Dawn of the Dead 2004 (2004)
Directed by Zack Snyder

Starring Sarah Polley Ving Rhames

Is Zack Snyder's "Dawn of the Dead" a pale rip off of George Romero's masterful original? Actually it's almost more of a rip off of "28 Days Later," with rabid zombies that run and scream, carrying a contagion that infects anyone they bite.

Gone here is Romero's original vision of a world where everyone and anyone who dies is destined to return as a slow-moving, dim-witted, groaning zombie. In Romero's universe, which of course began with the ultra-classic "Night of the Living Dead," the strange occurrence of the living dead somehow seems more ghoulish. In Snyder's film, the living dead are almost too alive, screaming, spitting, running, jumping.

In short, Snyder and screenwriter James Gunn, clearly saw "28 Days Later," which wasn't a Living Dead film, but rather a "rabies"-type movie.

Anyway, all this aside, the new "Dawn of the Dead" is a fun, gory ride, that makes up for its lack of depth with all out action. Romero's "Day of the Dead" was a raging disappointment because it was all talk, not gunplay, but the new "Dawn" is pure gunplay, little depth. The film begins before the crisis starts, with Polley playing a suburban wife going to bed with her beloved hubby. The next morning, the shit really hits the fan when the neighbor's kid shows up zombified, biting the husband, who instantly becomes a screaming, rabid, flesh-hungry maniac in his own right. Mom eventually hooks up with a ragtag team of survivors, who decide on holding up in a mall, a la the original "Dawn."

Tom Savini and some of the original "Dawn" cast members have brief cameos during the predictable TV news reports. They take place during the early portions of the movie, only making us old-timers long for the charm and low-budget style of the original. Things start picking up later in the movie, as the number of survivors drops, and the action really revs up. Unlike Romero's "Dead" films, this one has a huge budget, and it shows. The film even boasts a minor hit by Johnny Cash, "When the Man Comes Around," as its theme. The make up effects are top notch. The explosions and car crashes are "Lethal Weapon" quality.

One of several seventies horror titles to be remade in the early '00s, the "Dawn" redux is a fun flick that at least isn't a total remake of the '78 classic. And it's the best living dead film since the 1980s. Here's hoping it sparks a flurry of sequels. George Romero and John Russo have rights to make sequels to the original "Night of the Living Dead," while producer Richard Rubinstein apparently has remake/sequel rights to the original "Dawn."

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-- Review by Lucius Gore

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