Remakes Vs. Originals: Dawn Of The Dead

Get ready for a slow and shambling fight between the original and remade Dawn of the Dead, with bits falling off as we go...

In 1978 we were hit with the second of George A. Romero’s Of The Dead films, which was released nearly a decade after the first in the series; Night Of The Living Dead.

Although not proving to be a big hit right away, the film quickly gathered media attention and eventually secured itself a worthy place as a cult classic. The film was followed by a further three sequels; Day Of The (1985), Land Of The (2005)and Diary Of The Dead (2007) and a fifth sequel to the original entitled Survival Of The Dead is currently in pre-production. All of these films have proved to be successful both financially and critically, however Dawn Of The Dead is considered by many as the true masterpiece, which is why it seemed a bit odd when the remake was announced. Was it really necessary?

2004 saw the arrival of Zack Snyder’s own take on Dawn Of The Dead, and although some of you may argue it is a re-imagining rather than a re-make due to the difference in plot and characters, I still consider it a re-make.

So for the third time in a row will the original stand tall? Well, I’m about to make that decision…

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Dawn Of The Dead (1978)

Dawn Of The Dead takes place not long after Night Of The Living Dead, although how long exactly is never fully explained. Most of you probably know the basic story, so I won’t go into quite the depth I went into in my previous two articles. The story basically follows the four survivors of a zombie apocalypse, Peter, Roger, Francine and Stephen, as they take refuge in an empty shopping mall.

What makes this film instantly stand out from other horror movies of the 1970s is the fact that all the characters have a lot more depth than in similar films rather than just being chunks of meat waiting to be fed to the enemy. Probably the best example of this is the character of Francine who, rather than playing the stereotypical role of the damsel in distress or ‘that woman who screams’, takes the lead and sticks closely with films like Alien in representing women as strong characters.

Without giving too much away about the remake before reaching it, I feel like this version had a different approach to the film. The remake relies heavily on jumps and ‘arghh, it’s going to get him!’ moments whereas the original is a lot slower paced, and is eerie rather than frightening. Many of the shots of zombies slowly pacing around the mall bumping into things really send a chill up my spine.

It isn’t long before the characters plot a harebrained scheme (as is necessary in any zombie movie) that will make the mall secure. Roger and Peter set about blocking the entrance to the mall using two large trucks. However, during their attempt Roger is bitten by a zombie, and we all know what that means!

I found that this film actually did something a lot of modern zombie movies fail to do – surprise me; The characters had been so well established that I found myself saying “They won’t kill him, he’s too important.” I felt this emphasized the point Romero himself says he tries to make in most of these films, which is that they are films about people and how they cope in tough situations, not zombies.

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It isn’t long before Roger finds himself transforming into one of the meat-eating beasties and Peter does the only thing he can do, and shoots Roger.

This justifies my thoughts on the fact this film aims to surprise the audience, and it had a couple more surprises up its sleeve. A gang of bikers eventually discover the mall after seeing Francine learning to fly a helicopter on the roof and take the opportunity to break in and loot the place. This is where the film really starts to step it up a gear, and we are treated to a whole array of both silly and gruesome zombie deaths.

The effects and make-up in this film aren’t great, that I am happy to admit. I even noticed a few zombies waltzing around without any make-up on at all, but as I am sure I have said in previous reviews, I am aware that the technology available today wasn’t back then, and so I take this into consideration. This doesn’t make the film any less enjoyable, though.

A biker being torn apart and eaten, a zombie having a machete forced through his head and plenty of zombies having pies thrown in their faces are just some of the spectacles we are treated to in this last part of the film. Although some of them seem a bit daft, Romero has stated in interviews he actually considers Dawn Of The Dead a bit of a comedy, and I couldn’t agree more.

The film finally empties its sleeves at this point though; Peter disposes of the bikers using a sniper rifle and Stephen sadly meets his end after taking a few bites. The film manages to go out on a bit of a high as Francine and Peter escape in a helicopter; leaving their fates unclear.

Everything about this film is great. Don’t get me wrong here; some of the acting isn’t brilliant, some of the effects are a tad ropey and some moments may be deemed a little cheesy. But the truth is you can’t call it cheesy or cliché’ because it was the first of its kind. It may not live up to the standards of some films nowadays, but still proves for an interesting watch nonetheless and I recommend that anyone who has yet to see it seeks some immediate medical attention from the local Blockbuster.

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So now I’m on to the remake, which right now has a lot to prove.

Dawn Of The Dead (2004)

Let’s get one thing straight; this film does not feature any characters used in the original, and the plot is really quite different. The only thing they really have in common is the idea of people hiding in a mall during a zombie apocalypse.

As I mentioned before, this film deviates in atmosphere from the original as well. While the original has an eerie feeling and a rather light atmosphere, the remake goes for a frightening feeling and goes for a much darker atmosphere.

One thing that really proves this change in atmosphere was intended is the fact that the zombies can now run. In the original they just seemed to hover around moaning. In this they run, jump and scream, really changing the way the characters have to think. This really put a spin on the ideas we had been introduced to in the original, which instantly grabbed my attention. I think a good remake can carry ideas raised in the previous film but at the same time put a new twist on things.

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The main cast is a lot larger than in the original, and grows as the film goes on.

I feared this might be a bad thing, as it would mean many characters go undeveloped and spend their screen time just waiting to die. However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover this was not the case at all. Every character had depth, and even if they weren’t explored in as much detail as I would have liked, they still managed to intrigue me.

Amongst the whacky characters are Glen, a gay vicar, Steve, a cocky entrepreneur, C.J., an angry security guard and Tucker, a good old-fashioned hillbilly. Most of these characters meet their ends throughout the film, but I found myself saying, “I liked them,” after they were killed. This is something that was definitely inspired by the original, and the remake pulls it off well.

A particularly uncomfortable scene appears during the rather early stages of the film when a man named Frank and his daughter Nicole join the survivors in the mall. The other survivors are quick to realise that Frank has been bitten and could turn at any moment. Frank tells them that his whole family is dead, and he is all his daughter has left. Sadly, no sympathy is shown, and in a truly heartbreaking scene Nicole runs and hides while the others take care of him.

Much like in the original, a large chunk of this movie is spent following the survivors as they adapt to their new lives. It isn’t long before a group of the survivors discover some old buses parked beneath the shopping mall and they waste no time in preparing to fix them up and escape into the ravaged world beyond the mall’s walls.

Steve tells the others he has a yacht which they could all escape on in an attempt to make a joke of the situation; the survivors do, however, deem this as a good idea, and plan to drive from the mall to the boat and escape. These scenes provided for a few funny reactions and conversations between the group, which really reflects a lot of the humour in the original.

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Things only get better from this point on. The survivors are eventually forced to go ahead with their plan after a large number of zombies breach the mall’s walls. One of the buses does, however, crash, providing for a rather gruesome scene in which a chainsaw slices one of our survivors in half. My heart was pounding like mad by this point.

I can’t describe how different this movie really is from the original; although being registered as a remake, I’m really not sure it is. I was aware by this point that it was going to be a close call when deciding which film I preferred.

The film finishes in a slightly more dramatic way than the original film when the survivors narrowly escape on the boat after losing some of their own to the endless waves of zombies.

This film is brilliant, it really is. A lot of remakes nowadays really aren’t justified and although being a massive fan of the original, I feel like this one was. It pleased me in every sense. It took the basic idea from the original and turned it into something new. This film has things for new fans and old fans. It has new stories and characters but at the same time serves as a tribute to the original with plenty of cameos and a number of references.

So now for my toughest decision yet…

Which film is superior? Well, if I could call it a tie, I would, but I can’t help but feel I’d be cheating the readers of this article by doing so. So I have donned a shield to deflect the wall of criticism I may receive for this decision, but the crown goes to the remake. It appeals to both old fans and new fans whereas the original is probably more likely to be admired by older fans.

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It looks like the remakes are catching up, but will they win again next time?