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By Sam Tucker

For anyone who has followed my articles for The Independent Picture House, it should come as no surprise that “classic” horror and genre movies are not part of my personal film canon. In fact, a reason why I love the IPH so much is that they showcase such a wide variety of films from all eras, which in turn has challenged me to go outside the comfort zone of my own viewing pleasure. When asked to write about the 1978 original (as a millennial I have to specify the year…more on that later) Dawn of the Dead, I jumped at the chance to dissect a staple of the genre. And as someone who has experienced The Walking Dead, iZombie and even Warm Bodies, I found it refreshing to see a zombie movie with such a (dare I say) original take on the source material.

The zombie genre was once something closer to grindhouse cinema (see IPH’s Arthouse to the Grindhouse series for great examples!): low-budget films that had a much deeper meaning than a quick scare or bone-chilling fright. Ironically, starting with the Zack Snyder Dawn of the Dead remake in 2004, there was a huge explosion of zombie media across all genres, from survival horror (aforementioned Walking Dead) and World War II exploitation (Overlord) to even parental narratives (Maggie). From my modern hipster perspective, it’s shocking that we continued to have this deluge after Shaun of the Dead (debuting the same year as the Dawn of the Dead remake!) completely took the piss out of the genre, which always seemed to land on the idea that humans are not so different from their brainless enemies. You could twist it any way you wanted, but the plot always came down to who was willing to be the most heartless and emotionally brain-dead (#NailedIt) to come out on top.

And that’s why I found watching the original Dawn of the Dead such a breath of fresh air. It tackles hard-hitting and honestly still-relevant topics such as racial tensions, the unrelenting news cycle and mistreatment by police. The biggest shock to me was how long it takes to get to the iconographic mall where our heroes spend the remainder of the movie. As they chopper from a news headquarters through the heartland, the film takes time to show roughnecks drinking beers and seemingly making games out of killing the undead alongside the military — again something that is harrowingly modern. Eventually, when they do get to the mall, it’s presented in a way that shows the undead are just following reactions and habits they had picked up when they were still alive — shuffling around and within storefronts, lining up against the glass like they are looking for TickleMe Elmos and reacting with a sort of comfort when automated announcements come over the loudspeakers.

The film never takes itself too seriously and even devolves into slapstick near the end that involves spray bottles that you would see at a Bozo the Clown convention. While the film is as intense and violent as many other zombie movies, you can feel director George Romero winking at you through the camera, inviting you to see how drawn the characters are to the mall, as though they still had functioning credit cards.

So as always, head over to the IPH, turn your phone off and enjoy a nice beverage during a zombie picture that may make you wince in one scene while laughing in another!


Sam Tucker, a cinema enthusiast residing in Charlotte, fills his days playing rugby while discussing movies and a host of other nerdy pursuits. Follow what he’s watching on his Letterboxd here.
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