Dawn of the Dead: 1978 vs 2004

How zombie movies transcend from one generation to the next.

Director Zach Synder makes his first zombie movie for the first time since the “Dawn of the Dead” remake with the upcoming “Army of the Dead.” So I decided to compare and contrast both the original “Dawn of the Dead” from 1978, created by George A. Romero, and the 2004 remake by Snyder.

The original “Dawn of the Dead” was a masterpiece by Romero, because of how it gave us some chills, thrills, characters, and entertainment value. The main survivors of the movie were traffic reporter Stephen Andrews (David Emge), Officer Peter Washington (Ken Foree), SWAT Officer Roger DeMarco (Scott Reiniger), and Stephen’s pregnant girlfriend Fran (Gaylen Ross), who all escape in a helicopter, and find themselves in a shopping mall, where the zombies lurk.

Zombie movies back then, even before the 70s, weren’t all advanced as they are today. They had fake blood, skin props, and they moved as slow as sloths. It’s quite simple and yet exciting at the same time. The best moments are when they lock themselves in a department store to pick up supplies, while distracting the zombies. Other moments are fun when they lock them all out of the mall, while they have fancy dinners and clean up the rotting corpses.

The performances from are just as excellent as their characters. They deal with bites and pregnancies, and most of the time, they’re able to thrive on the dangers, and keeps us at the edge of our seats. The best moment is when Foree’s character tricks the zombies into thinking he’s going to kill himself, but then fights back. It’s all in the execution. It’s no wonder why George A. Romero has been referred to as the “The Father of the Zombie Film.”

And then came the 2004 hit by Snyder, which featured Sarah Polly, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Mekhi Phifer, Ty Burrell, Matt Frewer, Michael Kelly, and Kevin Zegers, along with cameos from Foree, Reiniger, and Tom Savini, and a reference to Ross. And the plot follows the original as a group of survivors (from Polly as the nurse Ana to Rhames as the cop Kenneth) must hide in a mall with three security guards (Kelly, Zegers, and Michael Barry) taking their guns away while in hiding, and another group of survivors (with Frewer and Burrell) coming in. That’s when the first group takes charge.

The zombies, nowadays, are faster and more vicious than portrayed back then. And it’s isn’t just in “Dawn of the Dead,” but also with “Resident Evil,” “Zombieland,” and “28 Days Later,” among others. Under Synder’s direction and James Gunn’s screenplay, the chases and attacks are just as exciting as within the original, although it lacks the character development and style of that film. And believe me, it’s always the jerks who have to die (Burrell plays one of them BTW), and it’s always the tough guys who have to tell other survivors to go away.

But even with its downsides, this version still has its moments of excitement and humor. Out of all the actors in this version, I’ve personally enjoyed Rhames as the cop with his headband, gun, and attitude, and Weber as the electronic salesman Michael with timing and precision. And I admire it’s choice of music from Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around” to Disturbed’s “Down with the Sickness,” which give the zombie credits a spike.

The remake does not compare with the original, but both these films are watchable for their own reasons. And remember, if you get bitten by a zombie, you’re screwed.

The 1978 version

Rating: 4 out of 4.

The 2004 Version

Rating: 3 out of 4.

Categories: Action, Horror, Thriller

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