Saturday, July 25

A Classic on the Cutting Edge: Dawn of the Dead (1978)

is it right to run?

Directed by George A. Romero
127 Minutes (Director-preferred Theatrical Version) / Anchor Bay Blu-ray / 1080p 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

That time came around for me again. You know, the time you feel compelled to watch Romero's masterwork for the untoldth time as any self-respecting horror fan feels every so often. This time I viewed the film via Anchor Bay's Blu-ray edition and even though this classic is still bulletproof--the HD presentation leaves something to be desired.

This was the first horror film to make me realize I was going to be a lifelong fan of the genre. My friend and I would raid the local video store on Friday nights consuming what were generally considered the "greats" of horror. I can't remember quite when, but after some prodding from my parents (it was one of their date movies!?), we rented Dawn of the Dead. We rewound the chopper/zombie forehead removal bit six times. I can still hear my friend's exclamation of "HOLY SHIT!" and how we couldn't get over how awesome a sight that was. By the credits, we both were in agreement, Dawn was definitely the best horror flick had seen to that point and for years after we'd ponder the possibilities of being in a mall surrounded by the undead...usually while in class.

I still haven't seen another horror film to top what Romero achieved during several chilly months in-and-around Pittsburgh on a humble budget. Dawn has a unique epic nature that is all too alien in the genre, not just in zombie flicks, to the immediacy of the spiraling opening to how intimate we get with the characters and their isolated world. Though Romero doesn't show the audience the literal scope of the epidemic--he doesn't have to. One can pick-and-choose characteristics of Peter, Stephen, Roger, and Francine they identify with each perfectly embodying a variety of common assets and failings. In this way, their reactions to the dire crisis show the viewer all they need to understand the broad stakes brought upon humanity. The often chatted up social commentary spiced throughout is really just icing on this cake and are so well measured they usually pop up easily from mere circumstance.

Romero also slyly crafts his overarching Dead series point in microcosm within Dawn. The characters find a semblance of their former pre-calamity balance within the comfy walls of the shopper's paradise. Though soon an unexpected destructive force arrives and Peter, Roger, and Fran can't agree on the way to approach the situation--just like the last battling talking heads from the fading signal on their television. The horror of the climatic biker invasion is even more potent than the living dead threat to our emotional investment in the film's characters.

At this 1080p HD resolution, Savini's effects work looks as shoddy as ever (sorry), but it has an endearing "do-it-yourself" character and gets the point across with blueish-gray cake make-up, creative use of breakfast cereal, and that incredibly thick 'n bright 3M-manufactured faux blood. The famed make-up artist needn't worry since the film has proven itself strong enough to withstand any criticisms on those terms. Of course, everything I'm saying here is nothing new to devotees.

This Blu-ray came out in the initial slate of Anchor Bay next gen releases. The transfer is the same created for studio's 2004 Divimax DVD--only in HD. That said, it's as bright and colorful as the film has ever looked since its theatrical premiere. The color here is especially very lush and stable. The one admittedly big issue is the amount of digital noise reduction applied to the image. You'd be hard pressed to detect the most fleeting of print flecks, but the inherent grain is erased away, capping off much of the higher level of detail expected with Blu-ray. The presentation winds up being a more colorful representation of the Divimax DVD with just a lite touch of added detail. If this noise reduction wasn't there, it's a fairly good bet this could have rolled with the best Blu-ray transfers of '70s material to date.

I watched the film in its original mono track, but standard DTS 5.1 and lossless PCM 5.1 tracks are included. The extras mirror the Divimax DVD with an addition of "pop up" trivia boxes that appear through the film. Overall, certainly not the reason to buy a Blu-ray player like I did for Anchor Bay's Dawn Anniversary DVD back in '98.

BD Picture: 6/10
BD Sound: 8/10

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