Sunday, October 9, 2011

There's Got to Be a Morning After (or 2)

Krishna failed to pull this guy up to Heaven by his ponytail.

I won't bother you again with the story of when I first saw Romero's Dawn of the Dead. Instead, I want to share my thoughts on the film (and Zack Snyder's 2004 'remake').

The events of Romero's version take place in the days following those of Night of the Living Dead. The world has been overrun by the reanimated dead, and as scientists argue over the cause and what should be done about it, Philadelphia newscaster Fran (Gaylen Ross) and her helicopter pilot boyfriend Stephen (David Emge) are planning on stealing the station's chopper to make their escape. Meanwhile, SWAT cops Peter (Ken Foree) and Roger (Scott Reineger) are sent into a Philadelphia tenement where they find a basement full of zombies, hidden by their loved ones who don't want to see their family members slaughtered. After killing dozens of both zombies and the living, the two decide they've had enough and meet up with Fran and Stephen to flee the city. After a scare while refueling the chopper, they come upon a shopping mall which they realize could serve as a sanctuary and land on the roof. They kill the zombies inside and risk going outside to block the mall's entrances with tractor-trailer trucks. It is during this risky operation that Roger gets sloppy and ends up bitten. They create a hidden living space and use the guns and food in the stores to create a mini-utopia for themselves. That is, until Roger succumbs to his wounds and reanimates. When Peter is forced to shoot his friend i teh head, they soon realize that their utopia is actually a prison, and begin to discuss leaving. Before they can, the mall is invaded by a gang of bikers, which include Romero himself (in a the Santa suit) and make-up effects innovator, Tom Savini. The bikers let hundreds of zombies in and Peter is bitten. When he reanimates, he leads the zombies right to the hidden living space, forcing Fran and Peter to the roof. As Fran waits outside, Peter contemplates suicide, but at the last minute fights his way to the chopper where he and Fran fly off with an unknown amount of fuel to an uncertain future.

Romero's film is notable for many reasons. First, Savini's effects: exploding heads; flesh being ripped off; intestines being pulled from stomachs and most infamously, the zombie ho gets the top of his head cut off by the helicopter's rotor. Second, like most of Romero's films, it makes a telling statement about blind consumerism and how people need to feel like they belong. As Peter says, "They're us, that's all."

Oh, Mom! You're so funny!

In 2004, director Zack Snyder (Watchmen; 300) 'remade' Dawn of the Dead. I used quotations here because the only thing the two films have in common is a shopping mall.

Snyder's film, from a screenplay by Slither director James Gunn, is set in Wisconsin and ignores the events of  Night... altogether. Nurse Ana (Sarah Polley) has just come off a double shift at a hospital which has seen an unusual number of bite victims. She briefly talks with her young  neighbor Vivian (Hannah Lochner) before heading off to an in-house date night with her husband, Luis (Louis Ferrreira). The next morning, Luis is awakened to find Vivian in their house. Before he can figure out what's going on, Vivian savagely attacks him, ripping out his throat with her teeth. Ana tries to save Luis, but he dies and is quickly reanimated only to attack Ana, who barely manages to escape to find that chaos has erupted in her normally quiet suburban neighborhood. After crashing her car, she meets up with Kenneth (Ving Rhames); Michael (Jake Weber); Andre (Mekhi Phifer) and his pregnant girlfriend, Luda (Inna Korobkina). The four make their way to a nearby mall, where they're basically taken hostage by a trio of mall security guards (Michael Kelly, Michael Barry and Kevin Zeigers). Soon, a panel truck filled with survivors shows up, including rich a-hole Steve (Ty Burrell); devoted dad Frank (Matt Frewer); his daughter Nicole (Lindy Booth), among others. They also discover Andy (Bruce Bohne), who is stuck in his gun shop, across the street from the mall. They communicate with Andy via whiteboard, playing chess and sending encouragement. It isn't long before folks start dying; Andy begins to starve and a reanimated Luda gives birth to a zombie baby. Deciding to escape on Steve's boat, they construct two zombie-proof vehicles and break out. After one of the trucks crashes and it's passengers die, the survivors make their way to an island in Lake Michigan, where things aren't much better. Foree makes a cameo appearance as a televangelist, reprising his line from the original: "When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth."

Unlike the shuffling, shambling zombies in Romero's films, the zombies in Snyder's movie are fast and furious (like the 'zombies' in Danny Boyles' 28 Days Later), which made Romero furious. Romero would later make his disdain known in his "first-person" zombie film, Diary of the Dead, in which a young director yells at an actor playing a mummy: "You're dead! The dead can't run! They'd break their ankles!"

While an effective and exciting horror movie, Snyder and Gunn's version has none of the social commentary of Romero's film. Both films are terrifying, but they work on completely different levels. Uncle P, while no purist, actually prefers the Romero version, though that may have more to do with the circumstances under which I first saw it, more than anything. If nothing else, Snyder's movie proves that the rules of the genre (like many a horror story) are malleable and subject to the whims of the writer. In either case, the Zombie Apocalypse is not something I want to be around for. But if I am, I will be well-prepared.

More, anon.


Pax Romano said...

I find Romero's original a nightmarish experience, and a brilliant reflection of the 70's, "Me Generation" (the scientist smug and content in his theories, the heroes claiming the mall as their own, the bikers taking what is not theirs becuase they feel it is owed them, and the zombies happily and hungrily haunting a shopping mall).

The remake (while it had it's moments), was a headache inducing affair that sadly reflected on this noisy, hyperactive world we currently live in ...even the zombies are overachievers. However, the opening credits with its use of news footage and Johnny Cash's "When The Man Comes Around" is genius.

Anonymous said...

I thought the opening 5 minutes of Snyder's Dead was brilliant!

Prospero said...

Completely agree, Sean. The opening sequence has a truly nightmarish quality to it. I wish he could have sustained that for the rest of the movie.