October Extras #21 - Dawn of the Dead (2004)

OCTOBER 21, 2007


Ah, yes. The Dawn of the Dead remake. A.K.A. the movie that made me remove my foot from my mouth and apologize (not to anyone in particular), not to mention automatically give every remake since an “I’ll wait till I see it until I pass judgment” stance. See, the original Dawn is my 2nd favorite horror movie, after Halloween, and the very thought of a remake appalled me. “Fuck you, guy who wrote Scooby Doo and guy who may one day direct the most blatantly homoerotic movie of all time” I was quoted as saying.

But then I went to see the film. And within 15 minutes, I was not only willing to accept it as a remake of a classic, but I was genuinely enjoying it, a lot. I can’t recall for sure, but I’d go so far as to say that it eventually became my favorite horror movie of the year (I can barely even recall another 2004 horror movie though. The Grudge?).

A big part of the film’s success goes to James Gunn’s brilliant decision to just retain the concept (“Zombies in a mall”) and NOTHING ELSE from the original. He understood what Rob Zombie and so many others have not – the only way your remake of a classic, beloved film will work is if you allow the audience to get lost in YOUR film. How can I get into the Halloween remake if every 5 minutes or so I am seeing a copy of a scene from the original? That’s not a concern here. Literally nothing is repeated in terms of scenes or events, only the occasional line or two (“When there’s no more room in hell...”).

Besides that, it’s also a genuinely good zombie movie. Ignoring the fast vs. slow zombie debate (For the record though, I find slow zombies scarier, sort of the same way that a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one), one cannot deny that the film has plenty of new ideas, and some great comedic moments. The scene in the elevator where Mekhi Pfifer has to keep hitting the door to keep it from closing is a perfect mix of tension and relief, and Andy (a character whose fate is truly sad) and Kenneth’s shooting game is a hoot. There’s also some great black comic stuff, in particular the chainsaw death near the end of the film that ranks as one of the best kills in all zombie movie history (and it doesn’t even involve zombies!).

Also this:

And this:

What's to dislike?

Also, the character development is pretty good, especially considering a. how many characters are in the film and b. how fast it moves. Jake Weber’s Michael is a more well-rounded character than anyone in the original, and the early scenes with Sarah Polley and her boyfriend feel very natural. And CJ, who begins the film as a total jerk and ends up being our core group’s most useful ally, is another great character. Unlike the original, there are no “hero zombies” to speak of – they are pretty generic (made up for by the sheer amount of them).

The DVD (unrated) version is superior to the theatrical as well. Not because of the added gore, but because it adds a scene that explains what seems like a truly idiotic moment in the theatrical. When they first arrive at the mall, they go in out back, after a brief zombie attack scene. This scene was omitted from the theatrical, so it looked like they enter the mall by throwing a toilet through a store window from the outside. Why this scene would be cut is beyond me, but then again, this is the same studio (Universal) that tried to make The Return look like a generic ghost movie.

Many have decried the film for excluding any of the social commentary/satire of the original, but like The Hitcher, I don’t see why this is a problem. If you want commentary, watch the original. I don’t believe there’s any law that says a zombie film has to be a metaphor for some larger issue. Some have also put it down by claiming it’s just an action movie with zombies, but that’s, if anything, total hypocrisy – the original has a large shootout between gang members and cops, a car racing around the mall, a big stunt-filled finale with another gang, helicopter and truck sequences... it’s just as much an “action movie” as the 1978 one. Plus, look at all the good that came from this film’s success: Romero finally got the dough to make his own 4th Dead film, the game Dead Rising (the parking garage/tunnel areas of the game were obviously inspired by the scene shown above) is one of the best horror games ever, and Gunn and Snyder went on to make further contributions (Slither was one of 2006’s best films, and Dawn + 300 = Watchmen, finally) to the genre. Hell we even got a 4 disc release of the original.

This year I have met both Gunn and Snyder, and told them how they got right what so many others have gotten wrong (I actually called Snyder an asshole for making the film so good that it gave me hope for Halloween 2007 – a ‘compliment’ I’m not sure he understood, and I don’t blame him): they took someone else’s concept and title, sure, but they made their OWN film. It’s not necessarily better or worse than the original – it’s too different to make an accurate comparison. I think both are great for what they set out to be, and it’s a damn shame that Rob Zombie, John Moore, Neil LaBute, and Alexandra Aja (among others) failed to follow their lead.

What say you?


  1. What is it about babies being so effective as devices for horror/fear? I'll never forget the baby in Trainspotting tormenting the Ewan McG character... or the green alien baby in the TV series 'V'.

  2. I thought this was a great remake as well. And the DVD extras are awesome!

  3. I really enjoyed it too and after seeing it in the theater my husband and I had to go back and watch all the originals again.

  4. Hi BC,

    I, too, dug this remake. Great cast. Everything was cool.


  5. Jimmy-- I think there is something about the innocence of babies that make them so horrifying; maybe it's just me speaking as a mother, but when you take something like the pregnant character in DOTD, you just have such hope that the baby will be okay. No one wants anything bad to happen to a baby or child (which is what makes Argento's Trauma and The Omen and even Pumpkinhead so unnerving).

    Then the baby is NOT okay and its just such a menacing thought; this little thing that is so helpless in reality is going to gnaw your fucking face off. Maybe it has something to do with how babies don't know any better in reality, so when one is born to kill in a movie, its just scary as shit.

    I was terrified of my son when he was born and he hasn't killed anyone... yet, anyway.

    Brian, I agree with you 100% on this one; this movie was flat out fun and good. Hurray!

  6. I would have liked this movie based on the first 10 minutes alone. Has a later-era Johnny Cash song EVER been used more effectively in a movie? The answer is no, it's un-possible.

    I did kinda think there were TOO many people in the mall, though. You never really got to know the chick who ended up banging one of the guys in the lingerie store, for instance, and other characters were pretty obvious zombie-snax. But all in all, yeah, a pretty good remake.

    I also very much liked the nod to Fulci's Zombi 2 with the ending...or at least that's how I took it.

  7. You make such a good case for the movie that I feel like I should like it...I just don't

    It felt so slick and impersonal to me. Some of the action sequences were fun, but I thought the dog idea was silly and the ending was a groaner.

    I've only seen the theatrical cut, maybe I should give it another shot on DVD.

    Luckily, neither one of my children turned out to be zombies. If they did though, I would try to nurture them like Lionel did in Dead-Alive. ;)

  8. You know, in my notes I wrote "Fulci" and yet skipped over that anyway... I remember cheering in theaters. Even the music has a tribal, and thus VOODOO, feel to it all.

  9. The opening, until she crashes the car, is in my top 5 of all time, of any type of movie. The neighborhood scene is how I have always imagined a real, zombie attack to be. I even got to see Richard Cheese do "The Sickness" live in Sacramento awhile back. I wish the rest of the movie was as good. It just wasn't very engaging. I never got the idea they were ever desperate. I wanted to like Ving Rhamses character too, but could never do it. The ending was a real downer, too.

  10. Great review for a great film. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this remake.

  11. I love zombie flicks and this is a classic. I find the fast zombies more terrifying, however. When the zombie apocalypse comes, if they are like these bastards, we are all fucked. You just might as well eat a bullet cuz there is no hope. Anyway, great flick, even with the downer ending.


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