First Written on March 04, 2007, sophmore year
Dawn of the Dead is a twenty-first century zombie apocalypse movie which for years had eluded me until one night of bootlegged-CD hunting in college got me to discover this heart pounding thriller. Rewind a few years back, since watching Resident Evil, I began to wonder if there were any other walking dead films like RE, but with less superhero fighting skills, and more realistic story lines. What I wanted was something along the line of “what-happens if you’re thrown into that situation?” It turned out there was and Dawn of the Dead gave me just that. Watching it in college, alone, was an intense experience.
It was not long after watching the film that I discovered another promising film, entitled Land of the Dead while loafing at home. The story however, failed to live up to my expectations. It starts off when the world has already been scourged the plague of the dead. The main characters in LotD aren’t not underprepared as they are armed and have a big tank to move through towns ridden with dead walkers. I wanted a setup from equilibrium to disequilibrium, normalcy to hell…I didn’t get that in LotD. What grates me is that sheltered people can be seen living in luxury despite the fact that economic factors needed to sustain economic activities are virtually limited. No land, limited human resources, and crippled economics… yet here, we have these elitist. Did the movie explain the people’s source of normal living? If they did, my Asian brain sure missed it. What’s worse is they gave emotions to the zombies.
In short, LotD is an effort to break zombie movie conventions but the result is a story with a bad premise and lots of loopholes. Quite unlike Dawn of the Dead. Famed filmmaker George E. Romero is credited as the one who defined zombie films in American cinemas; those decaying skin, coagulated blood stains, rotten teeth, wild soulless eyes, and staggering gait. He started a fascination that spanned movie lovers world over. I don’t understand it, my fellow humans are seriously morbid.
Anyway, apart from Romero’s version, Chinese filmmakers also have their own version of zombie films. And I am a big fan of those. Their concept of zombies is the hopping dead kind, wearing dynasty garb with fangs and pale skin, and sometimes rotting flesh. My inexpert guess is that the Hong Kong filmmakers were influenced by Western cinemas of the same genre including Vampire.
The storyline most common in this corpsy genre is when dead Chinese cadavers, particularly casualties of war are brought home to their families for burial. To lighten the transporter’s burden, he would magically reanimate the corpses for them to travel alongside. Some reanimated corpses turn evil and develop a taste for blood. How these vampires were brought alive, the time and place setting of their reanimation (to feed or attack more likely) and the unfortunate people who encounter these vampires – make up the variety of story narratives of Hong Kong vampire flicks. I love these movies. They’re classic. I still get the jitters watching them. The Chinese filmmakers knew how to make use of fast speed cutting in fight scenes and all other action sequences. The effects are often comical. Here is one of my favorites film. If you can get over the cheesiness of this old school flick, you’ll have fun watching it. (Takes circa an hour and a half)
Anyway, back to Dawn of the Dead.
It felt as though I struck a gold when I first discovered it among piles of junk B-rated movies.. As a high concept film lover, and film student, very few horror movies scare me after years of consuming countless cinematic story clichés. Recent movies like The Cave and the Descent are a surprise. Both has similar premise and scared the heck out of me. But I’m digressing here.
In Dawn of the Dead (2004), the narrative starts off with just an ordinary day at the hospital, when a weary and overworked nurse, Anna just wants to go home to her partner. All seems normal at the hospital, with a few puzzling cases of severe human bites reported. She reaches home, flops onto bed, chats with her husband, has sex in the shower, and finally turns in, missing an important broadcast on television. Then, at the dawn of what should have been another regular day, pandemonium breaks out. She and a bunch of survivors take refuge at a mall with an abundant supplies of almost everything. However, nothing lasts forever and with a growing number of zombies hedging their premise, escaping is inevitable. Like most thriller films, DotD lacks character development. But I stop to care when the scare is there.
A scene when the survivors are at the roof of the mall looking down at the dead actually reminds me of Tremors, when the residents of the ironically named Perfection Valley, scrambled onto the roof to flee from underground monsters. It’s a timeless thriller, all time favorite. Anyway, the fear from watching Dawn of the Dead was enough to keep me thrilled for weeks. This remake of Dawn of the Dead is a sure win.
I have considered something very important after watching the film: incinerating bodies is cheaper, saves money on having to buy a grave plot, expensive coffins, and there is no chance of me ever getting up to take chunks of flesh out of the living. And lastly, hungry zombies, if a situation like that does arise, I’d probably just let myself join the dead where there’s safety in numbers.
So, have a lovely day, the dead and the living.
2012 UPDATE: This entry was writtten years back before I knew and watched the uber zombie comedy flick Shawn of the Dead, Quarantine 2, Juan of the Dead, and the Walking Dead TV series among other zombie films. Anyway, as much as I love reading, up till now, Walking Dead comics remains unread in my laptop. Comics is just not my thing. World War Z is another zombie flick I can’t wait to come out.