Dawn of the Dead (1978/2004): Consumerism Is Death, or Something – Peacock Review (Day 14)

I reviewed the classic zombie film and its excellent remake.

SUMMARY 

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. 

Traffic is still a nightmare, but in a different way.

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. 

Ken Foree is, and I cannot stress this enough, the f*cking man.

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.

If you’re bit, you gotta tap yourself out. That’s the rule.

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.

Ving Rhames is, and I cannot stress this enough, the f*cking man.

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. 

END SUMMARY

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. 

They did get some cameos from the original cast in the remake.

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. 

If you have seen Best Buy the day after Thanksgiving, you’ve seen this before.

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 McRIB IS BACK!!!

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. 

This is after like half of the cast is dead and it’s still too full.

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.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Netflix Review – Castlevania Seasons 1 & 2 (Spoiler-Free on Season 2)

Yesterday, The Adventure Zone podcast did a Halloween special which had a reference to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night that I just couldn’t stop laughing at, even though it was so straightforward. But, either way, I decided to do a bonus review of Castlevania in their honor.

Netflix decided to take a shot at every other studio out there by adapting a video game and, despite all of the past history of adapting video games to a narrative (Phoenix Wright notwithstanding), did it really well. Admittedly, the history of adapting video games to television (particularly cartoon series) is much stronger than to the big screen, but those were mostly aimed towards children. This is very much aimed towards people who played the original Castlevania games on the NES, all of whom are now adults.

Castlevania - 1SuperCastlevania.jpg
Or, if you’re like me, on the SNES.

SUMMARY

Vlad Tepes Dracula (Graham McTavish) is… You f*cking know who Dracula is. Well, he’s out there Dracking it up when he is visited by a young woman named Lisa (Emily Swallow) who wishes to be a doctor and believes that Dracula would be the person who would know the most about human medicine, as he has collected books for centuries on every subject and read them all. Not only is she correct, surprisingly, but her resolve towards science and medicine takes Dracula off-guard and he ends up falling in love with her and marrying her. She tries to teach him of the positive traits of humanity and he begins to soften.

Castlevania - 2DracLisa.png
A surprisingly solid relationship for a vampire and a snack.

Unfortunately, twenty-ish years later, Lisa is accused of being a witch (because she’s a doctor and a woman) and is burned at the stake. This leads Dracula to declare that he will spend one year creating an army of the damned, after which he will kill everyone in Wallachia, the kingdom that murdered her. The phrase “Y’all done f*cked up now” comes to mind. Sure enough, one year later, he kills everyone in the town in a gruesome fashion and declares war on humanity. All the noble houses get blamed, including a house known as Belmont.

Castlevania - 3DracFire.png
When this is how the guy tells you you’re screwed, YOU ARE SCREWED.

A few months later, Trevor Belmont (Richard Armitage), the last of a line of monster hunters, is broke and drunk in a city that is besieged by the forces of darkness every night. The clergy (who started this whole mess) have used this as an opportunity to take power in the area, claiming to be the only force capable of repelling the evil, and blame a group of traveling magic users called the Speakers for Dracula’s assault. Trevor saves some of the Speakers and is told by the Elder (Tony Amendola) that there is a “sleeping soldier” beneath the city who may help save them. The Elder’s granddaughter already sought the soldier but has not returned. Trevor goes below the city and finds a cyclops guarding a crypt. Trevor slays the monster, which releases one of his petrified victims, the Elder’s granddaughter Sypha Belnades (Alejandra Reynoso). The pair continue and eventually discover the sleeping soldier is none other than Dracula’s half-human son, Adrian Tepes or “Alucard” (James Callis), who was wounded fighting his father a year prior. The three join forces to stop Dracula’s army from wiping out humanity.

Castlevania - 4Trio.png
Cosplayers are getting aroused at this photo.

END SUMMARY

If I just watched Season 1 of this show, I’d say it was only kind of good. The first season has some great character designs, good action sequences, decent dialogue at some points, and the Bishop (Matt Frewer) is one of the most deeply despicable characters on film, overshadowing Dracula as an antagonist. However, the show doesn’t really hit its stride until Season 2, when you start to have Dracula’s War Council interacting and Trevor, Sypha, and Alucard bantering. All of the dialogue suddenly gets sharper and better, mostly because of all of the conflicting philosophies and backstories.

The show is, so far, an adaptation of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, something that was a great decision. It’s the first game chronologically, except for Castlevania: Lament of Innocence which doesn’t have Dracula in it, and was the first one to have multiple characters, giving the writers more to work with. I was surprised that they cut out the character of Grant Danasty, the pirate from the game, but maybe he’ll come back later. Still, even without him, we’re not short on great characters on either the hero or villain sides. As with most good series, most of the characters aren’t morally black and white, they’re all fairly flawed and driven by their own wants and histories. For example, two of Dracula’s Generals, Hector and Isaac (Theo James and Adetokumboh M’Cormack), are humans who have decided to side against humanity because of their personal histories, and Isaac’s backstory in particular will just hit you right in the heart.

Castlevania - 5DraculasCurse.png
Man, this game cover was awesome in the 80s.

The animation style is a tribute to one of the most popular games in the series, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which gives it a strong anime influence, but still with a lot of gothic European character designs. The fight scenes look like elaborate video game cut-scenes, which is exactly what they should look like. The combat involving Alucard is particularly impressive, because his fighting style is literally impossible to do in reality.

Overall, I hope that they keep this series going. There are so many more interesting stories that can be told in the Castlevania universe. They’ve set up several more at the end of Season 2, and Dracula literally always comes back in the games, so they can reuse him as much as they need.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.