Zombies and Consumerism: Both Versions of 'Dawn of the Dead' in Retrospect

September 28, 2015

Zombie Mondays 

Both versions of the Dawn of the Dead are no doubt familiar to you at least in passing if you are bothering to read this column. The premise to both is that a group of survivors hole up in a shopping mall during a zombie apocalypse.

What separates the classic 1979 George Romero film from the 2004 Zack Snyder remake?

There are of course logistical differences in the story. The style of each film is also drastically different. But the messages of both films, while similar on the surface, are where the divergences become more interesting.

There were fewer characters in the original film, which allowed for more characterization. The remake used a broader range of characters that were killed more frequently, generating more suspense.

The flesh-eating zombies in the original moved slowly while in the remake they ran around in a frenzied state. Anyone that died in the original returned from the dead while in the remake the zombies spread their condition exclusively by biting others.

What truly divides these films, however, is their social attitudes.

In the original film, the characters are competent survivor types that flee to a mall and stay there after careful consideration. They get comfortable and complacent there, leaving it only after it becomes overrun with zombies and bandits. Their fate is left uncertain.

In the remake, the characters are more desperate and less organized. They do become comfortable, but unlike the original characters make a choice to leave because they realize that they are stagnating. They eventually flee in a churlish rich man’s boat and it is hinted that at least most of them will wind up dead.

Is the remake trying to covey an anti-materialistic message? Or is it trying to critique the hypocrisy of people that presume to criticize mindless consumerism while indulging in it? The film seems to leave this open for interpretation, but is that by design?

The remake is deeply flawed -- Ving Rhamses and Matt Frewer are largely wasted in stock roles, for example. But it stands on its own as an individual film and at times demonstrates a genuine sense of style. Horror fans could do worse than watch it.

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