Saturday, 5 January 2008

Zombi (aka Dawn of the Dead - European Version) (1978)

What can really be said about Dawn of the Dead that hasn't been said before? Not much, especially since it is one of my favourite films and whatever I say would end up being gushing praise. Instead I'm going to focus on the differences between the US theatrical cut and the European version of the film, released in Italy as Zombi.

Dawn of the Dead is a continuation of Night of the Living Dead. It follows a small band of survivors as they flee to a mall and try to maintain a grip onto what remains of their lives as society crumbles around them. The plot is simple, but what elevates it above most other genre entries, and what many imitators fail to realise, is that Dawn isn't about the zombies, it's about the people.

There is a lot of social commentary in the film, primarily about 70s consumerism. It's about as subtle as machete to the forehead, but it's there and that's more than you can say about most zombie films. Watching the characters as they run about the mall, trying to stave off boredom and build a tiny shrine to a society that no longer exists, is simultaneously delightful and heartbreaking to watch.

The film has a much bigger budget than Night of the Living Dead and it is used to great effect. The visuals are bright and colourful. The zombies are more plentiful (but less menacing). The film is more epic in scope. There are a huge number of gore and effects shots. While some look hokey by todays standards (the bright red blood looks especially cartoonish) it doesn't detract from the film and in some ways the slapstick gore works in the film's favour.

Dawn of the Dead was partly financed by the Italians, horror maestro Dario Argento being one of them. As part of the distribution deal, Argento was given license to recut the film for it's European release. Argento cut the film down to 118 minutes (compared to the 126 minutes of the US theatrical cut) and removed a lot of the comedy and expository dialogue and apparently extended the action/gore sequences (but I didn't really notice). In doing so he blunted the satiric edge of the film and made it more of a faster paced, straightforward action/horror film. Perhaps he thought the film's goofier moments wouldn't play as well to a European audience.

Argento also rescored the film with additional music from longtime collaborators Goblin, replacing some of the lighthearted pieces (such as the mall music) with a more moody soundtrack. I'm also saddened to the see the scene where the zombie is scalped by the helicopter blades excised, even if the goofy head prosthetic made him look like Frankenstein's monster.

The sense of time passing isn't as clear in the European cut and I don't think you get the same sense of isolation and boredom from the the characters. It's still a great film, but I much prefer Romero's version. Argento's version is snappier but it seems shallower, and it excised a lot of the material that the made the film appeal to those outside of the genre fans.

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