DAWN OF THE DEAD and ZOMBIE: A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

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DAWN OF THE DEAD and ZOMBIE: A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

MAJOR SPOILER WARNING! In order to properly compare these two films, I have to give DETAILED SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen Dawn Of The Dead or Zombie, there are MASSIVE SPOILERS BELOW for each film. You have been warned!

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Previously, I’ve compared David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows and John Carpenter’s Halloween (link here), the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic Predator with the B-movie sci-fi/horror Without Warning (link here)and finally the classic Evil Dead and it’s 2013 remake (link here). Now I’d like to compare two classics that are related in an interesting way. In 1978, George A. Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead was unleashed upon the world and was called Zombi in Italy. It was a hit and in 1979, Italian filmmaker Lucio Fulci made his own zombie epic, one that was sold as a sequel entitled Zombi 2. But Zombie, as it was titled here in the U.S. when released in 1980, is it’s own movie and a classic horror in it’s own right. Now decades later, let’s take a look at Romero’s horror classic and Fulci’s unofficial Italian “sequel” and see just how different…or alike…they actually are…

(Click on the highlighted movie titles to go to the full length reviews and on the photos to enlarge them!)

THE STORY

Romero’s film focuses on four characters (Ken Foree, David Emge, Gaylen Ross and Scott Reiniger) and their efforts to survive during a zombie outbreak in progress. Dawn is never clear whether this is a new outbreak, or if the outbreak started in the original Night Of The Living Dead has been ongoing for the last ten years and is starting to spiral out of control. Actually, we’re never sure the two films are even related as Dawn never references Night. Ken Foree’s Peter at one point announces that his voodoo practicing grandfather once said “When there is no more room in Hell, the dead with walk the Earth!”, but the cause of the zombie outbreak in the original film was radiation from a fallen satellite. Dawn never clarifies the actual cause as our characters barricade themselves inside a giant shopping mall. Romero’s tone is a bit satirical in this installment and there are moments of humor and satire throughout the film.

Zombie opens with the harbor police in NYC boarding a seemingly deserted craft. One of them is savaged by a zombie onboard who is subsequently shot and falls off the boat. The daughter (Tisa Farrow) of the boat’s owner, teams up with a reporter (Ian McCulloch) to find out what happened to her father. This leads the duo and another couple (Al Cliver and Auretta Gay) to the small Caribbean island of Matul, where they soon find, to their horror, that the dead are rising to eat the living. In Zombie, or Zombi 2, the cause of the outbreak is clearly voodoo as the drums beat continuously and characters warn that the local witch doctor has something to do with it. Aside from the dead rising, the villagers are all taking ill and dying, too…only to rise again with a hunger for flesh. Fulci makes no social commentary here and his tone is bleak and nightmarish with an absence of any humor to speak of.

Except for both films being about flesh eating zombies whose bite spreads the infection, the stories are vastly different.

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THE ZOMBIES

Dawn Of The Dead‘s zombies give the impression that we are dealing with the recent dead. Possibly due to budget limitations or artistic choices, the walking dead here are simply bluish with sunken eyes and a few show signs of being partially eaten or scarred themselves. They eat the living and there are hundreds of them wandering through the mall and it’s parking lot and they can only be stopped by decapitation or simply shooting them in the head. They seem to be mostly acting on instinct, showing only the most basic thinking, if it can be called that at all.

Fulci’s zombies are far more frightening looking, resembling decomposing corpses far more than Romero’s, with rotting flesh, hollow eye sockets and some covered in maggots. A stop at an ancient graveyard during the film proves even those long dead are rising and they too are ravenously hungry. There are somewhat fewer than in Dawn, but their appearances in fog shrouded deserted villages and their ghoulish make-up, makes them even more intimidating. They too can only be killed by decapitation, bullets to the brain and being burned completely.

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MAIN CHARACTERS

Both film’s focus on four main characters, though Zombie has some supporting characters as well, such as Dr. David Menard (Richard Johnson), and his wife (Olga Karlatos).

Dawn‘s four main characters are newswoman Fran (Gaylen Ross), and her boyfriend and helicopter pilot Stephen (David Emge), who are traveling with two S.W.A.T. team members, Roger (Scott Reiniger) and Peter (Ken Foree). They are taking the helicopter and running, which brings them to find safe haven in a massive shopping mall deserted all but for the dead. While Fran and Stephen have little or no training with firearms, Peter and Roger are well armed and expertly trained, which gives the four an edge.

Zombie‘s four have no such edge. Peter (Ian McCulloch) is a newsman given the story of the deserted boat and dead cop. Anne (Tisa Farrow) is the daughter of the boat’s owner, a doctor last seen on a small tropical island called Matul. They hitch a ride to the island with vacationing couple Brian (Al Cliver) and his pretty wife Susan (Auretta Gay). Neither couple has any idea what they are getting into, as opposed to Dawn‘s four, who are fully aware and prepared for what they may face.

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THE SETTINGS

The settings for these two film’s couldn’t be more different…

Dawn Of The Dead takes place in rural Pennsylvania, mostly at it’s massive Monroeville shopping mall which is near Pittsburg, where Romero went to college and made many of his earlier films. Here Romero uses his setting to make social commentary about class and consumerism.

Zombie‘s setting is the total opposite. While it opens and closes in New York City, the film takes place mostly in the Caribbean, on a small tropical island called Matul. Here, the only place our four have to hide is in an old church turned infirmary and that doesn’t provide them sanctuary for very long when the dead follow them there.

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THE OPENING SCENES

The opening scenes for both movies are effective in their own way but vastly different.

Dawn starts the tension by showing us Fran’s news station slowly coming apart as the situation outside spirals out of control. Rescue stations are closing and people are running from their desks scared. Panic is setting in as news to report becomes scarce and what news they are getting is too horrible to believe. The dead are returning to life to eat the living! This creates an atmosphere of dread long before we see the first zombies.

Zombie‘s opening sequence goes for the jugular…literally. It opens with a gun being fired at someone, or something, rising from under a sheet, drums beating in the distance. We then cut to an apparently deserted sailboat entering New York harbor. Once boarded by the harbor patrol, one officer is savagely bitten on the throat by what appears to be a walking corpse. Fulci gets us tense and grossed out right away with a graphic and savage attack in the first few minutes. We also get some early glimpses of what’s happening on Matul at Dr. Menard’s infirmary, so we know what is waiting for the two ill-fated couples before they arrive.

Both openings work in setting us up for what is to come, starting us off with an atmosphere of fear and foreboding. One film does it by showing it’s blood and gore right away, while the other, by showing us the mounting chaos before we are thrust into the S.W.A.T. team assault scene where we see our first zombies in action.

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THE ENDINGS

Both films end with down or ominous endings…

After a pitched battle with a motorcycle gang that invades their mall sanctuary and lets the zombies back in, a surviving Fran and Peter fly off in the chopper knowing they have very little gas and nowhere really to go. There fate is left uncertain, but things aren’t looking good for the pregnant Fran and the demoralized Peter. Dawn Of The Dead leaves their fate to our imaginations, but with the dead slowly gaining the upper hand, we don’t imagine much of a happily ever after for our two survivors. The film closes on a shot of the mall parking lot filled with the undead implying all may soon be lost.

As with it’s opening, Zombie‘s climax leaves nothing to our imaginations. After a bloody battle with the living dead in the old church, survivors Anne and Peter find their way back to the boat with a bitten Brian in tow. Once back in New York harbor, they are treated to a radio broadcast proclaiming the zombies are everywhere, just as the newly risen Brian starts banging on the cabin door. The film closes with a haunting scene of zombies crossing the Brooklyn Bridge into the Big Apple while things are left fairly grim for Peter and Anne. Apocalyptic and still chills decades later.

Here the films have stark similarities as both endings are bleak and present little chance or hope of our survivors finding an escape!

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IN CONCLUSION

Interesting as how one of these films was made as an unofficial sequel to the other, yet both are vastly different and both are considered classics. Dawn Of The Dead‘s success in Italy under the title Zombi gave Lucio Fulci the opportunity to direct Dardano Sacchetti’s script and have it be a sequel in name only, released as Zombi 2. He made his own movie, his way and it is considered one of the greatest zombie films of all time right next to Dawn. Despite Italian audiences, at the time, being led to believe they are related, they are completely different films with different stories and different tones. There are similarities, too. Both are famous for their abundant gore set pieces, such as Zombie‘s splinter in eyeball and Dawn‘s exploding head…not to mention both films’ zombie dining scenes. They are also both known for their haunting soundtracks, Dawn‘s by Italian rock band Goblin and Zombie‘s creepy score by Fabio Frizzi. And who could forget Zombie‘s shark vs zombie sequence or Dawn‘s zombies vs biker gang finale. Regardless of how Romero’s zombie classic may have given birth to Fulci’s in a way, horror fans got two unique masterpieces from two legendary filmmakers.

-MonsterZero NJ

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