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When There's No More Room in Hell: Dawn of the Dead on Blu-ray

  How do you follow a movie that changed movies forever? If you were George A. Romero (1940-2017) and you had made Night of the Living Dead, you might have been tempted to rest on your laurels, after all Herk Harvey never felt the need to make a sequel to Carnival of Souls, and that nineteen-sixties horror was influential in itself. But Romero's sixties horror was the grandaddy of modern shockers, featuring more violence and nihilistic attitude than anything that had gone before, so when he was trying to get another film made in the late seventies, it was obvious he should go back to the well and see about a sequel to his first major success. Was it possible to be as influential all over again?

In a way, it was, thanks to Romero's collaboration with Tom Savini, the makeup effects expert who recognised, as his director did, that one way to top the first film was to increase the violence quotient to levels unseen in Hollywood, though just the thing for the independent scene Romero had proven could make large profits on small budgets: all they needed was a killer idea. From Billy Jack to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, American indies were following in Romero's footsteps and would establish the sector as a major part of the market, outside of the mainstream but often making hits comparable to it. Italian cult director Dario Argento was brought on board for advice and finance, and away they went.

There had been one significant zombie flick out of Italy that copied the Night of the Living Dead model, and that had been a co-production from Spain from director Jorge Grau entitled The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, placing a European spin on the subgenre by setting the bloodthirsty mayhem in the North of England. Surely Romero saw this, Argento must have too, because the gore effects in that film gave it the kick it needed to become a must-see among fans, no matter how derivative it was, and that became the gimmick for Dawn of the Dead in 1978 and a great number of undead projects for decades afterwards; but if that had all there had been to this, it is doubtful it would have attained the classic status it would.



There was a brain in Dawn of the Dead's head - fair enough, it was in a torn-open skull and being feasted on by the undead, but Romero was an intelligent man and did not make horror for horror's sake, there was a point of view here that would be lacking in, say, Lucio Fulci's Zombie Flesh Eaters (aka Zombi 2 - Dawn of the Dead was called Zombi in Italy!), where the whole motive of the piece was to be as disgusting as possible. This sequel was revolting, sure, but in a cartoonish, EC Comics kind of manner that appealed to the fright fans, as Savini's bright red blood effects splattered the screen and provided the spectacle that kept audiences returning time and again to catch something they might have missed, or simply appreciate the wicked artistry involved.

The premise was that after Night of the Living Dead, the epidemic of flesh-munching zombies had turned out of control, and society was breaking down across America - possibly the world. We tracked four survivors who escape the city in a helicopter and land on the roof of a shopping mall, whereupon they barricade themselves in as the dead wander outside, trying to get in as a grotesque parody of their consumerist urges they entertained in life. It was not subtle: first time around, it had been the senseless violence of the Vietnam War affecting the nation back home that triggered Romero's inspiration, but now the war was over, his homeland was embracing the Me Decade with gusto, and with that a plethora of goods they may or may not have needed in their lives.

This bastardisation of the search for happiness into a superficial satisfaction with baubles they may not really need to make them happy - notably the first thing the quartet acquire for their hideaway is a television, despite it broadcasting nothing but meagre budget, amateur bulletins and discussions of the current misery (kind of like YouTube today) - was an attack on seventies society as sharp as anything a more esteemed filmmaker would have made of America. But Romero was not making Michael Ritchie's The Candidate or Robert Altman's Nashville, he stayed true to his roots as a horror director, it was just that he had something to say as acutely observed as a counterculture newsletter might have mustered up for one of its newsheets, and had got it into the world's theatres.

There is much pleasure to be had in Dawn of the Dead and its steady, pacey (for a two hours plus movie) demolition of all the United States held dear as Ronald Reagan waited in the wings, not least thanks to the fact it doubled as an action movie, and latterly a war movie. There was enough firepower here to make Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone green with envy in the next decade, and for a cast who, save for Ken Foree, never made much of a go of a film career, those four leads were remarkably effective, especially in comparison with many a lower end exploitation effort. Packed with quirks, such as the custard pie fight a gang of Savini-led bikers pick with the zombies or the sight of the undead perambulating around to such indelible library muzak as The Gonk, there were three different versions of this, including a European cut overseen by Argento, yet for the full effect the U.S. theatrical cut was the most effective and lean. But really, Dawn of the Dead was not a film you could go wrong with, it remained a smart, riveting watch well past its imitators.

[Second Sight's Special Edition set of Dawn of the Dead is surely the definitive release of this classic title. Those features in full:

UHD DISC 1 - THE THEATRICAL CUT (Region Free)

New 4K scan and restoration of the Original Camera Negative by Second Sight at Final Frame New York and London supervised and approved by DoP Michael Gornick
Presented in HDR10+
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono - New restoration of the original OCN Optical / DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Commentary by George A. Romero, Tom Savini, Christine Forrest
NEW commentary by Travis Crawford
New optional English subtitles for the hearing impaired

UHD DISC 2 - THE EXTENDED ('CANNES') CUT (Region Free)

Produced using 4K scan of the Theatrical Cut Original Camera Negative and 4K scan of the Extended Cut Colour Reversal Internegative
Presented in HDR10+
DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono
Commentary by Richard P Rubinstein
New optional English subtitles for the hearing impaired

UHD DISC 3 - THE ARGENTO CUT (Region Free)

4K scan of the Interpositive by Michele De Angelis at Backlight Digital, Rome
Audio: DT-HD Master Audio Mono 1.0 / Surround 5.1 / Stereo 2.0
Commentary by Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger, Gaylen Ross, David Emge
New optional English subtitles for the hearing impaired

BLU-RAY DISC 4 - SPECIAL FEATURES (Region B)

NEW Zombies and Bikers, with John Amplas, Roy Frumkes, Tom Savini, Christine Forrest, Tom Dubensky, Tony Buba, Taso Stavrakis and a whole host of zombies and bikers! (59 mins)
NEW Memories of Monroeville: A tour of the mall with Michael Gornick, Tom Savini, Tom Dubensky and Taso Stavrakis (34 mins)
NEW Raising the Dead: The Production Logistics with Michael Gornick, Christine Forrest, John Amplas, Tom Dubensky (23 mins)
NEW The FX of Dawn with Tom Savini (13 mins)
NEW Dummies! Dummies! An interview with Richard France (12 mins)
NEW The Lost Romero Dawn Interview: previously unreleased archive interview (20 mins)
Super 8 Mall Footage by zombie extra Ralph Langer with option of archive commentary by Robert Langer and new commentary by Ralph Langer (13 mins)
Document of the Dead: The Original Cut with optional commentary by Roy Frumkes (66 mins)
Document of the Dead: The Definitive Cut (100 mins)
The Dead Will Walk 2014 Documentary (80 mins)
Trailers, TV, and Radio Spots

LIMITED EDTION CONTENTS

AUDIO CD DISC 1

The Goblin Soundtrack 17 tracks including Alternate and Bonus Tracks

AUDIO CD DISC 2

A De Wolfe library compilation part 1

AUDIO CD DISC 3

A De Wolfe Library complitation part 2

Rigid box with lid featuring the original iconic artwork
2 inner digipaks
150-page hardback book featuring 16 new essays, archive article, archive George A. Romero interview and rare Behind-The-Scenes stills
Dawn of the Dead: The novelisation book by George A. Romero and Susanna Sparrow with exclusive artwork.]

Author: Graeme Clark.

 

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Last Updated: 31 March, 2018