(You’re going to have to forgive me, I’m pulling ample portions of this review from my earlier Divimax review of Dawn, with some exceptions of course.)
Anchor Bay, holding all (or most) of the keys in George Romero’s zombie film trilogy put out a copy of this film now before overloading us we on the remake, done in grainy, handheld 28 Days Later style by director Zack Snyder of 300 lore. A stopgap one disc version was released, followed by this huge-arse four disc version that we’re viewing now.
There isn’t too much here plotwise that you need to be aware of. Four people decide to seek shelter at an abandoned mall, a continuation of Romero’s first film Night of the Living Dead. I don’t really know of an underlying moral tale in this film, aside from trying to make a life for yourself again, it really is about trying to get past the zombies and find some sort of freedom, wherever that may be. Special effects whiz Tom Savini gets to show off more of his work here, though not as much as in Day, as he spends some time in front of the camera as the leader of a biker gang.
I dunno, I saw this film when I was 10 or 11, and scared the beejeezus out of me, but since the days of CGI created, monsters, goblins, ogres and anything else you can think of, the charm of Dawn, as well as Day, have worn off in recent years. However, what I think of the film shouldn’t diminish the impact it’s had on the horror film genre, as countless films in the same mold have come out since then. For all of the goofy looking stuff you may laugh at here, Romero’s work still resonates, 20 plus years after this release.
Before we dive in any further, first and foremost I want to say that there are three fricken releases for this one; there’s the Divimax version, a slightly extended version with about 10 more minutes added into theaters, and a version that appeared in Europe and was cut by director Dario Argento. For the review, the discs will be looked at individually for their separate merits, so as not to utterly confuse the beejeezus out of you.
For the Divimax version, Anchor Bay continues a streak of good work in successive DVD releases, as the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation for Dawn looks amazing. Edge enhancement is minimal, and the attention given to this (as well as Romero’s Day of the Dead) results in really outstanding work. The blood is in vivid color, and the blacks are consistent through the movie, an overall outstanding job. The extended and European cuts are also in decent shape too, with more work apparently being done to restore the extended cut; the European cut seems to possess a lot of grit in the print but still holds up pretty well. All three prints are pretty commendable.
On the Divimax version, the DTS soundtrack is good as well, but considering the cheese factor on the soundtrack, you get the bad with the good. DTS soundtracks for older (read: late 70’s early 80’s) films are a nice touch, but that bad music really sounds more horrible with the DTS clarity behind it. Sadly though, the audio quality seems to worsen with each release, as the extended and European cuts might have 5.1 soundtracks associated with them, but each sounds more and more canned, with the European cut sounding almost like a mono track of sorts. So if you’re going to go with a version to watch for video AND audio, the first one would be it.
Anchor Bay dropped the proverbial motherload on the zombie movie loving DVD connoisseur. Kicking things off on Disc One, which is essentially a Divimax reproduction, you’ve got the held over commentary track with Romero and his wife Chris, who served as Assistant Director on the film. Savini is here too, and the panel is moderated by Anchor Bay rep Perry Martin. The group talks about a wide variety of things, aside from the usual stories about the production of the film. Savini and Romero share their thoughts on CG in the business, as well as Savini’s affection for Lon Chaney films. Romero also shares his thoughts on filmmaking now, and the chances of a 4th Dead film. All in all, a fairly friendly track. This is the highlight of the set, as there is very little else in terms of substantial material here. Two trailers and a total of 12 TV and radio spots (three TV and nine radio) are next, followed by 25 pictures of posters, publicity stills and ads for the film, a biography on Romero that looks much like the one on Anchor Bay’s recent Day of the Dead release, and a preview of a comic book of the film, which has the cover and where to get the book.
Moving onto Disc Two’s extras, where there is first a commentary with Producer Richard Rubenstein, with Martin acting as moderator again. Rubenstein talks about how the film came together and explains Romero’s shooting and writing styles, providing a lot of detail about the production. He discusses in frank detail some of the effects for the film, and in larger detail discusses his role in it and as a producer in general. There are some gaps in silence, and it would have been better to hear him play off of someone other than Martin, but it’s a decent commentary. Next is a commercial for the mall that was used as the location in the film. Since the commercial is pretty dated, it’s kind of funny to look at. There are several stills galleries that complete the second disc.
Disc Three’s European version has a commentary with David Emge, Scott Reininger, Gaylen Ross and Ken Foree, who were the actors in the mall for the film. Aside from the predictable sticker shock of the actors seeing how young they were, they all seemed to have maintained a friendship past the filming, which is nice to see. Foree seems to help keep the commentary going, though they all have a good time recalling their participation in the ode to the flesh eaters.
Disc Four has the big, lengthier supplements, starting with a documentary entitled “The Dead Will Walk”, featuring interviews with just about every participant in the production. Running at a little over an hour, each of the cast and crew talk about their origins before appearing in this film, in front of or behind the camera. The smaller actors who have speaking roles get some time to talk about their moment in the sun, while everyone else talks about their time on the production and their impressions of what the characters were like. Savini gets some time to talk about some of the things he did for the makeup and effects too. It’s a good documentary, but remarkably it’s not the longest on this disc. That’s reserved for “Documentary of the Dead”, a film shot by Roy Frumkes which is comprised of on-set footage. The 90-minute piece was done over a weekend during the production, and was done by a film school, so a critical work at Romero’s other films and of the production itself is the main tact that’s taken, which is nice to see. Romero discusses his production style and influences over the years and surrounding dramatic elements, and other members of the crew like Savini and Rubenstein talk about their role in the production and the challenges they faced on a given day. Moving onto the production itself, other members of the crew are given a chance to talk about their roles, and Romero talks with Frumkes about how things are going. Going into the postproduction, Romero talks about how he edits a film while retaining his vision, and a more interesting discussion on how he was able to retain a reasonable cut of his film while still getting it to as many people as possible. Flash forward ahead to some time in the ‘80s with Romero on set with Monkey Shines, and Romero, his wife and Savini talk about how the moviemaking process is nowadays. Overall, it’s a very good explanation for the layman in terms of who does what when, and it’s worth checking out. There are some home movies on the set of the production from a couple of extras, narrated by the zombie extra in question, Robert Langer. It’s interesting for kitsch’s sake, but not a lot else. What was a little more fun is a present day tour of the mall with Foree, a couple of cast members from the film, and a fairly large group of fans who walked the mall just before closing. It’s funny because Foree seems to get confused on what was shot where, and the footage is fairly cool.
You know what’s good about Anchor Bay Ultimate Editions? The fact that they’re Ultimate Editions, and you won’t have to deal with future double-dips, unless you really want a Blu-ray version to pore over. This set ranks up there with the Ben-Hurs and other multi-disc completive sets. A definite keeper and one of the best things out there.