Most people probably remember the late George A. Romero for sinking his teeth into zombie movies. While he served an important role in the redefining of the genre, his legacy as a filmmaker is widespread.
Dawn of the Dead
3.5 stars out of 5
Rated R, 101 minutes.
Available Tuesday on Blu-ray through shoutfactory.com or at Movie Trading Co.
To pay proper tribute to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978) and have a new spin of their own, writer James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy films) and director Zack Snyder (upcoming Justice League) knew they had to enter their 2004 remake with both barrels on full blast. Just five minutes into the film, we’re already into hardcore, flesh-tearing and high-tension territory. It’s clear Gunn and Snyder wanted to bite through expectations and immediately dive into the zombie apocalypse with no signs of slowing down.
In the film, Ana (Sarah Polley), a local nurse, returns to her suburban residence to find her life quickly upended when her husband is brutally attacked by her zombified neighbor. She flees from the chaos and arrives at a deserted shopping mall with other survivors (including but not limited to Ving Rhames, Mekhi Phifer and Ty Burrell) to devise a strategic plan for survival.
This remake is just as intense and titillating as Romero’s original, but with all-new markings of its own. The filmmakers keep the movie unpredictable with a few fun “don’t do that!” moments and lower the body count just enough to keep the stakes high and the game fair. The characters are well-developed, the action is well plotted, and the zombies remain a menacing threat from start to finish. It’s all you could ask for, really.
Extras: The Scream Factory Collector’s Edition includes an unrated version of the film (at 110 minutes), all-new interviews with the cast and filmmakers, deleted scenes, a theatrical trailer, a still gallery, and a slew of blood-filled featurettes and behind-the-scene clips.
Land of the Dead (3 stars) One year after Snyder remade Dawn of the Dead, Romero returned to the world of the undead after a 20-year dip into other genres. Aside from the characters speaking with a fourth grade-level dialogue, Land of the Dead is decent material with some creative zombie kills and solid action.
As per usual, the story sees the living dead taking over the globe and it’s up to the remaining humans (including Simon Baker, Asia Argento and John Leguizamo) to take back what’s theirs. The detour from familiarity comes from the fascinating concept that the undead are not as thick as they are often depicted. In Land of the Dead, the walkers can develop attacks and work together as a unit to make them all the more threatening to humans.
Most of the film’s genius comes from the details and smaller moments. A Mad Max-like vehicle called the “Dead Reckoning” with the ability to plow through anything in its path amazes, while zombie kills such as peeling a human’s face like an orange will be hard to shake. So if you don’t expect too much, you may be pleasantly surprised.
Rated R, 93 minutes.
Extras: The Scream Factory Collector’s Edition includes an unrated version of the film (97 minutes), all-new interviews with the cast, deleted scenes, a theatrical trailer, audio commentary, a making-of, and many, many featurettes to keep one busy for a while.
George A. Romero: Between Night and Dawn (3.5 stars) The aptly titled Arrow Video release is a collector’s edition that brings together Romero’s work between Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead.
Included in the six-disc set is 1971’s There's Always Vanilla (a romantic-comedy - yep, you read that correctly - about a man who returns to his home in Pittsburgh to move in with his sugar mama), 1972’s Season of the Witch (a thriller about a bored housewife who turns to witchcraft and murder to spice up her life) and his better-known 1973 sci-fi horror The Crazies (a biological weapon infects a small town in Pennsylvania).
Of the three, The Crazies is without a doubt the best. Season of the Witch is occasionally effective and There’s Always Vanilla charms, but it seems the director’s heart just wasn’t in making it. The Crazies has the most unique premise of the trio, and it proves that Romero doesn’t need gore to frighten his audiences in horror. The effects are admittedly dated, as in Season of the Witch, but the social commentary on the nature and science of war maintains intrigue throughout.
There’s Always Vanilla is rated R, 93 minutes; Season of the Witch is rated R, 130 minutes; and The Crazies is rated R, 104 minutes.
Extras: The Arrow Video release (available today through arrowfilms.co.uk) includes a 60-page booklet, audio commentaries, both new and archival interviews and conversations, behind-the-scene footage, several featurettes, image galleries, and trailers and TV spots.
Also available this week: The Dark Tower, Halo: The Complete Video Collection (available through shoutfactory.com), J.D.’s Revenge (1976): Arrow Video, Kidnap, Orphan Black: The Complete Series, Outcast: Season 1, Person to Person and Sherlock: The Complete Series.
FEATURED IMAGE: Spotting human survivors, a growing mob of undead chase their potential quarry in the 2004 zombie action thriller, Dawn of the Dead. Photo courtesy of Universal Studios/Michael Gibson.