Some folks might remember the remake of Night Of The Living Dead that appeared way back in the 1990 or 1991 or some such, and how it was reasonably alright mainly on account of the highly imaginative zombie designs, and also because it had Candyman in it. You may remember that whilst it was hardly a patch on the Romero original, it was still a fun hour and a half, and a hell of a lot more desirable than the ghastly 30th Anniversary Edition of NOTLD, when the blokes that made tea on the original set decided that what Romero meant to do was to film a bunch of useless superfluous shite and throw it into the original film at grossly inappropriate moments.
Even when the powers that be decided that no one would want to watch the film unless it was colourised, at least they had the sense to leave it alone, apart from, y’know, making folks a weird green colour.
But anyway, the thing about the remake is that now they’ve gone ahead and made a remake of the sequel, Dawn Of The Dead, but they ignored Candyman’s antics altogether, and so start the story fresh, as it were.
This is a bad idea, but thankfully, it’s one of fairly few bad ideas herein.
Dawn 2004, or D2K4 as some folks might call it now and again, plays less like a horror film than a peculiarly small-scale Roland Emmerich disaster movie affair. The opening feels like the first half hour of Independence Day, with an eerie calm settled over everything, so much so that you expect a Mothership to be hovering above the city, just waiting for Will Smith to look up and do his “What…the…hell??” face. There’s an unsettling tranquillity, people are just too content, and we all know that something horrible is going to happen, be it a volcano exploding or the dead starting to dawn. We can assume that it’s the latter, since the title of the movie is Dawn Of The Dead, and not, y’know, The Exploding Volcano.
Sure enough, it all comes to a maggot-riddled head, when a young girl enters her parent’s bedroom and proceeds to tear chunks out of her father’s neck. Personally, I blame Marilyn Manson, but the folks concerned assume it to be on account of some zombie virus carry-on.
I wasn’t expecting this to be up to much, to be honest. I had a lethargy hanging off me like some thick arterial spray when I sat down to watch it. Yeah, it’s alright, I was thinking. Above average so far, but there’s only five minutes gone, so it’s got plenty of time to suck like Divine Brown on the set of Notting Hill.
Then the credits roll, and they go for a Mondo-esque montage of CCTV footage and so on that shows these zombies going about the place and chewing folks arms off and screaming and so on, kind of like the credits to 28 Days Later, except here they perform the masterstroke of having Johnny Cash sing The Man Comes Around over it all, by way of suggesting that this is some kind of Armageddon carry on, except the proper Armageddon what was in the Bible, and not the one with Mr. Pink and Bruce Willis drilling holes in rocks.
Unfortunately, the film shoots itself in the foot by even bothering with all this, admittedly very effective, non-zombified set-up. There is no sense that this is truly an apocalyptic disaster, rather it just feels like some hilarious escapade that has no bearing on anything whatsoever. And this is a shame, because they’ve gone to great lengths to convince us of the catastrophe afoot. There are hundreds, thousands of zombies prancing around the streets. There are cool aerial shots of cars crashing into one another and exploding and so on, all those things that movie cars do when they collide. But it feels trivial, somehow.
Romero never granted us that sense of normality at any point in his film. He opened on a television studio populated with a few survivors, and there was every sense that hell had truly spat out the dead, and there was no escape. It was claustrophobic, unsettling as a bad case of haemorrhoids, and totally credible.
This here, this just feels like an episode of Buffy or some such, just one more escapade that’ll all be alright in the morning.
But aside from that, this is some enjoyable carnage right here. The zombies, surprisingly, aren’t really the focus of the shenanigans; rather, the few characters hauled up in the mall get most of the screen time. When the undead do arrive however, they provide much entertainment. The make-up is terrific, with the shuffling denizens awash with boils and burns and all sorts of unpleasant facades. And the gore, for those of us who enjoy a bit of the old ultraviolence, is more than adequate. It hardly ascends to Fulci-esque levels of Face-Eating-Tarantula splendour, but it’s incredibly messy nonetheless. Spikes through skulls, shotgun blasts to the face, all of this and more awaits the voyager of the multiplex.
This is a better remake than The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, although similarly, it wastes its villains somewhat. It’s a better remake than Night Of The Living Dead, even though there’s no Candyman here, just Marcellus Wallace, and it’s a better film than House That Has Lots Of Corpses. The characters are interesting, so much so that you might even care about some of them, and there’s a sharp wit running through the whole procedure. The ongoing conversation, via white card and binoculars, with poor old Andy, stranded alone on the roof of his gun shop, and the games of Shoot The Zombie What Looks Like A Celebrity are all pleasing diversions.
Ultimately, if you bathe in the glories of Romero’s trilogy on a regular basis, then you’ll probably feel this is some sacrilegious MTV-generation attack on your reason for being. Thing is, it’s not really an abomination at all. It serves as a reverent but much more frantically-paced compliment to the original films, and may even go some way towards helping Sir George get Afternoon Of The Dead, or whatever he’s gonna call it, shuffled off into production.
The zombies are fast, as is the trend nowadays thanks to Danny Boyle and his fleet-footed hordes, even though speedy maggot-skulls were on the go as far back as Return Of The Living Dead. The gore is plentiful, and the action fairly continuous. It’s a grand hour and a half to be sure, although it does feel somewhat lacking in the momentous reverberations department.
It’s fun, which is more than we could have reasonably expected, and it’s as good a film as Cabin Fever or Jeepers Creepers, any other recent horror-fest you care to mention.
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