1978 is undoubtedly one of the most important years in all of horror cinema history. Not only was it the year that saw the release of John Carpenter’s “Halloween” (still the greatest horror film of all time), but it was also the year that gave us George A. Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead,” which is considered by many horror fans to be the single greatest zombie film ever made. “Dawn” still plays marvelously well today, mainly thanks to Romero’s memorable characters, his commentary on society, and, of course, Tom Savini’s unforgettable makeup effects, ultimately turning it into one of the most rewatchable horror films of all time. Back in 2004, it was entirely unthinkable that anyone would have the nerve to attempt a remake of such a highly-regarded film. However, that’s exactly what a completely unknown screenwriter (James Gunn) and a director making his first feature (Zack Snyder) took it upon themselves to do, resulting in a contemporary update that more than a few horror fans were surprised by.
The film begins by following Ana (Sarah Polley), a nurse who is returning home to her husband after a long shift. Later that morning, one of the neighborhood kids comes into their home and attacks Ana’s husband, ferociously biting him on the neck and eventually killing him. However, instead of staying dead, he jumps back up and tries to attack Ana. She manages to escape in her car, only to find that the chaos in her home is happening all around, with the dead returning to life and attacking the living. She eventually comes into contact with a police officer, Kenneth (Ving Rhames), and another group of survivors, who decide that the best thing to do is to hold up in the local mall. There they are joined by mall security and others who come seeking refuge from the ravenous zombies running amok. For a while, they are satisfied with their new home, but soon they feel the need to escape to somewhere safer, which launches a daring plan that could either end in their salvation or their ultimate demise.
It would have been rather easy (and more than a little lazy) simply to try and copy what Romero had done in his film by having a small group of characters try to get their lives back together during the zombie apocalypse by setting up a new home in a shopping mall, but luckily it would appear that Gunn and Snyder knew that that would probably be the fastest road to disaster. Instead, they gave us a film that only uses the most basic elements of Romero’s classic (survivors take refuge in a mall during the zombie outbreak) and make it their own by having it go in several different directions. To put it simply, their film does its own thing while still paying homage to the original.
For instance, there are several more characters and lots more conflict between them. For example, when the survivors first arrive at the mall, they have to deal with the less-than-hospitable security guards that want the place for themselves, while later there’s debate about what to do with those who’ve been bitten. Now, as you can probably figure, there is a downside to having several characters in that nobody really gets developed very far (unlike in the original where we spend most of the time with just four people), so it’s not really a film in which you can get attached to anyone. However, they’re still interesting enough to keep your attention as they try to make their new situation work amid the various problems that arise.
Of course, one of the film’s finest homages comes in the spectacular makeup effects that are shown and demonstrated throughout. This time around, the makeup was created by two-time Academy Award winner and two-time Emmy winner David Leroy Anderson (“Men in Black,” “The Nutty Professor,” “American Horror Story”), who has had an incredibly impressive career in the business that’s spanned over 30 years. The effects are really everything you would hope they would be: gory, shocking, and extreme. In short, he took what Savini had done 26 years prior and went to town in an effort to give fans exactly what they were expecting, and he certainly didn’t disappoint.
In the long run, it’s not nearly as good as Romero’s classic, but I don’t think anyone ever thought it had a chance of reaching that level in the first place. What Snyder and co. give us here is an interesting take on the material, a take that allows it to be its own film without having to undergo multiple comparisons to the original. It’s fun, entertaining, and has a talented cast (Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Ty Burrell, Michael Kelley, etc.). It’s rather surprising that a remake of one of the greatest horror films ever made would turn out this well, especially given the large shadow cast by the original, but somehow the filmmakers pulled it off, creating a fine zombie film in its own right.
“Dawn of the Dead” comes to Collector’s Edition Blu-ray in a 2.35:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of excellent quality. The picture is perfectly clear and sharp throughout, allowing you to see all of the spectacularly-gory effects in all of their glory. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is equally impressive, giving you all of the dialogue, sound effects, and score/soundtrack in outstanding quality. Overall, Shout! Factory has done a wonderful job of resurrecting this contemporary take on Romero’s classic, leaving no room for complaints.
Disc 1: Theatrical Version
Take a Chance on Me (15 Minutes), Gunn for Hire (9 Minutes), Punk, Rock & Zombie (23 Minutes), Killing Time at the Mall (26 Minutes): An excellent series of interviews with Ty Burrell, James Gunn, Jake Weber, and makeup artists David Anderson and Heather Langenkamp Anderson in which they discuss their experience on the film and how they got involved.
Deleted Scenes (12 Minutes): Bits and pieces that didn’t make either cut of the film.
Disc 2: Unrated Version
Audio Commentary with Director Zack Snyder and Producer Eric Newman: An intriguing track that has the director and co-producer giving you several behind the scenes tidbits throughout the film.
Splitting Headache (6 Minutes): A featurette that takes a look at how the exploding zombie heads were done.
Attack of the Living Dead (7 Minutes): A featurette that goes behind the scenes of some of the film’s zombie action.
Raising the Dead (8 Minutes): A featurette that explores the film’s zombie makeup.
Andy’s Lost Tape (16 Minutes): A pointless inclusion that merely has Andy recording a video in his gun shop.
Special Report: Zombie Invasion (21 Minutes): A fake news report covering the zombie outbreak.
Undead and Loving It: A Mockumentary (5 Minutes): Another pointless inclusion that has the crew pretending that they used real zombies.
Drawing the Dead (3 Minutes): A featurette that discusses the film’s storyboards.
Zack Snyder’s remake of “Dawn of the Dead” is a fun and entertaining zombie film that manages to stand on its own thanks to its talented cast, outstanding makeup effects, and a narrative that goes in new and interesting directions, all the while paying homage to Romero’s classic. Shout! Factory’s Collector’s Edition comes packed with over two and a half hours of bonus features and two cuts of the film presented in their usual outstanding quality, so if you’re one of the film’s many fans, then this is a release that is certainly worth adding to your collection.
Available on Collector's Edition Blu-ray starting tomorrow.