I’ve probably spent too much time planning what I would do if the dead began walking. In my home, I wouldn’t stand a chance; too many doors and windows to worry about. But somewhere out in my little slice of southern suburbia would be a perfect place to hideout. Somewhere with lots of food, weapons and (living) creature comforts. Maybe Walmart, what a fitting place to probably die. In George A. Romero’s 1978 classic, Dawn of the Dead, survivors find this sweet spot in their town, the local shopping mall.
After a few scenes of chaos and a harrowing escape by helicopter, our survivors include Stephen (David Emge), his girlfriend, Francine (Gaylen Ross), Peter (Ken Foree) and Roger (Scott H. Reiniger), both SWAT team members. Searching and surveying the chaos by air, they land on top of a shopping mall. Inside, it seems to be equipped to be an emergency shelter, complete with supplies in an innermost area. With a little work to clear the mall of zombies and teamwork to block the exits, they make the place a safe haven. But soon others will want to make it their own.
Compared to its predecessor, Night of the Living Dead, I don’t find Dawn of the Dead very frightening. Being in color, with dated non-rotting zombie makeup and blood that looks like orange ketchup, it does not feel nearly as real. The setting seems to distract from the peril as well. People go to the mall to get away, relax and take part in some retail therapy. Zombies on an escalator are more amusing than threatening.
Yet, I believe that is where the genius of this film lies. What it lacks in fright it makes up in satire. Who doesn’t look like a complete zombie wandering through the shopping mall facing the mundane task of finding new clothes? And while our survivors have adequately secured the area, they do a little shopping of their own. They enjoy the ice rink, serve each other in the fanciest restaurant and get unlimited games in the arcade. After shooting zombies, who doesn’t want to test their skills at Duck Hunt? The mall becomes again just as it was designed to be, a distraction from the real world.
One other element of satire I truly loved was the depiction of the zombie hunters in the beginning of the film. From the helicopter, the gang sees packs of burly men armed to the teeth and making the most out of zombie hunting season. They bring their hunting and tailgating supplies, including pickup trucks to hang out and drink plenty of beer in. Some sit on the hillside and just enjoy taking down the zombies one by one as they come out of the woods.
While it won’t give me the years of nightmares that Night of the Living Dead did, Dawn of the Dead is a fine and enjoyable zombie flick by the master. Grab your favorite mall snack (or just make a Walmart run), settle in and watch for zombies in the food court.
“One-stop shopping: everything you need, right at your fingertips.”