Dawn of the Dead [1978]

Director: George A. Romero
Stars: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Mekhi Phifer, Lindy Booth
Genre: Action, Horror, Sci-Fi
Rating: Unrated
Runtime: 127 minutes

Day of the Dead [Blu-ray] Chapter three of George Romero's mighty zombie trilogy has big footsteps to follow. Night of the Living Dead was a classic that revitalized a certain corner of the cinema, and Dawn of the Dead was nothing short of epic. Day of the Dead, however, has always been regarded as a comedown compared to those twin peaks--and perhaps it is. But on its own terms, this is an awfully effective horror movie, made with Romero's customary social satire and cinematic vigor--when a "retrained" zombie responds to the "Ode to Joy," the film is in genuinely haunting territory. The story is set inside a sunken military complex, where Army and medical staff, supposedly working on a solution to the zombie problem, are going crazy (strongly foreshadowing the final act of 28 Days Later). Tom Savini's makeup effects could make even hardcore gore fans tear off their own heads in amazement. --Robert Horton Dawn of the Dead [Blu-ray] Are you ready to get down with the sickness? Movie logic dictates that you shouldn't remake a classic, but Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead defies that logic and comes up a winner. You could argue that George A. Romero's 1978 original was sacred ground for horror buffs, but it was a low-budget classic, and Snyder's action-packed upgrade benefits from the same manic pacing that energized Romero's continuing zombie saga. Romero's indictment of mega-mall commercialism is lost (it's arguably outmoded anyway), so Snyder and screenwriter James Gunn compensate with the same setting--in this case, a Milwaukee shopping mall under siege by cannibalistic zombies in the wake of a devastating viral outbreak--a well-chosen cast (led by Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, and Mekhi Phifer), some outrageously morbid humor, and a no-frills plot that keeps tension high and blood splattering by the bucketful. Horror buffs will catch plenty of tributes to Romero's film (including cameos by three of its cast members, including gore-makeup wizard Tom Savini), and shocking images are abundant enough to qualify this Dawn as an excellent zombie-flick double-feature with 28 Days Later, its de facto British counterpart. --Jeff Shannon Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn [Blu-ray] Writer-director Sam Raimi's extremely stylized, blood-soaked follow-up to his creepy Evil Dead isn't really a sequel; rather, it's a remake on a better budget. It also isn't really a horror film (though there are plenty of decapitations, zombies, supernatural demons, and gore) as much as it is a hilarious, sophisticated slapstick send-up of the terror genre. Raimi takes every horror convention that exists and exaggerates it with mind-blowing special effects, crossed with mocking Three Stooges humor. The plot alone is a genre cliché right out of any number of horror films. Several teens (including our hero, Ash, played by Bruce Campbell in a manic tour-de-force of physical comedy) visit a broken-down cottage in the woods--miles from civilization--find a copy of the Book of the Dead, and unleash supernatural powers that gut every character in sight. All, that is, except Ash, who takes this very personally and spends much of the of the film getting his head smashed while battling the unseen forces. Raimi uses this bare-bones story as a stage to showcase dazzling special effects and eye-popping visuals, including some of the most spectacular point-of-view Steadicam work ever (done by Peter Deming). Although it went unnoticed in the theaters, the film has since become an influential cult-video favorite, paving the way for over-the-top comic gross-out films like Peter Jackson's Dead Alive. --Dave McCoy

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