There’s a general sense of hatred in the horror community for remakes, and I think it’s silly. Sometimes, yes, they’re cash grabs – but many fail to realize that some of our other horror favorites are cash grabs as well. Think about, oh, I don’t know, nearly every single Stephen King adaptation over the course of the 1980’s (remember Christine?) Like them or not, remakes are here to say. And yes, some really suck. But on the other hand, there are some really good ones. 2004’s updated version of Dawn of the Dead, directed by Zack Snyder, falls into this category.
If you’re going to remake a movie, you may as well change some things about it. After all, it is a separate film. Take artistic liberties. Shake it up a bit. There’s not much of a point in shot-for-shot remakes.
Snyder’s 2004 version of the movie still contains some core elements from Romero’s original. There’s a zombie outbreak (duh) and a group of survivors take their last stand in a shopping mall. But the hordes of undead aren’t lurching towards them, stalking their prey like confused animals. Instead, the zombies here are fast, angry, and deadly, taking some obvious influence from 28 Days Later two years earlier. Another difference is that you don’t necessarily need to die to become zombified; a bite will do just fine, making it more like a virus (again taking influence from 28 Days).
What these differences help to do more than anything is to ramp up the action. In 2004, the world was changing. The internet was becoming much more prevalent and life, it seems, was becoming more fast-paced and in your face than ever before. The zombies in the new Dawn of the Dead reflect this change; something needed to be done to create a movie that was more intense, more visceral, and more packed with adrenaline than the original. It needed to be edgy and extreme. Subtlety was no longer an option, and really, most of the target demographic most likely wouldn’t care about underlying meaning. Blood, guts, gore, and jump scares are the name of the game.
So Dawn of the Dead aimed to give people what they want. And it did in every aspect. The camera work is dizzying and frenetic. The color saturation is intense, making everything really pop out from the screen. There are sex scenes, and there are thousands of the angry dead coming for the characters at any given moment. To top it all off, there’s a zombie baby.
It ends up working like an action/horror hybrid, with the characters being the main selling point. Yeah, it’s a zombie film alright, but Snyder manages to keep the central focus on fearing for the lives of the unfortunate survivors. In the early millennium, this was a feat in itself. Characterization took a backseat to blood and cheap scares. Dawn of the Dead knows it needs those things – but it also knows that to set itself apart, it needs great characters. Sarah Polley and Ving Rhames especially stand out in their performances, though every member of the main cast has something special to bring to the screen.
Romero himelf was not particularly thrilled with the remake. In 2005 during an interview with Simon Pegg, he stated:
It was better than I expected. I thought it was a good action film. The first 15, 20 minutes were terrific, but it sort of lost its reason for being. It was more of a video game. I’m not terrified of things running at me; it’s like Space Invaders. There was nothing going on underneath.
And you know what? He’s right. As stated above, there doesn’t seem to be any real depth to the film. But as far as entertaining horror movies go, Dawn of the Dead is just brainless fun for me. Extra points for cameos of Ken Foree, Tom Savini, and Scott Reiniger. Did you catch them?
Next time, we will finally see a step forward for the continuity of Romero’s zombie apocalypse in Land of the Dead. It’s been a long time coming!