Things I Learned from Movie X:
Dawn of the Dead (2004)
By Edwin Davies
November 8, 2010
Hello, class. Sorry that I've been away for so long, but I've been away on a series of adventures with my crimefighting partner Seymour "Skinnyboy" Skinner, each sexier and more exciting than the last. Sadly, Skinnyboy got arrested for identity theft, and since I'm on the lam as an accomplice, I'm going to lie low and resume regular service here at Things I Learned From Movie X Towers. At least until the heat dies down.
In between the last edition of this column and this one, Halloween happened, and as is my annual tradition I went around to a friend's house and spent much of the day watching scary movies. Among the selection this year was Zack Snyder's remake of George A. Romero's classic zombie movie/anti-consumerist tract Dawn of the Dead. I'm not sure what the general consensus on the remake is, but I like it an awful lot. Unlike a lot of horror remakes, it is willing to move away from the original, instead using the setup as a playground for its own story. However, it does have a reputation for not being as intellectually nousrishing as its source material, a statement that I would challenge since there is much to learn from Dawn of the Dead if you are willing to listen.
Johnny Cash makes everything one thousand times cooler. This is indisputable, mathematical fact.
The first time I watched Dawn of the Dead, I had my doubts about it. I loved the original, didn't like the idea of fast zombies (as opposed to the infected in 28 Days Later, which I love because they aren't fast zombies but really fast, really angry people) or the prospect of the slow, methodical pace of the original being swapped for a balls-out action romp. Within the first ten minutes, though, I was won over. As soon as Sarah Polley crashed her car and Johnny Cash's "The Man Comes Around" started up, I knew that this was my sort of film. The already adrenaline-pumping intro, complete with a zombie child, rogue ambulances and exploding cars, was kicked up to a whole other level by Cash's rich, sonorous tale of the end of the world, which perfectly matched the sense of a world coming apart at the seams that the opening suggested.
For further proof that Johnny Cash can make anything cool, just check out the terrible, terrible Dane Cook vehicle Good Luck Chuck, which uses the same song towards the end and for a brief moment, thanks to the timeless cool of J. R. Cash, almost becomes cool in itself. Then it turns into the same old tired shit again, so your world won't be knocked off its axis for too long if you do watch it.
Zombies love braaaaaaains and teeeeeeension.
On the DVD commentary for Shaun of the Dead, also released in 2004, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg joke about the hitherto unknown phenomena of zombies choosing to stand perfectly still until the characters have finished talking. Similarly, in Dawn of the Dead zombies display, along with a feral bloodlust, an innate understanding of how to create tension and time their attacks for maximum effect. At one point, several human characters go down into a parking garage to turn the generator on. After they get it on, they hear an eerie noise. They investigate. A shadow flits across the ground. They tense up. The audience tenses up. Then suddenly, a doggy walks into the light! Just as we're all calming down, a legless zombie flies across the screen on what appears to be a zip line and drops onto one of the more anonymous characters. Suddenly, the garage is filled with zombies, the horde having decided that they wouldn't strike until the moment was just right. It makes you wonder if those rumours about Alfred Hitchcock being half-zombie that I just started are really true.