Friday, 2 October 2020

31 Days of Horror Remakes: Dawn of the Dead 1978 vs 2004

 Me: I think we both agree that the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead is far superior to the 1978 original, so let's get right into a comparison. We'd be here all night if we started talking about what's different about the two films so tell me... what's the same?

Jay: The only real similarity is the mall. It's the only thing they have in common. Okay, there is a cop, but that's about it. 

Me: When I rewatched these two yesterday, I was struck by the different ways they start. The original drops you right in the middle of the action while the remake has this slow build up, with everything going down around Sarah Polley's Ana and her not even noticing.

Jay: I see it the other way around. The original starts slow. The pacing of the two films is very different. The first twelve minutes of the remake are just mental. Yeah, it starts a little slow, maybe, but by about five minutes in, it's at breakneck speed. 

Me: It was that first twelve minutes that sold you wasn't it?

Jay: Yeah, it was clever showing the full twelve minutes on TV. I couldn't wait to get to the cinema after that. 

Me: Okay, can we talk about how much better the soundtrack is? The soundtrack for the original was just awful. It was like something out of a cartoon in some places. The sound effects were goofy as fuck.

Jay: It wasn't that bad. Not all of it, anyway. You knew when Goblin was doing the music in the original because it was good and you knew when they used a stock track because it was awful. Goblin is atmospheric, it's moody. They only did half the soundtrack, though. I think it was because they did it for a different market but I'm not sure. 

The soundtrack for the remake is far more ominous and filled with dread. It tells you exactly what you're getting into. Although there are humorous moments, it's quite a dark film. 

Me: It really is. The 1978 version is a good watch. It's entertaining, but it didn't make me scream like a little bitch in the middle of a cinema. You really feel the horror in this horror movie.

Okay, what else?

Jay: Well, the other huge difference is the zombies. They don't lumber along, like Romero's zombies. These fuckers run. It's far more terrifying. What chance would you have?

Me: Me? Exactly none. I do not do enough cardio for that shit.

Jay: You and me both. 

Me: Like the beginning, the ending really separates the original Dawn of the Dead from the remake. The 1978 version just kind of... ends. You don't know if they're going to make it but they might. It's kind of... hopeful, I guess. 

You don't get that with the 2004 version. I love that. I love that it follows them onto the boat, their salvation, and shows just how dire their situation really is. The island they ended up on actually kind of made me think of Zombie Flesh Eaters...

Jay: It reminded me of Day of the Dead

You're right, though. The ending of the original is that off-into-the-sunset thing. The same can't be said of the remake because it ends on screaming, with gunfire. You have to think they met their end. They're out of food, they're out of water... it doesn't look good. 

That's the real pity with the remake, there was no sequel. There was some talk of it and I would have loved it, to know where they went from that island. 

Me: I would have loved that too. It would have been perfect, too, because it would have linked it back to the Zombie Flesh Eaters movies, because that was supposed to be a sequel to Dawn of the Dead, right? 

Jay: Right. Kind of. It was even called Zombie 2 in America - that's what it was called in Europe. The Zombie Flesh Eaters sequels weren't great and they didn't really have anything to do with the first one so it's not a perfect comparison.

Me: Okay, I have to say it. The zombie makeup was embarrassing in the original! It was like little kids dressing up for Halloween...

Jay: Well, yeah. I mean... you're talking 1978. Savini was still a new kid on the block. There are some good effects, like when they're ripping chunks of flesh off. Some work but a lot don't. The zombies were just... kind of greyish blue. Even by the time Day of the Dead came, and the zombies were much more to what you thought they'd be, like the rotting cadavers they were supposed to be - but they had a long way to go.

The zombies in the remake were fucking awesome. They were so realistic. It became a very visceral movie, especially if you watch the extended version. There's a lot more of the headshots and the blood and the gore. They'd actually toned it down for the rating. There are also more scenes. 

Me: I'm glad that you brought that up. The DVD (and, I assume, the Blu-ray) had so many extras that it became extremely immersive. It became more of an experience than a film. What are your thoughts?

Jay: I love the extras. It's good because you find out more about Andy and what happens to him. Some of it's pretty hard to watch.

The best part was the bit with Richard Biggs from Babylon 5 as the newscaster. It was tremendous because... it's like it's actually being reported on. 

Me: In that bit, I love the way he becomes more and more dishevelled as it goes on. But, it's also important because it counts the hours and shows how rapidly the virus spread. The whole damned world went to hell in a single day. Scary.

Jay: You feel it a lot more now, because of the pandemic. Current events make it feel so much more...

Me: Real. Like the jackass plugging his book in the middle of a disaster.

Jay: Exactly. And as the report wraps up, you get the message from the president, voiced by Bruce Boxleitner, also from Babylon 5. I don't know if someone had connections with Babylon 5 but it was a nice touch. 

Me: I was wondering that as well. I was actually going to ask you.

Jay: I don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised. 

The extras are good and I definitely recommend watching them. You don't have to have them for the effect, though. Straight away, during the opening credits, you get a sense of how global it's become. You get the flashes from around the world. In the original, it focused on America. It was an American problem. But, in the remake, it affected everyone. 

Me: Because, obviously, it would. I wonder if that signals a change in the way we think? As a society, we really do think on a more global scale than we did back in the 70s. We're still working on the whole world-not-revolving-around-America thing, though.

Jay: It is a more global society, you have the internet to thank for that. More and more so now. 

Me: Right. It's interesting to think about how the movie would have changed if it had been remade now, instead of nearly twenty years ago. 

Jay: Don't even say it. This is one movie they don't need to remake. 

Me: Hah. True. 

Since we're talking about society, you know what I'm going to talk about next...

Jay: Racism?

Me: Absolutely. The original isn't heavily racist but it's there. I cringed when Gaylen Ross's Francine asked Ken Foree's Peter if he was leaving behind "real brothers or street brothers." Gah. 

It was interesting, though, that you still have a black cop in the remake (Ving Rhames's Kenneth) but, instead of the racism being turned on him, he turns it against Mekhi Phifer's Andre. He doesn't know the first thing about Andre, but Kenneth starts going at him about being a criminal, right from the start. It kind of made me think of those black cops and politicians who turn against other black people to get ahead, just for a pat on the head from white people. 

Jay: I dunno... you might be reading a little too much into it there. I don't know if what you see as racism is even deliberate. The thing is... the issue is confused because they're both black. I think Kenneth definitely sees Andre as a scumbag but... because he's black? I couldn't say.

And the worst scumbag in the whole movie is Ty Burrell's Steve. 

Me: Omg, that prick! He was just hateful.

Jay: Hah. He really is. From the moment Steve comes into it, with his sarcasm, you know he's the dickhead of the film. There's always one. He was my least favourite character in the movie, the one you were supposed to hate. 

Me: And I did.

It strikes me that the cast of the original is quite small and the cast of the remake is freaking huge.

Jay: It was a large cast. There were some characters that weren't in it enough and some that were throwaway. I would have liked to have seen more of... was it Tucker? He could have been funny. And the gay guy (Was it Glen?) the way he tortured the security guards was great. 

Each character had a purpose, Even Andy. That was the great thing with the DVD. It gave you so much more. I suppose it's just time. You can have all these extras because of the technology - something that wasn't available for the original. Although... there were three cuts. 

The American cut, The European cut, and the extended cut. The extended cut was a lot more visceral. There were bits that had to be cut out for certain markets. That bit with the other cops wasn't included, for example. It was quite a long film for the time, remember. They didn't like long movies as much then. 

Me: I know we've talked before about how shocking the zombie kids were in the 1978 Dawn of the Dead because at the time you just didn't fuck with kids. Well, the 2004 version starts with zombie kids and works its way up to zombie freaking baby! Why the change? Has society lost its reverence for children? Do we see them as somehow less innocent now?

Jay: Or is it a case of... well, by 2004, zombies had kind of been done to death. They had to have something shocking, something new to keep people interested. So... zombie baby. 

One of the things that makes the 2004 version exceptional is the zombies. They ignored Romero's lumbering zombies and went to the fast zombies. Unless they're in huge numbers, the Romero zombies aren't really that scary. The new zombies run after you. You've got no chance. 

Me: There are cameos in the remake from a couple of the original actors, aren't there?

Jay: Yeah, it was nice they had Ken Foree and Scott H. Reiniger. They couldn't get the other two, though. I don't think they could find them. As a result, if you look at the shops in the mall, there's one called the Gaylen Ross.

Me: I didn't notice that. It's a nice touch. Honestly, though? I hated Francine. Just another whiny bitch who couldn't do anything without a man holding her hand. She didn't deserve to survive to the end. 

Jay: Harsh. She wasn't as bad as Barbara in the original Night of the Living Dead movie but she was wishy washy. Sarah Polley's character was much more aggressive, much more leave-it-to-me-and-I'll-do-it. You saw it with Steve, when she kept her promise to shoot him. 

That's how films have changed. It's like the truck driver, Jayne Eastwood's Norma. She saved that big group of people. She's driving with the gun, blowing zombies away and getting them to safety. Even when Andre's shooting her, she manages to take him out. 

By the time the remake came along, women were finally seen as stronger. They've had to fight tooth and claw to make it happen, but it's happened. That damsel-in-distress thing isn't realistic anymore. Women are leaders. Society has changed - and rightfully so. 

Me: I think that's one of my favourite parts about revisiting these movies, seeing how far we've come. (Even if it makes me a little crazy watching how far we've had to come.) 

Since we've started with Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, I don't suppose our next pick will be much of a surprise... 

Jay: No, I don't suppose it will. 

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