by Matthew Kinney
March 17, 2004
I enjoy horror movies from time to time -- mostly those in the suspense/thriller genre rather than the gory hack and slash variety. I get into these types of films; I've been known to jump out of my seat more than once at a good surprise or monster attack. Gory films don't usually do it for me. (I blame a viewing of Hellraiser in 1989 for my trepidation with the genre. Movies that make me leave the room lest I vomit are not fun.)
I sit down in the theater with my popcorn and soda in hand waiting with mild anticipation as I really dug the trailers for Dawn of the Dead. I know that George Romero is somehow linked to this film and I know it's about zombies so that seems good enough reason to show up for this screening.
What I didn't know until I got home from the screening is that this film is a remake of George Romero's 1978 Dawn of the Dead which was the sequel to 1968's Night of the Living Dead. Romero is known in horror circles as the King of the Zombie Movie and his films are seminal to the zombie horror genre. So this picture has some big boots to fill.
Man, does it fill those boots.
From the opening scene I was scared. Not jump out of my seat scared. Oh, no. Before the title card rolled onto the screen I had goosebumps at least five times. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten goosebumps watching a movie. (“Too scared to move! Medulla oblongata do something to release this adrenaline!!”)
The film rockets along at a quick pace, giving the viewer just enough info to be scared for the characters who have no idea if and when there will be a flesh-eating zombie around the next corner. The suspense of these moments is almost too much to bear and leads to some very satisfying moments of relief and/or carnage.
The few intentional breaks in tension are adeptly achieved with laughter. There are quite a few funny moments in the film (mostly supplied by Ving Rhames and Ty Burrell) where the audience transitions between screams and laughter effortlessly. Burrell is a particular stand out delivering a performance reminiscent of a smarmy Bruce Campbell. And it was particularly fun to be a part of an audience that was laughing, yelling and generally enjoying this E-ticket ride.
Fast-paced editing and great use of off screen sound will keep you near the edge of your seat throughout. The effects are excellent, with just enough gore to remind you that these poor folks are fighting zombies but not so much that you have to put your popcorn down in fear of physical revulsion. Dawn of the Dead is a great horror film that can stand proudly with its historical and popular namesake.