Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Dawn of the Dead (2004) Gather round children, I have a little story to tell.

Back in the days of 1-800-COLLECT, overhead projectors, and AIM being relevant, our zombies lumbered around like Joe Biden on quaaludes. And we liked it that way, goddamnit. Then came along a little flick called Dawn of the Dead (2004).

Only it wasn’t the first time we’d seen it, of course; it was a remake of George A. Romero 1978 classic. Sure, it was flashy, sexy, and scary as could be, but the zombies were fast. Fast, I say.

They were also quick in 28 Days Later (2002), but just not like this. And thus began the great zombie speed debate we still have today.

Does the story end there? Not quite. This wildly successful reboot was a bit more than just that.

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Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

The remake mostly retains the core of Romero’s inventive plot, but adds its own twist on things during the initial scenes: Ana (Sarah Polley) is a nurse who misses an emergency news bulletin while making whoopie with her husband. A zombie kid gets into their house, infecting her hubby, and she barely escapes. She passes out in a car crash and awakens to join a group of fellow non-zombies who board up in a mall: Police Sergeant Kenneth (Ving Rhames), Michael (Jake Weber), Andre (Mekhi Phifer) — a petty criminal — and his pregnant wife Luda (Inna Korobkina).

Three asshole guards (one of which is Michael Kelly, aka Doug Stamper, aka Fuck Yeah) force them to turn over their weapons, and the group tries to secure the place the best they can while being at odds with The Three Stooges the whole time. Conflict abounds, but the setting is as rich as in the original: muzak endlessly plays, they collect goods like kids in a candy store, and that dead feeling malls give off anyway materializes in the most overt way. It’s a fun watch.

Aside from the really quick zombies, a marked difference from the original Dawn of the Dead is this version’s larger cast — and subsequently the less time we get to know each of them.

There’s also more 28 Days Later residue in the way the zombies spread via disease and infected bites, rather than simply rising from death like in Romero films. Like all ’00 reboots, remakes, and general fan-abuse, the Dawn of the Dead sports production that leaves all straight-to-DVD copiers in the dust. The whole thing looks shadowy and dark, the jump scares keep coming, and the depressed, post-9/11 malaise of American horror adds considerable doom. This would not be the last we’d see from director Zack Snyder: 300 (2007), Watchmen (2009), and Man of Steel (2013) would all render Dawn of the Dead to just a footnote in his filmography.

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

What did Romero think of the whole thing? After all, he didn’t even produce. Well, he liked it, particularly the first 15-20 minutes, as he told Simon Pegg in an interview. “But it sort of lost its reason for being,” he said. “It was more of a video game. I’m not terrified of things running at me; it’s like Space Invaders. There was nothing going on underneath.”

Romero is right about the start of the film – the opening scenes convey the chaos and horror in an arresting and frantic 20 minutes as the zombies take-over and society collapses….all to the inspired choice of ‘When the Man Comes Around‘ by Johnny Cash as the track used in the opening credits.

His video game comparison is apt — it reminds me of the Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) reboot — directed by a music video director (Samuel Bayer) — that watches like a series of video game interludes. All hollow, and like Romero says, nothing underneath. The reboot as a thing will always be imperfect, because slick production can never time travel to when source material was fresh. The two sides will never meet. Remakes will never be more than fun sideshows, but that means they’re still fun. Dawn of the Dead’s among them.

Watch ‘Dawn of the Dead’ below:

Useful links:

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Also, don’t forget to check out the short film ‘The Lost Tape: Andy’s Terrifying Last Days Revealed‘ – it was released as a companion piece to the film and was featured on the DVD as an extra, and has also been screened at some cinemas. It follows the story of ‘Andy’ that character from the gun-shop in Dawn of the Dead. Watch it here.

Written by: Ben Mueller