By Breanna Whipple
CALGARY – They feast on human flesh… They’re fearful of fire… One bite spreads their festering disease… Zombies – they’re (figuratively) everywhere. Whether they be ravaging damsels on your television screen, battling plants on your iPhone, or being chewed on by your precious little Fido, you cannot get escape them. The grisly undead have become one of the most frequently cited mythos within popular culture, largely owed to the success of the contemporary TV drama, The Walking Dead. Though nearly every human-being, undead or otherwise, is familiar with the aforementioned program, the history of re-animated corpses extend far beyond that of which the AMC Network has granted viewers. Aware of the nature in which these cannibalistic humanoids prevail, the vast majority of our populous are able to define ‘zombie’ with ease. That being said, likely only a portion could name the creator of such an integral facet within the expansive universe of film – a man named George A. Romero.
Prior to the release of Romero’s full-length directorial debut, Night of the Living Dead (1968), zombie cinema was much different. White Zombie (1932), a film in which Bela Lugosi stars as a witch doctor who turns a young woman into a catatonic slave, perfectly exemplifies pre-Romero zombie films. Conceptualized and built upon by macabre voodoo history, the basis being victims enslaved by black magic, in turn becoming vessels to do the bidding of their masters. That all changed in the late ’60s, wherein an ambitious young man redefined the word and rerouted the course of cinema.
In hindsight, we can confidently declare that the decaying demons in Night of the Living Dead were, in fact, zombies. Important to note, however, they weren’t formally declared as much until the film’s sequel, Dawn of the Dead (1978). Equal in importance as its successor, Dawn was an absolute game changer whose ripples are still felt today. Following the ever-growing epidemic of the undead introduced in the debut film, Dawn follows two SWAT team members and a duo of radio broadcasters as they seek refuge in an emptied shopping mall. Crawling with ravenous re-animates, the group tactfully fights for survival throughout the film. Overshadowing the dark, bleak tone of it’s predecessor, Romero intended Dawn to encapsulate the essence of a comic book. With a machete wielding motorcycle gang hell-bent on throwing pies in the faces of decomposing ghouls, I am inclined to agree that he was successful in his efforts.
Though it is the second entry in Romero’s zombie saga, it is the first to delve a little deeper into the explanation of what the zombies are. As I mentioned earlier, much of what defined zombies in the pre-Romero era was mindless drone-like beings functioning merely on a physical level. This is ever-present in regards to the mass hordes of zombies drawn to the secluded mall, though also demonstrating the power of consumerism we all undoubtedly are subjected to. In the same vein, the extended runtime also provides a more intimate exploration of character development, allowing a more personal reaction to the events taking place. Character development is not only limited to the living, as Dawn hosts two of the most iconic zombies to-date, the blood soaked Flyboy, and the particularly charming Hare Krishna.
In summation, Dawn serves not only as an integral film within the confines of horror history, but dutifully demonstrates all of which there was to love about the genius of George A. Romero. May we all live on to carry his legacy, and then some. As the saying goes, “When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth.”
Catch Dawn of the Dead January 26 at The Globe Cinema.Dawn of the Dead, Globe Cinema, Godfather of Zombies