Dawn of the Dead (USA, 1978)
Directed by George A. Romero
Starring David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger, Gaylen Ross
Having created the modern zombie movie almost singled-handedly, George A. Romero spent the years after Night of the Living Dead diversifying his portfolio. His efforts ranged from cult hits like The Crazies and Martin to the choppy Season of the Witch and There's Always Vanilla, which he has all but disowned. After Martin failed to find an audience, Romero continued his Zombie Trilogy with Dawn of the Dead, an engrossing and just plain gross sequel which has many of his trademarks but doesn't quite live up to the first instalment.
The invasion of the mall by the bikers also demonstrates the influence of Italian horror on Dawn on the Dead. There is a screenwriting credit for the master of giallo Dario Argento, who was in his prime having made Suspiria the year before. The blood that Savini uses in the gory battles between bikers and zombies is the same, day-glo, shimmering red that Argento has made his trademark - as Eli Roth puts it, "putting the gore in gorgeous". And like Suspiria, Dawn of the Dead benefits from a soundtrack by the progressive rock group Goblin, who build threat through unusual yet effective instrumentation.
The film also suffers from poor pacing, particularly in its second act. After an efficient and exciting opening, the film unfolds at an all-too-leisurely pace once the immediate threat has been dealt with. Had John Carpenter helmed the film, he would have being working overtime to sustain the terror to breaking point, just as he did in Hallowe'en or The Thing four years later. As it is, Romero begins well, then drops the ball, and only truly recovers in the last 20 minutes when the proverbial really hits the fan.
Verdict: Bloody and brooding but not quite brilliant