Thursday, October 29, 2009

HORROR EPICS: Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Those of you who read last year’s entry for Night of the Living Dead know just how much that movie meant to me when I was a kid. After reading a book about George Romero called The Zombies That Ate Pittsburgh, I had high expectations for (what was at the time) the two sequels. I believe I rented Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead on consecutive weekends…and for fuck’s sake, I hated them both. For years, I wondered why anybody would think to call Dawn of the Dead one of the greatest horror movies of all time. In fact, it had been ten years before I let a friend of mine persuade me into borrowing his copy of the remake. How I felt about that version is a story best saved for another time, but it did make me want to revisit the original. It’d been a decade since I last watched it, and—Shock! Horror!—maybe my opinion might have changed. I went to the store and picked up Dawn of the Dead on DVD. And not just any ol’ DVD either. The only version of Dawn of the Dead the store had was the ultra-ridiculous Ultimate Edition. We’re talking about four discs, in which three of them were different versions of the same movie. You have to be a real Dawn of the Dead nerd to really appreciate this layout. And yes, I did buy it. Why the hell not?

* DISC ONE: The standard US theatrical version that I didn’t like in the first place.

* DISC TWO: An extended version, erroneously referred to as the director’s cut. In fact, the original theatrical release is George Romero’s preferred take.

* DISC THREE: The shorter European version re-edited by co-producer Dario Argento and titled Zombi. Supposedly, it cuts out chunks of the story to make it look more violent. Some of you may actually prefer that, but I’ve never bothered to watch it for whatever reason.

* DISC FOUR: Eh, documentary stuff that I rarely concern myself with. Thought I’d mention it anyway. As you can see from my take on the last two discs, I’m a hard-working professional.

I watched it and like it happened with Carrie and a host of other movies I used to hate years ago, I wound up loving it. I don’t complain about how slowly the film moves along, simply because spending several months locked up inside a shopping mall should take a long time to unfold. By the time our heroes make the decision to leave, we’re right there with them. And no, I don’t mean that in a turn-off-the-movie sort of way. When watching Dawn of the Dead these days, I always go with the extended version. Running twelve minutes longer, you get more gore, additional scenes, and a different soundtrack. As far as the movie’s pacing is concerned, it feels more realistic. I get fully immersed in what’s happening onscreen and enjoy it more. I don’t know if I’d recommend that for everyone, but the option is there if you’re feeling adventurous this Halloween season. Chances are you’ve seen the original version time and time again anyway.

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