Foreign horror films have certainly been enjoying a more prominent place in the spotlight in recent years with several countries showing they have the chops to slug it out with the US studios by producing some of the better horror flicks of the last 10 years. Spain really hit the ball out of the park for me with [REC] exceeding my expectations of it delivering yet a another dull found footage film. After enjoying [REC] so much I was pretty eager to see Descendents, hoping for something just as intense and original. Descendents kinda slipped off the radar for me for whatever reason but now that Monster Pictures have dropped a local release I finally got the chance to check Jorge Olguin’s 2008 film out. The film wasn’t in the same league as [REC] but I still found it a worthwhile watch for its different take on the zombie storyline.
Before the event of DVDs there were very few documentaries of the making of films especially when it came to cult and horror cinema. Occasionally there would be a promotional behind-the-scenes look for the major studio blockbusters screened on TV but nothing compared to the insight and analysis we have come to expect now. Document Of The Dead and Fangoria’s feature on Tom Savini Scream Greats Vol 1 have always held a special place for me as they were my first glimpse into what went on behind the scenes of some of my favourite horror flicks. I’ve always liked how they were shot in the thick of it all and are a great document of the time without the benefit of hindsight.
Finally a local release of the Ultimate Edition of Dawn Of The Dead! Better late than never that’s for sure especially for the poor folk like me who couldn’t afford to splash out for the R1 Anchor Bay release. The Ultimate Edition lives up to its title and then some containing three different cuts of Romero’s film and an impressive array of extras including In Conversation with George A. Romero (an interview conducted at the 2008 Melbourne International Film Festival) which isn’t included in the R1 set.
What can you say about Dawn of the Dead that hasn’t already been said a million times? A modern classic of the horror genre in every sense of the world. Romero ditched the black and white sinister Gothic aesthetic of Night of the Living Dead and delivered a full blown gut munching assault to the senses in vivid Technicolor. More than simply a vehicle to showcase gory set pieces (special effects legend Tom Savini’s work is exceptional) and zombies Romero weaved underlying themes mirroring a troubled society in turmoil post Vietnam war ravaged by the excesses of consumer culture. Dawn of the Dead is an insightful film intended to be thought provoking as well as terrifying. Immensely influential especially in Italy where it was imitated countless times (perhaps most notably with Fulci’s Zombie) with varying degrees of success. A truly iconic film that horror fans like myself consider a masterpiece. I won’t regurgitate the plot details as I’m sure the majority of readers are already familiar with them.
This set contains the original theatrical version as well as the extended and European cuts. Fans all differ in their preferences of which cut they feel is the definitive version of the film and this set gives everyone the chance to experience the three official cuts (a 154 minute German bootleg compiled by Oliver Krekel’s DVD company Astro also exists) of the film and decide for themselves.
Originally screened as a rough cut to gage audience reaction to the film in New York this 139 minute version of the film includes a few extended scenes and uses more stock music than Goblin’s score. I found this version to be fairly slow in its pacing and can see why Romero opted to leave these scenes on the cutting room floor. Joseph Pilato (who would later be cast as Captain Rhodes in Romero’s 1985 follow up Day of the Dead) makes an appearance in the extended scene at the dock before the group leaves in the helicopter. I didn’t find it the “revelation” a number of fans consider it to be but found it an interesting watch none the less. The theatrical cut is more tightly paced in comparison and Romero prefers it to both the extended and European cut.
The highlight of the set for me was the European “Dario Argento Cut” of the film. Argento edited Dawn of the Dead for European audiences ditching a lot of the humor and dialogue in favor of putting the action at the forefront of the film. A lot of people have criticized this version complaining that a lot of Romero’s subtext was lost by trimming the dialogue and character development but personally I thought this certainly wasn’t the case. I felt the European cut had a faster pace and a darker more menacing tone (especially towards the end of the film). Let’s face it Romero has never really been subtle with his social commentary and underlying themes and they still shine through and are a prominent part of the film. The extended use of the Goblin soundtrack was a big improvement and was a lot more effective than the original score. Argento effectively made a great film greater by trimming the fat and this version is the one I’ll be popping in the player whenever I rewatch the film.
Street Trash writer Roy Frumke’s documentary Document of the Dead has always been one of my favorite behind the scenes pieces on a horror film. I remember having a hell of a time tracking it down on tape back in the day and had to settle for a shitty quality bootleg (the DVD revolution has made things a lot easier that’s for sure!). A great documentary chronicling the dedication and hard work that went on behind the scenes of Dawn of the Dead and chronicles Romero’s career up to that point. It’s hard to believe with all the carnage depicted in the film that the mall would be in one piece and open to customers each day after filming. Document of the Dead really cements what a groundbreaking piece of guerrilla film making Dawn of the Dead was. Along with Frumke’s documentary there’s a shitload of extras for fans to sink their teeth into including several commentaries, trailers, interviews basically everything including the kitchen sink to the point of overkill! Excellent stuff to keep the geeks like me happy.
The Umbrella Entertainment set’s packaging is fairly minimal compared to the Anchor Bay set so if fancy packaging is important to you you’ll probably want to go with the import. For me anyway the content of the set was what mattered and this is a great easily available set at an affordable price. A definitive set that covers all you’ll need to educate yourself on Dawn of the Dead and its construction and impact on popular and horror culture. Dawn of the Dead: The Ultimate Edition deserves a place in every avid horror fans collection and now with a local release why not upgrade your old copy with this definitive set of Romero’s classic.
- Original Reviews
- Original Radio Spots
- Photo & Stills Galleries
- Biographies and Filmographies
- The Dead Will Walk Documentary
- Document of the Dead Documentary
- In Conversation with George A. Romero
- Audio Commentary with Richard Rubinstein
- Audio Commentary with Richard Rubinstein and Perry Martin
- Audio Commentary with George A. Romero, Tom Savini and Chris Romero
- Audio Commentary with David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H Reiniger and Gaylen Ross
Dawn of the Dead: The Ultimate Edition is available on DVD from Umbrella Entertainment.