Welcome to day two of the Zombiemas infection. Tonight, I present…
This has been competing with Day of the Dead as my favorite in the series. It really depends on my mood, what house the moon is in, whether I had pizza for lunch, and if The Golden Girls is on, those kinds of scientific variables.
Dawn of the Dead (1978) is known as the zombie movie set at the mall. Yes, the mall is a major part of the story. But there are other aspects too, and while there are a lot of hijinks and shenanigans in this installation, there is actually a serious message.
The movie takes place after the events of Night of the Living Dead. Fran and Stephen work in a newsroom. Stephen can pilot a helicopter and tells Fran of his plan to escape.
Stephen’s friends with Roger, a member of a SWAT team. He meets Peter in the basement of a project that is full of zombies. They decide to desert and leave with Fran and Stephen. From here on in I’m calling Stephen “Flyboy” because that’s what Peter calls him, and Peter is cool.
The helicopter starts to run low on fuel so they stop at the Monroeville Mall. They realize that the mall has everything they’ll need and decide to make it their home. A whole lot of other stuff happens too. But I will get into that later. So now you have to read the rest of this entry.
Dawn of the Dead is full of social commentary and I don’t think that it’s as heavy-handed as Romero’s latest entries in the series. One major aspect is the role of the media in a crisis. At one point, Fran tells one of her coworkers to take down the emergency center information scroll from the broadcasts because the information is inaccurate and they could be sending people to places crawling with zombies. She’s later berated by a superior for doing this because people will only tune in if there’s that emergency scroll bar.
This is happening at the same time as the raid on the projects. Here’s where Romero criticizes the government. The projects are full of hispanic and black families and Roger’s stuck on the same team as this maniac racist sadist. Their job in the projects is to dispose of all the dead bodies that the families have refused to hand over to the National Guard. This goes as well as you can imagine and it’s hard to tell who’s more brutal, the zombies or the soldiers.
When the four main characters settle down at the mall, the t.v. becomes their main connection to the outside world. There’s this constant program of two people arguing over the zombie crisis. It’s amazing that Romero predicted the Bill O’Reilly show decades before it was created. Can I say that I love this guy with the eyepatch?
Why can’t everyone on t.v. be that amazing? Because the t.v. would explode with outstandingness if everyone was that amazing, that’s why. The t.v. commentators do bring up some interesting questions. What do you do with the zombies? My gut reaction has always been to just shoot them. It just seemed incredibly dishonorable to let your mother or your father become a shambling, decomposing mess. But there are people earnestly advocating the feeding of the zombies until there can be a cure because they’ll never go away as long as humans are around. This, along with volume two of the compiled Walking Dead comics makes me question the morality of my shoot from the hip response to zombies. Ultimately, it may be more ethical to let them live but the best practical, survival-based reaction is to kill them.
The broadcasts eventually stop. This is a sign for Fran, Flyboy, and Peter (Alas, Roger is no more) that they’re become too comfortable, when Fran and Flyboy start arguing over whether or not to keep the blank-screened t.v. on or off.
It’s very easy to see this movie as a criticism of consumerism. Look at the brain-dead zombies coming to the mall, har har har. As Peter says, “They’re us, that’s all. When there’s no more room in hell the dead will walk the earth.”
But I like to consider the behavior of the survivors more than the behavior of the zombies. Once they’re out of immediate danger, they basically treat their stay in the mall as an extended shopping spree. There’s no thought of helping anyone else or lending shelter to anyone else–although, on a survival level I’m not sure I would help anyone else out, either. It’s actually quite fun to see how quickly they adapt to the environment. They turn on the goofy mall music and help themselves to everything. It’s like they’re trying to recreate the old world that they knew instead of creating a better world from scratch. First they have to arm up.
Then they kill the zombies and get rid of the carnage.
Finally, they start to crack in their self-imposed prison.
Until outsiders try to steal what’s theirs, that is.
The zombies can’t help what they are, so what’s the excuse for the survivors’ behavior?
On an awesome note, Romero includes a bit of women’s lib in the movie. Fran, while visibly scared, is much more functional than Barbra was. She notices the men beginning to separate themselves from her and leave her behind on the homestead as they attend to the work of liberating the mall from the dead. Fran calls them on this and tells them that she won’t be their den mother, that she wants to learn to shoot and, importantly, how to fly the helicopter in case something happens to Flyboy. Oh, and she’s pregnant too, so, yeah.
What really separates this movie, in my mind, from Night of the Living Dead is the level of violence. The blood is this insane red color, like melted red crayons, and the zombies vary in hue from greyish to blue. Oh, and the blood flows like tempera paint. On one hand, I like that these details heighten the unreality of the situation. On the other hand, I wish that there had been an effort to make the zombies look more decomposed as the movie progressed. That’s what I like about The Walking Dead comic and series, that they included things like that severely decomposed zombie that is barely functioning but still snaps at Rick Grimes.
This movie also made me think of some rules to live by in case of a zombie apocalypse.
1. You’re faster than them. As long as there aren’t too many you can probably outrun them.
2. Headshots are impressive but you really just have to incapacitate them.
3. Zombies are dumb. Use your brains to trick them, like Roger and Peter do when they first step out into the mall.
4. Keep your head. Roger didn’t and he got sloppy and then he got bitten. Flyboy also had a tendency to panic and they both ended up dead.
I’ve decided that the Zombie of the Movie is the refueling zombie. He shows up when they land briefly to refuel and he gets the top of his head chopped off by the helicopter blades.
See, this just reinforces my point that zombies are dumb.
Despite its social criticism, I think that this is essentially a hopeful movie. Fran and Peter have both suffered losses, but as they fly away in that partially fueled helicopter, you can’t help but think that they’re going to land someplace better and take the lessons they’ve learned with them.
Now get ready for some despair because Day of the Dead is next.