Tuesday, 21 December 2010

The 100 Best Horror Films #3

Cinema is the art of storytelling through motion pictures. Thrill Fiction recognises that the movies are mass entertainment storytelling. This in and of itself is not an attempt at art. Then cinema is the art of motion picture storytelling as mass entertainment. Examples are The Watchmen 2009 The Godfather 1972 All Quiet on the Western Front 1930. To wit; movies are entertainment, film is art, cinema is art as entertainment.
Dawn of the Dead 1978 is cinema with all its faults in widescreen. Cineastes with low tolerance for low budget may be resistant to its visuals. Dawn’s stunts, special effects and jump cuts were dated on release; three years prior Jaws 1975 was convincing and one year later Aliens 1979 was mesmeric. Dawn succeeds through narrative. Its story is the star. Its location is its genius.

Due to the nature of this beautiful beast Dawn is episodic in structure yet doesn’t suffer for it. In 1978 the behemoth indoor shopping mall was an American experiment. It was so unfamiliar one of the characters had to ask what it (the Monroeville Mall1) was. This film is divided into two parts; the shopping mall and before the shopping mall.
 Gaylen Ross2

“We’re blowing it ourselves.”

Come the apocalypse and people won’t believe it until they are dead. That mass delusion will be fed by a hysterical mass media. In (England) 1978 I had not seen an American news broadcast whereas in 2010 I can watch Fox News 24 hours a day. What was once a noble profession – the fourth estate – is now a distributor of lies to a gullible audience.

Perhaps this type of television journalism was the norm in 1978 America – if not nationally then perhaps regionally. What George A Romero does is predict the Fox News style badgering of expert witnesses and the downplaying of their salient testimony. This is where Romero recreates his zombie myth; Dr Foster states that the dead are come back to life: all dead – not just those bitten. The journalists erupt in outrage. They need to pander to the dwindling gallery. They insist on false hope. Their audience (American/human) is not mature enough for life and death truths.

This is the start of the film. This is three weeks into the apocalypse.
 David Emge3

The film’s first encounter with the zombies is during a police siege. The cops are after Martinez and his crew who have taken refuge in a tenement populated by black and Hispanic citizens. The police attack with zest and glee and impunity.

“Shit man, this is better than what I’ve got.”

The massacre is reminiscent of the Symbionese Liberation Army siege4.There are echoes from the ghosts of Attica5. Romero knew this law-enforcement tactic would be used again. In 1993 eigthy-four men women and children were killed in Waco6. 22 of them were British.

Rest in peace.

The siege introduces the two (good) cops – Roger and Peter. They meet on the job. Roger offers Peter a way out; his buddy Stephen has a helicopter. Francine, the journalist, is Stephen’s girlfriend. As befits horror not one of the actors was (or became) a star. The audience doesn’t know which characters will live or die. The two cops rendezvous with the couple at the docks – bang in the middle of a hijack.

In foreshadow of the second trilogy actor Joseph Pilato plays Skipper, the leader of the hijackers – a bunch of renegade cops. Pilato went on to star in the sequel Day of the Dead 1985 as army Captain Rhodes. In the second trilogy actor Allan Van Sprang played Sarge/Captain – the leader of a band of rouge soldiers (as well as Brubaker in Land of the Dead 2005).

Animals in the wild do not fight unless necessary. Skipper calls off the hijacking. It would make no sense for both parties to shoot each other up. The two groups become friendly but in a display of sardonic humour our heroes don’t share their cigarettes. Sans cash that’s the universal currency. The cops head out in a boat for an island – “any island”. The foursome fly off for Canada.
Scott H. Reiniger7

On the ground below rednecks, aided by the army, go on a zombie killing spree. This is a rehash of the climax of Night of the Living Dead 1968. In real life this is the militia in Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Nazi Europe, Columbia, name a country. In the United States during Hurricane Katrina the militia8 were so brazen they displayed signs with racist epithets9.

You are stronger than us. But soon I think we be stronger than you.”
Old Priest

Dawn of the Dead reads more like prophecy than history. This amongst other things lends it to repeated viewings and the discovery of hidden gems. Fans of The Walking Dead would do well to revisit this film and see where their beloved TV show stole its ideas from; plot points such as a lead character being pregnant and fine detail such as the division of labour between the sexes.

The Dead Trilogy is legendary. It is the best trilogy in horror. It is the best trilogy ever filmed. The series consists not of narrative sequels but of thematic ones. There is time and distance between each movie it’s what makes the trilogy more powerful than all others. Dawn is to be purchased and kept forever in the family library like a copy of Animal Farm. It is the best zombie film ever made. 

It is American cinema.
 Ken Foree10

When there is no more room in hell the dead shall walk the earth.”

Read more Thrill Fiction: The 100 Best Horror Films #1
1 The Monroeville Mall Wikipedia
2 Gaylen Ross GR Films
3 David Emge Wikipedia
4 Symbionese Liberation Army Wikipedia
6 The Waco Massacre Serendipity
7 Scott H Reiniger Wikipedia
8 Katrina’s hidden race wars The Nation
9 Millitary.com forums
10 Ken Foree Wikipedia
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