George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead is an icon of the horror genre. But it has certainly seen better days. Of course, the movie’s age doesn’t detract from its quality (at least, not much). One can still find loads of entertainment value within it, and its themes and messages remain just as shockingly relevant today as they were in 1978.
But the movie is over forty years old, and like all things over forty (aside from maybe a good wine), it’s beginning to show some wear and tear.
10 The Practical Effects
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first – the practical effects look bad. Sometimes really bad. Of course, some parts still look great. The famous helicopter zombie still looks pretty convincing, and the climactic sequence in which a biker meets a particularly gruesome death is still enough to make viewers squirm.
But for the most part, it’s clearly evident that this movie was made on the cheap. Some bites look downright horrific (and not in a good, gruesome way), the mutilations look fake, and the blood has a weird viscosity and light color that makes it look like dollar store blood. Bad stuff.
9 The Look Of The Zombies
Even the look of the zombies is laughable, from the mundane, every day looking ones to the more made-up and grotesque individuals. Of course, most zombies throughout the movie have this weird grey-blue color. Suitable enough, as these people are technically dead, but it’s not applied in a convincing way.
Instead, it looks like some cheap high school production of a zombie movie. Even the more beat up zombies (like the one seen at the airport with half the face torn up) look pretty bad and unconvincing – at least by modern makeup standards.
8 The Sound Design
As old as Dawn of the Dead looks, it sounds even worse. Even the aid of modern sound technology couldn’t save this movie, and it still sounds old and cheap. Dialogue is often drowned out and hard to register, particularly in the opening sequence where the news station is erupting into loud chaos.
Some ADR is obvious and apparent. Gunshots often sound ridiculous, and the climax features a horrific moment where Peter’s punches are accompanied by comical slapping sounds. At least the music is still good. Right?
7 The Music
No, the music is quite dated as well. Now, there’s nothing really wrong with the Goblin stuff. It still sounds great and suitably cold and chilling. It’s the non-Goblin stuff that sounds ridiculous. One piece of music that comes to mind is when David is suddenly attacked by a zombie at the airfield.
The attack comes equipped with very old school “danger” music, and it sounds like it was ripped from a ’40s adventure movie. Ditto for the goofy patriotic music that accompanies Peter’s heroic escape from the mall. It’s enough to make modern viewers cringe.
6 The Production Design
Dawn of the Dead can’t really help its ’70s look, as it was filmed and takes place in the ’70s. But boy, does this movie reek of that not-so-stylish decade. The mall is a treasure trove for ’70s artifacts, and in many ways, it acts as a time capsule for a simpler, if not more horrid-looking, time.
All the storefronts have that beautiful antique look to them, and the mall itself just looks drab and uninviting with its Earthy brown and white color scheme. That said, if modern viewers want to experience a mall from the mid-’70s, then Dawn of the Dead is their movie.
5 The Fashion
Serving as another great time capsule to the past is the movie’s fashion. Zombies are meant to embody everyday people who have died and come back to life. Therefore, they represent the average “look” of the ’70s. And to be honest, it’s not a look many people are hoping to make a return.
The clothes and hairstyles reek of the ’70s, especially when the gang goes shopping and sheds their old clothes for new digs. One look at Flyboy’s wardrobe is enough to give away the movie’s setting and time period.
4 The Acting
There’s no denying it – some of the acting is still stuck in the ’70s as well. Now, no one is particularly bad, and everyone plays their characters with consistency and believability. But some scenes are more strongly-acted than others, and some remain less than convincing.
A few lines are delivered poorly (“I don’t know, I can’t tell!”), and some expressions are goofy and unintentionally funny (Fran trying to get past Peter upon learning that Stephen is dead).
3 The Technology
This one kind of goes without saying, but the technology seen throughout the movie has been horrifically dated with the passage of forty years. The characters play antique video games in the arcade.
Their walkie talkies are hilariously enormous. They watch TV on tiny little boxes with knobs and rabbit ears, and even the “good” TVs seen in JC Penney are antiquated by today’s standards. If nothing else, it’s all great stuff from a historic perspective.
2 The Look Of The Film
Even the look of the film itself betrays its age. Some movies from the ’70s look clean and pristine today. For example, while you wouldn’t mistake Jaws for a modern movie, its recent 4K transfer looks crisp, clean, and sharp. Dawn of the Dead still looks…old.
Of course, there is still its upcoming 4K release to look forward to, and judgment should be reserved until then. But as of today, Dawn of the Dead looks grainy, the colors are flat, and numerous scratches and imperfections on the film can be seen throughout the movie.
1 The Portrayal Of Fran
In some ways, the movie’s portrayal of its main female character is also stuck in the ’70s. Of course, the movie makes mention of her negative portrayal (“I’m not going to be den mother to you guys!”) and turns her feminism into a theme, and that’s great. But even “strong” Fran is quite weak.
She barely does anything throughout the movie (aside from learning to fly the chopper and making her dramatic escape), she can’t fight or defend herself, and even the things she does do are somewhat old fashioned and stereotypical of women (cooking while the men play cards and drink, nursing Roger when he’s injured, etc.).
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