One of the big things about George Romero films, zombie gnaw fests that they are, is that people rarely seem to pick up on the fact that these movies are actually social commentary. Possibly more than any other series of horror films out there, Romero’s movies capture the modern feeling of being trapped in a world of people we feel isolated from and, to some extent, oppressed by. Most everyone can related to feeling this way and the films Romero makes convey this mass confusion better than most directors.
That said, Dawn of the Dead (known as Zombi outside of the US) promises that ‘when there’s no more room in HELL, the dead will walk the EARTH’ and that’s the general premise here. We’re given a zombie apocalypse without too much overly analytical explanation, the zombies just swarm and do their thing as our heroes attempt to fight for survival against herds of the undead. In this case, the cause is a plague that revives corpses. You might say that it’s a statement about consumerism since these shambling cadavers head straight for a shopping mall, the obvious choice of drooling flesh fiends everywhere. All jokes aside, it really is a pretty scary scenario simply due to the fact that nearly everyone has spent some time in a mall so the setting is familiar and plays well with the task at hand: surviving by scavenging whatever you can find to fight back against those who want to consume you.
If you want a thrill ride through zombie hell then this is definitely a movie that can give it to you in a unique way, whether you watch the 1970s original or the remake. It’s bound to stir up some shudders and there’s heavy gore featured throughout, as with nearly all zombie films. Despite this, critics largely embraced Dawn of the Dead precisely because of the social commentary. In this reviewer’s opinion, it’s not so much the intellectual content of the movie that’s effective, but the emotional undertones that have been portrayed in such an easily accessible way that you don’t need to worry about how corporate America and consumerism are affecting your existence in order to enjoy the flick for what it is: living versus the dead.
In a deep twist of irony, the Dawn of the Dead was a large financial success , had four sequels and has had all sorts of parodies created in homage to it. That’s perhaps the most telling sign that the movie wasn’t commenting on something imaginary. In fact, the number of pop culture references that are made to it can definitely prove it’s had a lasting impact on moviegoers and moviemakers alike. That is probably the premiere reason that this film is still a cult classic and often shown in a theater inside the Monroeville Mall – the same mall that serves as the setting for the movie itself!
It would be overkill to say that Dawn of the Dead is the perfect viewing experience for everyone, but those who love zombie movies will find plenty of reason to see this one – a few dozen times. It’s a legend in zombie cinema and a horror icon of its own unique flavor, as well.
We love it because it’s one of those movies people worry might just one day come true. Hopefully not because there’s no telling what it would feel like to wake up to such an apocalyptic nightmare.