“You are stronger than us, but soon I think they be stronger than you.” – Old Priest
Rewind almost forty years ago, and you have the first time my (young) eyes fell on this apocalyptic masterpiece. George A. Romero became a hero of mine; an iconoclastic anti-establishment voice of reason, who managed to both scare the crap out of me and yet leave me sensing there was more to this world than I initially understood.
With a cultural premise that seemed light years ahead of our own, entrenched traditions such as grand mall shopping, community shooting parties, deep racial tension and armed response squads were used to define the American way (in Philadelphia at least). It stood as a prescript that ignored human and emotional need, in favour of such wholesome virtues as force-fed violence, ignorance and material greed. By adding a million or so walking dead into that already claustrophobic picture, Dawn of the Dead made for one hell of a ride.
The film initially terrifies and often overwhelms, but keep watching and searching for real substance, and it takes on a completely new form altogether. Only then are you rewarded with intelligent analogies, acute social metaphors and a growing respect for a genre that for my part, has never waned. Moreover, as with many enduring movie classics, the focus ultimately ends up on relationships, both human and otherwise, and so without giving away plot-lines or misleading potential viewers, it is best for me to briefly describe why Dawn of the Dead broke ticket-sale expectations and changed the social landscape of America forever.
In 1978, pretty much anything was possible. If it was plausible that man could fly and land on the moon, then why wouldn’t the dead spring to life and eat the living? In fact, it became the focus of obsession for many underground film-makers of the time, and remains a sub-cultural fantasy today, spawning video games, novels and later, numerous remakes and even a television series (The Walking Dead) that itself seems impossible to end.
It was this creative freedom to speculate which enabled Dawn of the Dead to quickly find its audience, and break down the walls of cinematic expression; always remaining beyond the reach of movie critics and federal censors, while daring viewers to accept such a brutally cold reality; in fact no other horror concept has ever come close to this nightmarish vision since.
Ultimately, I could easily offer reams of reasons why this film is vintage cinema gold, but the many-layered message would then be lost for those uninitiated, and I hardly relish the idea of committing journalistic sacrilege for the sake of bombast. Rather, I end my blog by giving this amazing slice of horror/social commentary/drama my absolute highest recommendation, and note for the record that Gaylen Ross (pictured) was as powerful a role model as Sigourney Weaver in the late 1970s, but sadly never received the praise or recognition she fully deserved.
May God bless her.