I reviewed the classic zombie film and its excellent remake.
Both films have similar general plots, but different details. However, the premise is that something has happened. The dead are rising from their graves and are now craving the flesh of the living. Anyone who is bitten becomes a zombie. The world quickly descends into chaos as the dead form hordes. While rural areas seem to be surviving against the onslaught, cities are overrun quickly.
1978: Television Studio staff members Stephen Andrews and Francine Parker (David Emge and Gaylen Ross) plan to steal a helicopter to escape Philadelphia. SWAT members Peter Washington (Ken Foree) and Roger DiMarco (Scott Reiniger) join them, having survived a bloody firefight with the members of a housing project and a group of zombies. The four eventually arrive at a shopping mall, which they use as a base to hide in. They manage to secure the mall, but Roger nearly dies in the process and starts to lose his mind. He ends up getting bitten by zombies.
The four start to enjoy living a life of luxury, with Peter killing Roger when he reanimates. After several months, a now very pregnant Francine wants to leave the mall. It appears that the US Government has collapsed in the interim, but the trio loads the helicopter with supplies. A biker gang (including Tom Savini, the make-up wizard) show up to take the helicopter, which ends up destroying the anti-zombie barriers and filling the mall with walkers. Stephen tries to fend off the bikers, but is shot and then eaten by zombies. Zombie Stephen then leads the horde to attack Francine and Peter, but they manage to make it up to the roof and take off, heading into uncertainty.
2004: Ana (Sarah Polley), a nurse, survives the initial zombie outbreak and meets up with Policeman Kenneth (Ving Rhames), salesman Michael (Jake Weber), and married couple Andre and Luda (Mekhi Phifer and Inna Korobkina). The group heads to a mall where three guards, CJ, Bart, and Terry (Michael Kelly, Michael Barry, and Kevin Zegers), force them to surrender their weapons. A pregnant Luda is wounded by a small zombie bite. They secure the mall and find that another survivor, Andy (Bruce Bohne), is stranded in a gun store across the parking lot. The next day another group of survivors arrives: Norma (Jayne Eastwood), Steve (Ty Burrell), Tucker (Boyd Banks), Monica (Kim Poirier), Glen (R.D. Reid), and a bitten man named Frank (Matt Frewer), who is killed after he turns. His daughter, Nicole (Lindy Booth), stays with the group.
The group quickly start to find companionship, with Kenneth and Andy engaging in games from across the parking lot, several survivors hooking up, and Nicole adopting a dog. When the power goes out, some of the group go to activate the generator, only to find zombies in the parking garage. Luda dies and reanimates, but then gives birth to a zombie baby. Andre goes insane and kills Norma but gets shot in return. The group decides to create an armored convoy to carry them to a yacht so they can escape to an island. Unfortunately, Andy gets bitten when they try to get supplies to him and the team gets ambushed by zombies. They end up losing the mall to the horde and fleeing on buses. Many of the survivors die in the attempt, but Ana, Kenneth, Nicole, and Terry reach the yacht. They run out of supplies, only to find zombies on the island they reach.
So, the audience vote for “A Film Sequel That Doesn’t Have a Number in the Title” ended up being Dawn of the Dead, which was the only nominee to win that wasn’t the most-nominated film in the category. I was then stuck with a conundrum: only the original film is really a “sequel” to a movie, but only the remake is available to stream anywhere. As I own the original, that’s not much of a problem for me, but I try to give my audience the opportunity to participate whenever possible, so I just figured I’d review both. This is the rare movie where the original and remake are both excellent, with the former being perhaps the best film by George Romero and the latter being the feature film debut of Zack Snyder and written by James Gunn.
Romero’s original version capitalized heavily on the mall setting. In the 1970s, shopping malls were a sign of economic growth and the changing state of how Americans shopped. People now commonly made “circuits” at the mall as a leisure activity, a literal cathedral to consumerism. As such, Romero associates the mindless consumption of shopping with the mindless consumption of the zombies. It’s this association that actually draws the zombie horde to the mall, according to Romero. In the remake, this association is played down a little, but in exchange the film focuses on the mall as a location in which the normal humans can consume and live.
One of the biggest differences between the two films is the zombies. In the original Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, the zombies mindlessly shamble towards their targets. They aren’t much of a threat individually, but when they’re a massive group, they’re nearly unstoppable. This makes them a great metaphor for consumers, because a single mindless individual compelled to buy doesn’t make much of an impact, but a mass of them quickly becomes a Black Friday stampede. In the remake, however, the zombies apparently were heavily influenced by the then-recent film 28 Days Later and suddenly were fast and could hurdle obstacles like they’d been mainlining whatever steroid makes you good at parkour. This makes them a much bigger immediate threat. While Romero didn’t like the change, I remember when this came out and the audiences really weren’t looking for a slow character study that builds suspense over the inevitable. We were in the mood for a faster, grittier, more action-based film, and that’s what this movie was. In the years post-9/11 the world kept feeling like it was spinning out of control, and the movie appropriately adapted that fear.
The main characters, though, are much better in the original. Since we see essentially only three characters for a long period, we get a feeling for who they really are and how they’re dealing with the apocalypse. While they have their sanctuary, they still have a long period to work out their feelings about the relative hopelessness of the world and go out of their way to try to avoid it. Then, when their sanctuary is finally broken, it’s not by the zombies, it’s by other humans, because if there’s one thing Romero is consistent about, it’s that people are the real monster. The remake has too many characters for us to get a real picture of how they are handling it and the timeline is shorter, so we don’t get a huge amount of time with any of them. In fact, most of the time passes in a single montage which, while a good montage, still doesn’t give us much about any of them.
However, the montage brings us to a thing that both movies have in common: A great soundtrack. Interestingly, the original had two separate soundtracks depending on if it was the US or international version and the international is much better. The international version had the score done by Dario Argento and the Italian Prog-Rock group “Goblin,” who did Argento’s amazing horror film Suspiria. It’s haunting, it’s intense, and it manages to constantly put you in a subtle state of unease throughout the film. While the US version mostly used stock music, it does include the song “Cause I’m a Man” by Pretty Things and the song played in the mall sequence and the end credits is the instrumental “The Gonk,” which I guarantee you’ve heard a ton since this film. The remake, on the other hand, uses more contemporary music more prominently and all of it is used well, from “The Man Comes Around” by Johnny Cash as the world ends to two different versions of “Down with the Sickness,” by both Disturbed and Richard Cheese. Honestly, it’s a hell of a soundtrack.
Overall, these films are both amazing. If you’re a fan of horror, they’re must-sees.
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