Dawn of the Dead (2004) — Waiting out the apocalypse at a mall

“Rosie O’Donnell! Tell him to shoot Rosie!”

Kyle’s rating: Hold your head up, you silly girl

Kyle’s review: Unfortunately, I have to attribute one of the best pieces of criticism regarding this new remake/update of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead to some “professional” critic. Fortunately, I forget who it was who said it, so I’m not going to look it up and assume that readers with poor attention spans will think I said it and am therefore brilliant. Anyway, this critic guy was like “Geez, why doesn’t anyone in these zombie movies ever act like they themselves have seen at least one zombie movie themselves?” And it’s true: I’m fairly certain that even non-horror fans who only know of zombies as a messy Halloween costume know that to put a zombie down for good, you have to shoot them in the head. Or vaporize ‘em. But bullet-to-the-head is obviously easiest. Everybody knows that! And if they don’t, it’s up to us to educate them. Because you just never know.

The original version of this movie came out in 1978. It was like a zombie movie mixed with social commentary about what a consumer society we are. That old version is pretty good, as far as “classics” go. Be prepared for slow times, a little datedness, and slow, slow, slow zombies. The new version is super-fast, full of exploding zombie heads and blood spurting all around, and it doesn’t slow down enough to give us any social commentary. Except, maybe, to gently nudge us towards closing the deal with fellow survivors sooner rather than later, because you never know when a potential partner might get zombiefied, thereby ruining that date night you decided to postpone till tomorrow night. Betcha wish you had a “do over” card now, eh?

So, in the 2004 Dawn of the Dead, the world seems okay to nurse Ana (Sarah Polley) as she drives home to a pleasant date night with her husband. And for like the first six minutes of the movie, everything seems okay to us, too. But by the end of like minute seven, blood is all over the place, and Ana exits her house to find her neighborhood and the horizon filled with evidence of end times. Disaster! By the time the credits start to roll (set to Johnny Cash, yeah!), the world is mostly over but Ana has luckily run into a few other survivors and they head for a big shopping mall for shelter. Stuff happens in there that’s both bad and good while thousands of zombies amass in the parking lot, frustrated by the mall doors’ unbreakable glass (nice thinking, mall-designers!). Crashing at the mall is mostly a good idea for the survivors, though. Sure, the closest gun place is across the street and therefore 12,058 zombies are between the good guys and the ammo they need, but at least they mall’s coffee shop is fully stocked! Whew!

I mentioned Sarah Polley’s character specifically because she’s hot, even though she seems short and has those kinds of eyes where they look like they’re bulging out or something because she has the kind of eyes where they have constant bags but that’s just her physiology. Ving Rhames and Jake Weber are both really cool dudes in this movie. There are some other people, but whatever. You’re going to this to see zombies attacking and see the more attractive cast members surviving the attacks to blow zombie brains all over the place. We get projectile brains, to be sure, but we also get some hearty thrills and the film is fast-paced and unpredictable enough that we fear for the safety of the young attractive women. What will happen to them? Will their sex appeal go down or up if they become young attractive zombies? My… my libido can’t take this! No!

I don’t know what “libido” means. I do know that this new Dawn of the Dead is getting compared by, like, everybody (me included) to 28 Days Later. This is because (1) Later “zombies” ran really fast; and (2) the movies themselves are pretty similar in ways I’m too tired to get into. It’s tough, though, because those weren’t really zombies in Later: they were infected by Rage. Yeah! Whereas these are true zombies in Dawn, except they run really fast and don’t seem to actually eat the living, they just tear open jugulars and bite really hard to make ‘em dead and one of them. And if you stay through the credits (you gotta!) you’ll see Dawn zombies will exist in very interesting conditions (what if you reached for a beer and got a zombie instead? Damn!). The comparison is accurate because they’re pretty close…

But surprisingly, I think I have to give 28 Days Later the nod. I enjoyed both films immensely, and I’m glad I got to see both on the big screen. But with 28 Days Later, I never felt boring watching it nor did I anticipate what was going to happen next. I recall a sinking feeling in my gut several times, and I honestly didn’t know if the heroes were going to make it or not. With Dawn, I got restlessly bored a few times and I pretty much figured out the ending, the final crew and their quandaries ten minutes ahead of time. It was a butt-kicking film experience, to be sure, but I think the ball got dropped a few times. Keeping in mind that I live and breathe horror movies, comics, and novels, you might have a little less in the way of expectations so everything might turn out better for you. Good luck with that.

Dawn is definitely worth checking out, if just to marvel that they’re still making some quality gore flicks and putting them out there on plenty of screens. If you want your date to grab you at appropriate moments, Dawn can be your buddy. But if you’re looking for a new favorite horror movie, I kind of doubt Dawn will be your wingman, so to speak. I want to see it again (as a rental) and I’ll recommend it to other friends who love horror (my buddy Chance already called me up after he saw it and was like “Let’s see it again!”), so I’d say it’s a success. I just won’t be able to watch it over and over again while I work on homework, like Freddy vs. Jason. But I’m kind of sick like that. But I’m not sick as in “infected with rage” or “soon to turn zombie,” so just put that machete down, please. Please. No. Noooooo!

Lissa’s rating: How did the pregnant chick stay so skinny? Really, I want to know.

Lissa’s review: Who came up with the idea of zombies, anyway? Living dead that walk the earth, feasting on the living. That’s just disgusting. Whoever they are, I’m sure their mother is very, very proud of them. Yech.

It was a beautiful, warm, day. The first of spring. We should have been outside, playing roller hockey (not that I can skate) or going for walks or working on our non-existent lawn. But no, the guys were hung over, so we went to the movies. Eh, it wasn’t that sunny out anyway.

“What shall we see?” Hubby’s buddy #1 asked.

“I’m up for anything except Agent Cody Banks or Scooby Doo 2. I’m a reviewer,” I said with pride. Yeah, I set myself up. I know.

“So how ’bout Dawn of the Dead?” Hubby’s buddy #2 suggested. “I’ll never get my fiancée to see that!”

“My girlfriend won’t see it either,” Hubby’s buddy #1 mourned empathetically.

Determined to be the “cool wife”, I smiled and said “Sure! Sounds great!”

Um, Liss, take a note. You hate horror flicks. This was a bad idea.

Now, I’m not sure if you’re aware of this little fact, but it’s been scientifically proven that a movie is 32% less scary if you watch it filtered through your fingers. This is why my hands covered my face from the first spooky bars of music until the ending credits. I could try to convince you I had a runny nose or something, but who are we fooling? I’m a total wuss.

I admit, some little part of me did enjoy Dawn of the Dead. It was suitably scary in spots, although given the above paragraph you probably think I scream at the sight of bugs. (Only big ones.) But when I got home that night and took out the steaks, I nearly puked. For some reason, the sight of that raw, red meat just conjured up images from the movie we’d just seen I didn’t want to see. (Either that or I was really against the idea of serving steak to three guys who’d just convinced me to see this movie.) Dawn of the Dead is definitely from the gore school of horror flicks.

Thing is though, as a movie, Dawn of the Dead kind of sucked. I can’t remember any of the characters’ names, or really anything about them except that the lead chick was a nurse (a point that’s hammered home) and the lead guy had three divorces. The premise wasn’t bad — people barricade themselves in a mall to stay away from zombies- but you know what? Except for the fact I’d have to look at more fake blood and expressions of terrible pain, I really didn’t care if the zombies got these people. Honestly. Heck, if it hurried the end of the movie, bring it on!

And that was the thing. I was terrified at the beginning, but as the movie went on, I became less and less so. Sure, I still covered my eyes for some of the more tense moments, but it wasn’t anything like the beginning. And that annoys me. If I’m going to watch horror, I like the horror to either be consistent all the way through, or even better, build. This went from horror to gore, and guessing who was the next poor slob to be knocked off. Then I looked at my watch — a sure sign of boredom in a movie.

It is worth noting, however, that the three guys left the theater crowing over how great they thought this movie was, and that it was much better than they’d expected. And all three of them were saying this. So if you like horror, go read Kyle’s review. He might be a little fairer to this one than I am. And next time, I’ll let the boys see their silly zombie movie and go see something more my taste, like the chick flick at the theater next door.

Justin’s rating: There’s nothing to fear… except that fog that turns your skin inside-out

Justin’s review: Hello? Hello, is anyone out there? If anyone can hear me, I’m broadcasting from deep within the Mutant Reviewers bunker, sealed tight from the danger. I think I’m the last one, the last one to make it. I thought Kyle was okay… until he tried to bite me. If anyone picks up this signal, please get the word out: Dawn of the Dead is a heckuva film.

I hate it when you can’t go see a movie without listening to all those people who love to dampen our spirits by condemning a film — one they usually haven’t yet seen — because of its connections and stigma. To all those who decry Dawn just because it’s a remake, or that it follows two recent “end of the world” zombie flicks (Resident Evil and 28 Days Later), or even just because it’s in the “horror” genre, I just have one thing to say. Burp.

Putting aside all fears and expectations, Dawn of the Dead delivers on its premise: Zombies. The world collapsing into undead ruin. Survivors in a mall. Squicky stuff. Heapings of dark humor. If that’s what you’re looking for, this movie is a non-stop buffet. It doesn’t even waste any time getting started — before the opening credits, we meet our main heroine, plunge the world into decaying darkness, and show off quite a few zombie attacks. I appreciate something that doesn’t putz around with cutting tension; I want my zombie’s popping out like prairie dogs, and don’t skimp on the growls.

As nurse Ana (Sarah Polley), police officer Kenneth (Ving Rhames), and an entire sitcom worth of assorted extras flee to the relative safety of a local mall, the big question of what’s happened and how big of a problem it’s become is placed in the periphery of our vision. It’s frustrating, because if you’re gonna end the world and have billions of zombies chomping around like undead Pac-Men, I want detailed explanations. Preferably, sixteen hours of straight-up info. However, since this movie is made for you all and not for me — how that will change in the glorious future! — the filmmakers focus more on the survivors surviving and slip in little details about the bigger picture here and there. Probably the creepiest scene for me is when Ana is fleeing in her car at the beginning, not knowing what’s going on, and she comes upon an ambulance where you can sort of see two zombies through frosted glass assaulting a screaming victim.

There’s a million stories in Dawn of the Dead’s world, and we just get one.

This is not a strict by-the-numbers remake of the original George Romero classic, which is equally good in different ways. I feel it’s more balanced in terms of spreading out equal shares of horror, humor and action, and while parts of the movie went far faster than I would have liked, at least I was constantly entertained. And sitting on the edge of my seat. Although it is skewed from its ancestor in some ways (the improved zombie looks and realistic gore are a plus), the general spirit is the same. Fleeing a world of unstoppable horror, our survivors imprison themselves to try to shield themselves from the hurt… for now. Yet in both movies, the problem arises of not being able to live for long even in a huge mall. Death is out there, indeed, but death will eventually catch them in there, too.

As I said, some of the movie moved too fast and glossed over details and characterizations I wish we could see. Many of the cast are just “hey, I got my five lines to say and then I go home” faces, which makes it hard to empathize with them and their situation. The filmmakers take a special glee in presenting a no-win scenario again and again, contrasting the terrible new world with sadistically cheerful music and false hope.

I have a few other nags to wag a finger at, such as how long the power stays on in the mall (even with a generator, it’s pretty ridiculous for that large of a structure). Or how it appears that since 28 Days Later, it’s no longer politically correct for zombies to do their famous shuffle; instead, they do the same sprint-and-growl thing that we just saw last summer.

But really, a zombie movie has to work hard to make me hate it, and Dawn of the Dead does too much right to even be considered for punishment. There’s even a few select scenes that will have you sitting straight up, the hair on your hackles rising, as you encounter something pretty cool and original for such a well-tread genre. While driving home after the film, I half expected to see crashed cars and fires everywhere, and people running from the ravenous undead. Cheeky.

Okay… I have to go. I think they’ve breached the door. I can hear their howls, their screams for living flesh, and I must go feed them. This is Justin, signing off for the human race.

Clare’s rating: Ack! ZOMBIES!!!

Clare’s review: Here’s what I love about zombie movies. Well, actually there are a lot of things I love about them, but here’s what I love THE MOST. Growing up as a relatively close follower of classic (read 1970s) mainstream horror movies, it didn’t take very long before the “…the Dead” (Dawn of…, Day of…, Night of [the Living]…, Your Mom Likes To Hang Out With…) series started shading my world view. Basically, I developed a barometer by which I could judge the relative merits of people around me based almost entirely on how useful and resourceful or pathetic and annoying I thought they would be if we the neighborhood was suddenly overrun by the undead, hell-bent on chomping on our brains.

There are people I can hang out with and have fun with and be cool with, but if I think they’d be a major liability come zombie time, I tend not to have those people as my close friends. Call me a zombie snob if you must, but a gal’s gotta have her standards and mine just happen to include people’s ability to handle brain eating mindless ghouls with grace and ease.

The other majorly fun thing about zombie movies is that INVARIABLY there’s some random person in the group of people who manages somehow to stay alive but who is totally and completely inept, annoying and more importantly, clearly of no use to the rest of the group. The great thing about them, as a device in all these films, is that they ALWAYS meet some horrifying demise that gives everyone in the audience a sick sense of satisfaction when the moron (or greedy jerk, or shallow pompous ass, or ditzy blonde) who had it coming finally gets theirs in the end.

I love the original Dawn of the Dead. It’s an absolute classic. It’s scary and hilarious and biting (in more ways than one!) and cool and gory and really fun to watch. So I was kind of skeptical when I found out they made a “new” version of it. Maybe I’m getting old or something, but in general I’m suspicious of “re-imaginings” or “re-visiting” of source material that I already hold dear in it original form. (I’m looking RIGHT at you Texas Chainsaw Massacre!)

So, I was more than a little pleased when it turned out that the NEW Dawn of the Dead not only absolutely focused on my two favorite elements of zombie movies (survival of the fittest and relishing the demise of the not-so-fittest, as outlined above) but also did away with all the stuff about zombie movies that drives me crazy (sure, they replaced it with some new stuff that kind of drove me crazy too, but we’ll get to that in a minute) and threw in all sorts of new, exciting, wildly bloody things that made it ten times more excellent to watch than I was anticipating. No, it’s not a perfect movie. But it is a hell of a lot of fun.

Sarah Polley plays our heroine who is thrust almost immediately into zombie hell. She’s a nurse (lucky lucky), so she’s got some skills and some instincts that help her through a few tough jams (like, uh, her dear sweet husband dying and then trying to chew on her head for a spell). As in the original, she bands together with a mishmash of other random people she finds who aren’t yet zombies and they find (relative) safety in the warm embrace of their local shopping mall.

Except for the ENTIRE story line the screenwriters gave to Mekhi Phifer’s character, the rest of the movie bubbles along at a great pace and the cast if filled in really nicely by a good variety of characters and character actors to portray them. I especially loved Michael Kelly as the sarcastic, perpetually suspicious mall security guard. Plus, the soundtrack was really tremendous at setting a bunch of different specific moods and was also really, really clever and dynamic. In particular, I LOVED the cheezy lounge version (by aptly named faux cheezy lounge singer, Richard Cheese) of Disturbed’s “Down With the Sickness” and thought that using Johnny Cash’s haunting “The Man Comes Around” at the opening credits was brilliant — good times!

I also really love the new trend in zombie movies (see also: 28 Days Later) that throws away the convention that zombies are slow, aimless and dumb. Because really, who can’t distract a slow, aimless, dumb thing. Or just run it over with a car. Or run away just slightly faster then the zombie shambles. No no my friends. The NEW zombie of the 21st century is a zombie on the go. If they catch your scent, you don’t have time to dilly dally around contemplating your existence. Because they will swarm on you in a blood thirsty frenzy like a pack of sharks or wolves or some other animal with sharp teeth that doesn’t give a crap about you. That’s good scary fun right there! It doesn’t hurt that these swarming zombies also come with a really terrifying swarming zombie chatter of impending doom® so you know they’re coming for you even if you can’t see which direction they’re coming from. Scary!

I was more than pleasantly relieved by how much fun I had watching Dawn of the Dead (2004). It would be a lot of fun to rent this alongside the original version and enjoy both of them back to back for all the mangled-carnage filled fun you can pack into one horrifying afternoon.

Didja notice?

  • Mall security guards really take their jobs seriously!
  • The shatterproof glass in mall doors is really frickin’ shatterproof! Build your getaway vehicles out of that stuff!
  • There are three essential things to have for the post-armageddon fashion season: guns, tons of bullets, and gourmet coffee.
  • That Andy is an extraordinary shot, and a superb (zombie) celebrity spotter.
  • As long as a zombie has a mouth and an intact brain to tell the mouth when to open and shut, it’s good to go!
  • Zombies have extremely acute senses of hearing.
  • Somehow, fat and feeble humans become Olympic sprinting zombies, post-death.
  • It’s one thing to love your pets. It’s quite another to get so attached to a brand new one (even post-losing-everyone-in-your-life-that-you-love) that you do something so emotionally insane like a certain character does. Dang!
  • They have to be in the mall, let’s say, at least a couple of weeks, maybe less, yet everyone keeps up their standard shaving regimens. That’s the sort of dedication to good appearances that all of us, Queer Eyes and heterosexual eyes alike, should learn from!
  • Actors Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger and Tom Savini all appeared in the original 1978 version of this film, but playing different characters.
  • The WGON Traffic Copter makes an appearance. The WGON traffic Copter was the main transportation for the survivor in the original Dawn of the Dead
  • When the survivors initially look at the mall, one of the large department stores signs reads, “GAYLEN ROSS”. Gaylen Ross played Fran, in the original film.
  • One of the most gruesome zombies (the bloated woman) was actually played by a man.
  • Director Zack Snyder is one of the security guards (the one just to the right of the first lady) in the White House scene during the opening credits.

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