uses zoom-lenses, preferring to cut to close-ups. The effect can seem a little jarring, but ones gets used to them; Romero continued this cinematic technique through the eighties, but eventually succumbed to a more conventional style when he went mainstream in the 90s.

Romero’s collision of rapid inter-cutting, over-the-top gore and social commentary can be seen in a sequence near the beginning where the police and the National Guard raid a housing project (a ghetto or sinkhole council estate would be the closest in British terms), full of poor minorities; Romero paints the scene with a sense of despair and squalor as the National Guard move in and clear out the building—people die at the hands of zombies and by a trigger-happy member of the National Guard who ‘goes ape-shit’, blowing off the head of one of the minorities in a manner that has even the more hardened and cynical viewer riveted, as it is shot, executed and edited in such a breathtaking manner.

 Product placement and Galen Ross is about to take action
It is interesting to note that the casting of Ken Foree and the blowing away of psycho Woolley redresses the balance of the ending of Night of the Living Dead in which Duane Jones was shot dead by a trigger-happy redneck. It was ten years in coming, but it was worth the wait.

The film essentially has three acts; the opening act concentrates on the four of the group getting together, fleeing Philadelphia and getting into the mall and initially exploring; the second act reveals more about the characters and has them clearing the mall out and setting up home in the place, to the point where the zombies are intentionally almost forgotten and conflict between the four main characters is heightened and the final act sees the group starting to fall apart before they must band together in order to try and save the mall from being raided by a gang of marauding bikers.

One of the first things which fans and aficionados of Dawn of the Dead are quick to point out is that the movie is rich in social satire, and we will only mention it briefly, as it’s been covered so thoroughly in the past. Who hasn’t been to a shopping mall and chuckled at the sight of zombified masses aimlessly wandering? In the classic White Zombie, the undead were depicted as drones to their living masters, and Romero offers modern society as mindless slaves to consumerism. When society breaks down, all values—both moral and material—go out of the window. Once the mall is theirs, our heroes adopt a decadent lifestyle, eating the finest food, wearing incredibly expensive furs and living light-years beyond their original means. Enter the bikers to raid the place, and all of the protagonists’ extravagances are tossed aside as they take arms against the marauders.

 A healthy and safety inspector would go apeshit...
Romero paints the bikers in fairly unflattering terms, probably because the US variety of bikers are generally seen as being rougher than their British counterparts. The flippant attitude they have toward the living dead when they invade the mall ultimately causes the undoing of many of them, as they underestimate the power that a hoard of zombies can have—the undead in Romero’s movies can have Bruce Lee’s opinion of water applied to them, in that on their own, individual droplets of water aren’t much of a threat, but a wall of water can wreak devastation. The bikers even break out some cream pies and soda-siphons and use them on the zombies in a manner that would have done the Phantom Flan-Flinger proud (this sequence was not in Romero’s script, but was something that just seemed to happen on a spur-of-the-moment on the set)—Tom Savini’s character, Blades, pays the ultimate price for being racist toward Peter, as he is gunned down by the pissed-off former National Guard member, but interestingly, Peter shows him mercy, as he shoots him just before he is about to be ripped apart by a hoard of zombies. By the way, does anybody else remember the back on the UK Intervision release which described the bikers as ‘hippie-types…’?

Many have read Night of the Living Dead as a statement about the Vietnam war, with more than just the obvious observations scholarly dissected. With Dawn being written after the fall of Saigon brought the war to an abrupt end, there are more direct parallels to the war America is still licking its’ wounds from. With the hostile reception that awaited the returning soldiers, coupled with the horrors they had witnessed in the war-zone, psychosis and mental illness were rife among Vietnam veterans, and Romero transfers this phenomenon to his films. Roger becomes increasingly gun-happy and reckless when confronting the zombie hoards, to the anger of his fellow trooper. His slow descent into confusion and death echo the fate of the worst affected of ‘ Nam soldiers, becoming one of the many elements which lift Dawn of the Dead far beyond mere exploitation.

 Stephen ponders which is the dangerous end...
There are those who complain that the zombies are ‘forgotten about’ for nearly half an hour of the movie, where the focus shifts towards the protagonists adapting to life in the mall, but such vocal protestors entirely miss the point. Peter, Stephen, et al have built themselves a moat around their castle and have boarded up the windows, ignoring the outside world and the living dead which are roaming around the place in increasing numbers. The are essentially an ex-pat community, building a miniature version of the land they have fled and wallowing in the past whilst shutting out all those around them, in spite of being hopelessly outnumbered. Romero allows us to be complicit in their self-induced ignorance, which is why the famous ‘tennis-ball’ shot is such a powerful statement when the walking-dead come sharply back into the films’ focus.

Dawn of the Dead represents the stepping-stone in the cinematic portrayal of female characters in Romero’s Dead trilogy (OK, we know that with the forthcoming Survival of the Dead is the sixth instalment in the series, but there are some out there who only acknowledge the first three); in Night of the Living Dead, Barbara (Judith O’Dea) spends much of the time in a state of shock after seeing her brother killed before her very eyes (Romero tried to redress this when he wrote the 1990 remake by essentially turning the character into Ellen Ripley); in Day of the Dead, Sarah (Lori Cardille) is tough and can more than handle herself in an environment dominated by vile and misogynistic men); in Dawn of the Dead, Fran is a mixture of the two—at times she is vulnerable and even cries on-screen, but there are other times where she can be stronger than most of the others in her company, able to work out solutions to situations that can seem as blunt and as practical as those offered by Peter. Fran is also able to verbally spar with the three males, much to the chagrin of her partner, Stephen, who sees any such banter as bitchiness, but in actuality, she is just proving that she is as tough and as capable as everyone else.

 What Ken Foree should do to Rob Zombie next time he's asked to be in one of his movies...
If George Romero’s first Dead movie gained notoriety due to the depiction of ghouls chowing down on intestines in grainy and shadowy black and white, then the sense of disgust (or exhilaration, depending upon your sensibilities) that would be unleashed when Romero let his make-up collaborator Tom Savini off the lead would be on a scale that had previously been unseen in an American movie; heads would be blown off, limbs removed, disembowelling would take place in graphic detail and chunks of flesh would be ripped from various parts of the body for your viewing pleasure. Savini had previously worked with Romero on Martin and that collaboration paved the way for the masterful work on Dawn of the Dead. Savini was allegedly scheduled to work on Night of the Living Dead, but he was drafted into the Vietnam war and was unable to do it; there has been conflicting quotes from Savini about whether or not the things he saw as a combat photographer in Vietnam influenced his future work, but he has gone on record as saying that if his creations didn’t give him the same feeling that he got from seeing the real thing, then he isn’t satisfied.

Possibly the main thing which separates Dawn from its predecessors and those which ripped it off afterwards is that the zombies aren’t the be-all-and-end-all of the movie. If you stick on Zombie Flesh Eaters, you get a kick-arse flick with loads of cool effects, but you aren’t empathising with either Peter West or Anne Bowels—you just want them to start lobbing Molotov cocktails at the ol’ flower-pots. The characters are the MacGuffin, a device created only for the purpose of enabling the story, and this case, the flesh-eating mayhem which ensues. Romero refuses to let the tail wag the dog, and his script uses the living dead as the MacGuffin to allow the characters’ story to be told. This is a rare quality for a genre which most critics would at best describe as disposable, and demonstrates that while flares might go out of fashion, the story holds strong all these years later.

 Big Time Shopping is here!
There has been criticism in more recent times of the make-up choices used on the zombies on Dawn; the grey/blue make-up has become iconic, but there are those who whinge about it not looking realistic—to this debate we have to ask: ‘just how realistic does a movie about zombies rising from the grave have to be?’ The reality is that Savini decided upon this colour make-up because it was a low-budget movie and giving a uniform look to the zombies aided the production-line make-up process. Savini had a large amount of pre-fabricated make-up appliances that were sorted into sizes and glued-on to the people playing the zombies—it was a master-stroke that paid off handsomely. There have also been more recent criticisms about the colour of the blood used in the film—the almost pink colour is far removed from the real thing, but it could be argued that this is more in keeping with the sort of OTT colour schemes that could be found in the E.C. Comics that Romero read as a child.

The huge success of Dawn of the Dead should have brought fame and fortune for the four main cast members, but the reality is that the majority of them followed different paths; Ken Foree is still acting, having appeared in many horror and exploitation movies, particularly putting in cameos in Rob Zombie films—he has also recently turned his hand to producing movies; David Emge returned to theatre work after Dawn and only appeared in two other movies, including a masked appearance in Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case 2; Scott Reiniger gave up acting after a handful of other roles and now lives in LA, working as a life and career coach; Galen Ross also retired from acting after four further jobs and carved out a career as a documentary filmmaker, gaining numerous awards in the process. Despite the fact that only Ken Foree is really working as an actor now, the four will always be remembered for their work in Dawn of the Dead, so much so that Foree and Reiniger had cameo appearances in Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of Dawn.

 A moody moment for Galen Ross
George Romero originally had a different ending in mind, which was bleak to say the least and ended in the deaths of all the main characters, but during the shoot, the director changed his mind and opted for a more upbeat ending. There has always been much speculation as to whether or not any of this original ‘tragic ending’ (as Romero has referred it) was actually filmed—the only evidence that any work toward the scene was even attempted was that Tom Savini made a fake head of Galen Ross, which was supposed to be chopped to pieces when she commits suicide by sticking her head in the spinning blades of the helicopter; the scene was in the script as Roy Frumkes’ seminal documentary, Document of the Dead has a shot of a page of the script that has part of that final scene, but the reality is that it was never filmed and the fake Galen Ross head was altered and used for the infamous ‘exploding head’ sequence near the beginning of the film.

There are three versions of Dawn of the Dead; the theatrical edition that played in America, Britain and various other places; the ‘Argento Cut’ that was shown in cinemas across Europe, and finally the ‘Extended Version’ or, ‘Director’s Cut’ (even though Romero doesn’t regard this as his final cut).

 Theatrical Edition

This has a running time of 126 minutes and incorporates a mixture of the music composed by Goblin, along with the library music that Romero had on his Extended Version.

 Ken cracks up!   Sorry about the crap capture - used "Paint".
This version is the standard one and probably represents the better balance between the other two versions, featuring an even mix of Romero’s stock music and Goblin’s specially composed tunes. There is also a nice balance between dialogue and action, as most of the character material is still in here, but it trims down some of the more extraneous material; it also flows quite nicely, but does not seem as ruthlessly truncated as Argento’s cut of the movie.

 Argento Cut

This is shorter than the theatrical edition, clocking in at a relatively lean 117 minutes (NTSC speed); Romero’s library music is almost entirely absent, with more of Goblin’s score. There is also a little more graphic violence than in the other two versions, along with numerous alternate takes and one or two bits of dialogue that cannot be found anywhere else.

Argento reportedly failed to understand the movie, and this view is backed-up by the fact that much of Romero’s lengthier dialogue sequences, much of the character development and much of the director’s social commentary have been given the elbow in favour of emphasising the action and gore aspects. Even though this is the case, Argento’s cut features a prime ‘Romero-ism’ (as we like to refer to them) that does not feature in either of the other versions—when the group land at the abandoned airfield to refuel, Roger tries to speculate on where everyone could have gone to ‘where the hell were they going?’, to which a thoughtful Peter mutters to himself ‘where the hell are we going?’.

 Fran shops for coathangers.  Bad capture again.
If we were to be brutally honest, though there are some who prefer this cut, we personally find it somewhat wearying because as much as Goblin’s work is cherished by us, the score is almost wall-to-wall in this version with little time to allow the audience to draw breath. During the ‘redneck’ sequence, Argento removes the Pretty Thing’s ‘Cause I’m a Man’ song and replaces it with a vaguely southern-flavoured fiddle piece composed and performed by Goblin—the result is a prime example of how Dario just didn’t ‘get’ Romero’s social commentary.

While Romero’s editing has always been quick, the Argento Cut comes off as pretty choppy in places, with some scenes being so ridiculously truncated that the viewer almost wonders why Argento kept them in at all—probably the best example of this is during the ‘raiders’ sequence, where all traces of the crooks in police uniforms have been excised.

One of the most debated pieces in the European cut is brief, but certainly divides the fans about the validity of its inclusion. This is a shot of Ken Foree at the end of the ‘pie-fight’ sequence, chuckling at the antics unfolding around him. While it is rather funny, lightening the mood and bringing the bikers’ farcical events to a definite conclusion, the fact that our heroes’ stronghold is being raided and destroyed in front of them is almost forgotten, ditching the core of the movie.

 Galen Ross again - and apologies once more for the poor "Paint" capture.
It is amusing to note that when Dawn was originally viewed by the British Board of Film Censors (as it was known then), they were accidentally supplied with the Argento cut of the movie and didn’t have a clue what to do with it, the philosophising of Romero’s version had been removed to create pure exploitation putting Ferman and co in a bit of a spot.

 Extended Version

This was hastily prepared (in 16mm) for and originally shown at the 1978 Cannes Film Festival; running for 139 minutes (NTSC speed) it has very little of Goblin’s music score, instead featuring more of the library music that Romero used to cut the movie together with. The trouble is that with using library music, it establishes a mood and because it is not scored specifically for the movie, there are places when it seems blaringly over-the-top or inappropriate; another problem is that because it is essentially ‘open-source’, music is likely to be heard in other places—one of the most distinctive pieces of music in Dawn is when the group are moving the trucks to block the main entrances to the mall. This music subsequently turned up in a number of places, including—of all things— Lovejoy. Prisoner: Cell Block H also occasionally used pieces of stock music that could be heard in Dawn of the Dead, too. If there is one piece of library music that Romero used and effectively made his own, it would be ‘The Gonk’ by Herbert Chappell, which appears at a crucial moment near the end when one of the main four characters is revealed to have suffered a fate worse than death—this composition has become so entwined with Dawn of the Dead, that director Edgar Wright used a version of it in his own Romero homage, Shaun of the Dead.

 Dawn of the Dead
There are some nice additions to this version, including an extension to the scene where Peter aims his M-16 at Stephen as a way of frightening some sense into him after having his head blown of by the bumbling weatherman. Fan yells ‘Peter! My God, what are you doing’, showing that the trooper is not only pulling Stephen into line, but letting both civilians know where their place lay.

The opening sequence in the television station effectively plays without music and gives a bleaker feel to the proceedings, as though society really is breaking down, giving a palpable sense of chaos and despair. There are one or two little extensions during this sequence, including the ‘… they are multiplying too rapidly’ line which appeared on the UK trailer.

The sequence where the protagonists steal the W-GON traffic copter shows that footage which is discarded through being inappropriate to the tone can hurt the flow when it is designed to set up incidents later in the movie. The four police officers (one of whom was actor Joe Pilato, who would play the main heavy Rhodes in Day of the Dead) at the police-dock were originally supposed to be po-faced deliverers of expository dialogue, refusing to commandeer the helicopter in case their pilot becomes incapacitated, leaving them stranded. Actor Warner (‘Hey, you got any cigarettes?’) Shook was told by Romero to play his character ‘goofy’, presumably to give some relief from the barrage of set-up material for later on. This really backfires, as Shook registers as truly out of place, diluting the tension and removing the threat (both zombie and anarchic) from a sequence which originally failed. By removing the Mexican stand-off and getting to the essential core of the scene, the movie benefits from such judicious pruning. Oh, and Warner Shook can be exonerated from all thespian crimes levelled against him, as he was only following Romero’s orders: Shook’s main career has been as artistic director of prestigious theatres. This version of Dawn was often supplied to college campuses and other such places when a print of the movie was requested, coming as a pleasant surprise to film students and fans of the movie in the days before home video was prevalent.

 Dawn of the Dead
In the early nineties, we found that some crazy bastard had taken all three existing copies of Dawn and cut them together to create an ‘ultimate’ edit of Romero’s movie—naturally we ordered a tape of it as soon as we could! The resulting version was a revelation, as it highlighted just how careful Romero was in his final (theatrical) edit. The juxtaposition between extraneous Argento footage and the languid, naturalistic approach used in the 16mm print created a schizophrenic movie which was clearly saved in the cutting-room.

We have a long history with Dawn of the Dead, starting back when it first hit the video shelves in 1981, holding cherished memories of a row of zombie movies proudly displayed in a row in the window of our local branch of Radio Rentals. We eventually say it, and were blown away at a young age. Fast forward to the late 80s, and a friend proudly showed us the EIV budget copy he just picked up, and we pulled out the old Intervision release we picked up for £4 from our local boot-fair.. He was—as was his copy—gutted! Our one had more gore than his, and it lead to a cracking Dead-trilogy screening through the night, which we can say even now was one of our favourite times spent watching movies.

After that, we ordered the Argento copy from Holland, only to have it impounded by customs, picked up the gorgeous Spanish theatrical artwork, nabbed the US one-sheet and got our paws on a superb, original Zombies poster—not a repro, we have to stress! Christ, then came the amazing Elite CAV LaserDisc set, the awful Italian Argento Cut DVD and the Frightfest Dead quadruple-bill before the final four-disc Ultimate DVD edition. It’s a long road to the Blu-ray edition, with a lot of happy memories!

 Dawn of the Dead

Video


We have seen many different prints of Dawn of the Dead over the years, running the gauntlet of PAL, NTSC and SECAM, Laserdisc, professional projections at festivals, TV screenings—OK, you get the point. Essentially, we have to say that this is the best we have seen it look, and those as familiar with it will agree. The 1080p, 1.78:1 image makes for enjoyable viewing, but it comes with a qualifier or two. Decent film grain is certainly there, but is somewhat variable, suggesting some mild filtering applied to the source, but given that you can really see the pits and imperfections in the skin of both David Emge and Gaylen Ross, you know that there is still a nice amount of fine detail on display for a pleasing presentation. Please note that some shots look very grainy, but most of these are due to the original source material - specifically, exterior ones filmed at night, about which we would guess that the stock it was filmed on couldn't handle what DP Michael Gornick was asking of it.  This really is a minor quibble, though.  Using our combined equipment, we tested the movie on an LCD, a plasma screen and a DLP projector, looking very nice on all three. Try to watch it on the latter, as it really gives you a cinematic charge when seeing it on a screen impossibly bigger than a TV.

It should be pointed out that Arrow tried to bring Argento’s European cut of Dawn of the Dead (entitled Zombi) out on Blu-Ray, but the materials were in too bad a condition to even contemplate releasing on a high-definition format, so both the Argento cut and the director’s cut are presented in SD for this set.  Said copies are very nice anyway, and once upscaled they should please the bulk of fans sticking their hands in their pockets. The Argento cut is presented in a windowboxed 1.8:1 ratio, and is of a nice, consistent quality. For various reasons, it hasn't survived as well as the theatrical cut, and is a bit darker in hue, but it makes for a very agreeable night in front of the TV. Take a gander under this paragraph...

 Dawn of the Dead
The director's cut is again shown in a 1.85:1 version, but while the bulk of the movie is taken from a superior (theatrical?) print, the new footage is a little muzzy, but nothing too awful. See the below capture for reference.

Audio


The Blu-Ray of the theatrical edition is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio, along with a 2.0 PCM version for a more simplified experience. After comparing the two, we have to give the nod to the PCM version, which gives you the movie with the least amount of monkeying around with the original sound. There is obviously more spatial action with the DTS-HD option, but there is something rather artificial and almost tinny about the results. Obviously, you weren’t expecting to have Hellboy II quality audio, but the PCM track is a much more agreeable way to watch the movie, and seems to easily win out when it comes to fidelity and low frequencies. The choice is yours, but we were happy that you get two very different ways to watch Romero’s classic. Both other cuts come with English 2.0 tracks.
 

Extras



Disc One: Theatrical Edition

Audio Commentary with George Romero, Tom Savini and Christine Romero: This is a fun and informative commentary, with all three participants on good form—though much of it consists of them pointing out friends, colleagues and family members, there is much interesting little titbits to be found here.

 Dawn of the Dead
Audio Commentary with Richard P Rubinstein: The much-maligned producer of Dawn of the Dead speaks about the movie. Though he mainly talks about the financial aspects of the film, there are some fascinating insights into what is required to make a modestly-budgeted movie. He talks exactly like you would expect a person who handles money for a living to, this being rather dry and pretty humourless—just don’t mention Pet Semetary, where rumour has that two directors got screwed on the project…

Document of the Dead: Roy Frumkes’ seminal documentary that was made during the production of Dawn is an absolute joy to behold. We first saw this in the early nineties, importing a copy from America , which turned out to be worth every penny. In the days before video-cameras were de rigueur on film sets, Frumkes and his band of enthusiastic film-students were given access to cast, crew and locations in order to bring you the pressures and the joys of low-budget filmmaking. Romero is interviewed at length and really captures him at a time when he wasn’t quite as laid-back as he was in recent times (probably due to the pressure he was under whilst shooting Dawn) and several members of the cast are interviewed in costume, although Galen Ross declined to be interviewed because she wanted to remain in-character. Everyone comes across as being very likeable, even producer Richard P Rubinstein, who has been painted in an unfavourable light by many since the film, comes across as very protective toward his director when the matter of getting the film released uncensored in the US is concerned. What really pisses us off is that the remarkable nature of ‘Document of the Dead’ has been widely criticised in recent years because people tend to find it run-of-the-mill these days, having been brought up on vapid, flash behind-the-scenes documentaries. ‘Document of the Dead’ was made at a time when such studious documentaries were almost unheard of and it still stands as a wonderful companion piece to Dawn of the Dead.

 Dawn of the Dead
Document of the Dead Deleted Scenes: When director Roy Frumkes got his footage from the processing lab, it was discovered that a significant amount of the negative had gone missing. Amounting to around ten percent, totalling sixty-six shots, Frumkes enlisted the help of a psychic therapist to discover what had become of the footage that was MIA. The psychic said that most of it had been destroyed, but that one can had been mislabelled and a search of the lab ended up in that reel being recovered. What is included here are essentially the trims from what was probably a slightly longer cut of ‘Document’, with some nice little extensions of interviews with Ken Foree, David Emge and lighting director Carl Augenstein. Around half of this material consists of the original end titles to ‘Document’, which were altered when Frumkes decided to make an addendum sequence in the late eighties—included over this is an interesting audio-only anecdote from producer Richard P Rubinstein.

Document of the Dead: The Lost Interview: Unfortunately, for die-hard fans of Dawn of the Dead, this twenty minute collection of interviews is not from the original shoot of ‘Document’, but rather the 1989 addendum footage, when Romero was shooting his segment of Two Evil Eyes.

What you get here is fascinating as Romero with his laid-back salt and pepper look speaks frankly, but with his trademark sense of humour about the nature of the film industry and about the move towards studios being run by accountants in suits, rather than filmmakers was happening back then. Tom Savini is also interviewed and unleashes some amusing anecdotes about copyright issues and the preparation for his remake of Night of the Living Dead (referred to by Savini and Frumkes as ‘Night Again’). Adrienne Barbeau is also interviewed and it is painfully clear why her stuff didn’t make it into the finished documentary, as she admits that she doesn’t really like Romero’s Dead movies and has to be prompted as to the title of the one ‘set in the shopping mall’.

 Dawn of the Dead
Fan of the Dead: This fifty-two minute documentary was produced by French fan and filmmaker Nicolas Garreau, who flew out to Pennsylvania in order to visit as many of the locations used in Night, Dawn and Day of the Dead. The result is a unique and pretty intimate at how Romero’s Dead movies can enthuse someone to the point of obsession; what the documentary lacks in professionalism, it more than makes up for with Garreau’s enthusiasm. Garreau interviews several of the cast members of the Dead trilogy (as it was then) and the sheer range of cast members to be found here is bewildering, with several cast members seen here who did not appear in the exhaustive ‘The Dead Will Walk’ documentary. It was cool hearing Leonard A Lies (the machete-in-the-head zombie) revealing that his onscreen demise came about because he didn’t want to just be shot, as this is exactly what happened to us with Shaun of the Dead—we stressed that we didn’t want to be merely blown away, so ended up getting brained by Jessica Stevenson’s golf-club. Our favourite appearance? OK, we know he wasn’t in Dawn, but it was really cool to see the late Karl Hardman ( Night’s Harry Cooper) one more time. There are one or two sequences where Garreau’s enthusiasm comes off as a little too ‘fan-ish’ and through this, one or two of the Dawn cast seems to think that he’s a bit of a berk, but it is great to see how some of the locations from the Dead series look now. This is fine stuff and a really nice inclusion in this set

Disc Two: Director’s Cut

The Dead Will Walk: This documentary, produced in 2004, was available on Arrow’s previous DVD release of Dawn of the Dead and is no less welcome here. This is pretty exhausting stuff, with more Dawn-related people interviewed than you can possibly imagine, including David Crawford and David Early, who played Foster and Berman, the bickering people on television at the start of the movie. Actress-turned-filmmaker Galen Ross was even coaxed into being interviewed and she still looks gorgeous, even in her mid-fifties. The tone of the piece is pretty light-hearted, as cast and crew remember their time on the movie with fondness, a stark contrast to the pressures that were visibly noticeable during the shoot and preserved for posterity in Roy Frumkes’ ‘Document of the Dead’—it’s funny how the passage of time can fuzz the memory…

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Disc Three: Argento Cut

Tom Savini’s Scream Greats: This documentary was always something which festered in the minds of curious UK readers of Fangoria magazine back in the late eighties, as it was frequently advertised, but never available over here. We can remember the days when poor quality copies of this were sold as part of the old ‘two-on-a-tape’ for between ten to fifteen quid, and it is a very welcome inclusion to those who either haven’t seen it or have made do with an nth generation dub. To lovers of the genre who are unfamiliar with it, we’d put money on them blowing their collective wad when they see some of the included material. With Savini being a rather obsessive documentarian of his own work, this allows achingly obscure things like home-movie footage from the set of The Burning. Longstanding Savini devotees doubtless chuckle when it opens with him saying ‘…sometimes I feel like an assassin…’ over footage of Joe Spinell packing up a rifle from Maniac, as ol’ Tom effectively assassinated that same movie when it came out.

US Trailer: Here we have something of a design classic, a trailer which really serves to set the scene and manages to create a sense of intense dread before the titles is even on the marquee! Society is breaking down, the dead are attacking the living, scavengers are looting and there is nothing you can do about it. The only way you’ll know how it turns out is to buy your ticket…

German Trailer: Ah, yes, the one with the terrific ‘neue Constantin Film bringt…’ logo at the start! It’s almost a logo-trailer, with only a single clip sandwiched between glowing cards of American reviews. It’s simple, but really gives you a charge of European exploitation from tage vorbei gegangen..

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TV Spots: Two UK TV ads are included for your viewing pleasure, the first one short at around twenty seconds and the other one longer, clocking in at around one minute—both of them have the UK title ‘Zombies’. Ugh. The shorter one could be found on the beginning of old Intervision videotapes in the early eighties, which was clung to tightly by Dawn fans, as it contained some of the deleted dialogue not present in the theatrical version. The shorter spot is cooler, with a great voiceover, but the longer one is more your archetypal example of how British distributors advertised US movies in the seventies, complete with rugged UK voiceover. Arrow could have just gone for American ones, but nope, they chose to maintain the UK flavour of their impressive set. Fun, nostalgic stuff for anyone over the age of thirty five.

Radio Spots: A collection of radio promos for the movie, so lusty and enticing that to hear them is to stand at the front of the line on opening day. You can only imagine the impact they had at the time, especially when they all wrap with: ‘Contains scenes of violence that may be considered shocking. No-one under seventeen will be admitted’. Zombie Flesh Eaters ( Zombi 2, Zombie, Woodo, etc) aped these spots, but ended up sounding rather camp. This is the real thing, and good stuff indeed.

Reviews: Masters of Giallo Trailers: Included here are trailers for the three titles currently available from Arrow’s new sub-label. You know you love ‘em, so pleasure yourself with the previews for Mario Bava’s Macabre, Dario Argento’s Sleepless and Lucio Fulci’s House by the Cemetery.

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Overall


Dawn of the Dead is a seminal movie; whilst audiences who watch it from a contemporary perspective might be put off by the pre-digital effects or the somewhat languid pacing (when compared to the usual MTV/ADHD style of moviemaking these days) or even some of the more extreme examples of seventies fashion; the smarter viewers will see a movie that is thoughtful and satirical, but still not afraid to be heavy on violence when required. The movie which was a phenomenon around the world thirty years ago still shows modern horror films how to write stories with depth, social commentary, satire and characters whom aren’t just set up in order to facilitate the next set-piece. It stands alone in a crowded genre.

Arrow is to be congratulated for the sterling work they have done when putting this set together; it is more than comparable to Anchor Bay’s 2004 Dawn of the Dead Ultimate Edition, even managing to include one or two extras that were not included in that set. The amazing value (coupled with the equally awesome packaging) is great on it’s own in SD, but just to have the theatrical cut of Dawn of the Dead on Blu-Ray is only the icing on the cake.

N.B. It should be pointed out that this set will be an HMV exclusive for six months—after that, it will be available everywhere. There is earthly reason to wait that long for a set this good—shuffle on over to HMV and pick this up!

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-size captures are available by clicking individual links, but due to .jpg compression the resulting images are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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