Welcome to day two, folks! Let’s see if I can take less than six hours to edit and re-edit this one, shall we? (Editor’s Note: NOPE!)
Today I’ll be diving in to Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake. This is the film that sort of launched the more modern day obsession with zombies. Yes, 28 Days Later came first, but as any zombie snob can tell you, that’s not TECHNICALLY a zombie flick. (That sentence is going to come back to bite me in the ass in… 2 days.) Dawn of the Dead reintroduced the original concept of zombies into the public mind with one major change: These suckers can RUN.
You might be asking yourself, “why on earth is she watching the remake when everyone knows that the ORIGINAL Dawn of the Dead is the superior zombie flick?” The long and short of it is, I like this one better. Sorry. I saw it before I ever saw the original and while I do enjoy and appreciate the original, I do, it’s just never quite held the spot in my heart that this one has. So, apologies to any zombie purists out there that want my head.
I first saw this version of DOTD when I was in my first year at University. I was vaguely interested in zombies, but mostly I just loved horror movies and thought the film looked cool, so I dragged my friend to the theatre to see it the week after it opened. I left that theatre obsessed – OBSESSED – with zombies. After watching that film I began to seek out other zombie flicks. I picked up the “Zombie Survival Guide” by Max Brooks. I started planning my own zombie apocalypse survival plan. Like I said, it’s a little creepy how into zombies I am. And personally, I blame James Gunn for writing this ridiculous, hilarious, incredible flick.
The plot is not all that unlike Night of the Living Dead – instead of a group of survivors seeking refuge in a farmhouse, this time they’re seeking refuge in a mall. We also get a clearer idea of just how grand the scope of the zombie outbreak is this time – it’s not just local towns and villages, baby. No hometown sheriff will be taking these suckers out. Let’s begin!
(Note: I will be watching the “Director’s Cut” of the film so if I start referencing scenes you don’t recall, that will probably be why. Also, it goes without saying but SPOILERS AHEAD!)
So we start off meeting Ana, a nurse at a hospital. Right away we get references to patients being mysteriously bit and needing to be moved to the ICU. “That’s strange…” Ana thinks. “OH SHIT!” we the audience think. As Ana drives home we meet Vivian, an adorable little girl on roller skates. That certainly won’t be heartbreaking later… We then meet Ana’s husband Louis, sweet and loving, waiting up for her and watching reality TV. What a picture perfect life Ana has on her sweet suburban street. How happy she must be. Too bad she’s too busy gettin’ busy in the shower with her husband to notice that special news bulletin…
Early the next morning, Louis sees sweet little Vivian standing in their doorway. Is everything ok?
AND SO IT BEGINS. Vivian bites Louis, and it’s pretty gross. Ana tosses that kid like a rag doll and tries to tend to her bleeding husband. No use! He’s turned now as well! Ana is smart enough to grab her car keys and manages a pretty nail-biting escape out the bathroom window while her now reanimated husband busts his way into the locked room with his head.
Ah, young love.
The carnage Ana finds outside on her quiet suburban block is pretty grim. Screaming and fire and neighbours threatening her with guns, oh my! Don’t worry, that last one gets smoked by an AMBULANCE just wailing down the street with no real purpose I can discern. Ana manages to fumble her way into the car and start the ignition, but not before hubby runs out and punches the windshield straight on. Eeesh. Ana takes off in the car and we see Louis chasing after her. Luckily for Ana, he gets distracted. Unlucky for the neighbour lady who distracts him though… Now we track the carnage through the rest of the town. There’s a sweet aerial shot of a truck crashing into a gas station, a bus full of screaming victims that reduces Ana to tear, and then a dude tries to steal Ana’s car and as she fights him off, she drives through a guard rail and slams into a tree. THIS IS ALL BEFORE THE OPENING CREDITS, PEOPLE.
I really, really dig these opening credits, by the way. News footage of the hysteria and horror, various reporters and press conferences, intercut with roaring, bleeding zombies, as Johnny Cash croons “When The Man Comes Around” in the background. This song is synonymous with horror and carnage for me now. I love it. So apocalyptic.
Back to Ana! She comes to, still covered in blood, crawls out of her car to see…
“Say something,” Officer Ving commands. “Please?” Ana responds. Ok, guess you’re cool! Let’s team up without saying a word!
As Ana and her new BFF wander wordlessly through the streets, they manage to get themselves shot at. Look! more survivors! Here comes Michael (SWOON), Andre, and Andre’s pregnant wife Luda. Let us all pause, and take a moment to acknowledge that a pregnant lady in a zombie film can only mean GOOD things. Proceed! After explaining that there’s nothing but death behind them, our troop tries to decide what to do next. “We’re going to the mall,” Michael shrugs. Good enough!
Sidenote: The quiet moments in this flick are always the most tense and scariest. Minimal score, lots of atmosphere. Those are always my favourite moments in a horror flick. But I digress…
Here is why the mall is actually kind of perfect: All this shit went south very early in the morning, so the mall should be relatively empty. It should also provide plenty of supplies for survival and as long as you can secure all the exits, no zombies should be getting in. Ideal! Here is why the mall is far from perfect:
Michael fighting that second one on his own is a thing of glory…
DOUCHEBAG SECURITY GUARDS!
You got CJ, the asshole with a superiority complex, Terry, the sweet naive teenager who is just too scared to stand up to anybody, and Bart, the dummy. He’s an asshole too, but not as bright as CJ. These three have declared the ENTIRE mall as their turf and will only let our ragtag group of survivors join them if they basically hand over all their weapons and become more or less prisoners. Since no one wants to go down and hang out with the zombie doing belly-flops in the fountain, they reluctantly agree.
Sidenote: Terry is played by the kid from Air Bud.
Tell your exploded cranium I’m sorry.
Our ever growing group of survivors gather around the TV to find out the latest. Can I just say, Tom Savini as the sheriff fills me with a delight I cannot possibly explain to you.
As Ana tends to Officer Ving’s wounds, Andre asks if he can take his pregnant wife to the washroom. UH, OH. Turns out Luda got a little nip from that zombie in the fountain. But I mean, I’m sure she’ll be fine, right? Nothing to worry about. It barely broke the skin! Let’s just forget all about this for now.
So, Michael is kind of a manipulative genius. No matter who he is dealing with, he lets them think that they’re in charge, they’re running things and all the brilliant ideas are theirs. Michael is the secret silent leader of the group and I LOVE HIM. After a little nudging from Michael, CJ decides that they should put signs on the roof so any planes or helicopters will know they’re inside. While putting this plan in action, we meet Andy, a lone survivor on a gun shop across the block who communicates with them through a whiteboard. He doesn’t know it yet, but he and Ving are gonna have quite the long distance bromance.
Michael, like anyone paying attention up to this point, realizes that the three stooges calling the shots are gonna get them killed. He tries to rally the troops but Andre balks. He doesn’t want to rock the boat, his wifey is pregnant! Besides, why should anyone listen to Michael? What did he do that makes him such an expert in these matters? “I sold televisions at Best Buy.” MICHAEL, I LOVE YOU. You and I would be the secret retail assassins of the zombie apocalypse. We would know how to handle our shit! Andre isn’t interested in listening to Michael anymore, he believes in a magical helicopter which he thinks is coming for them. Kenneth doesn’t take no orders from nobody, he just wants to get to Fort Pastor and his brother and everyone else can suck it. Ana is just too tired to care at this point.
Check back in with the three dummies and they’re watching the news, hoping for new information. Bart laments that what really sucks is that he could have been having sex with the fat chick from Dairy Queen if this hadn’t happened. Terry points out that literally everyone Bart knew who isn’t currently in the room, including the fat chick from Dairy Queen, was most certainly dead. “Yeah… that sucks too.” he sighs. Oh, dumb, dummy Bart… Next up on the television is the crazy religious zealot! Though I must admit, I kinda like that crazy preacher. Mostly because he’s played by Ken Foree of the original DOTD and gets to utter the immortal line:
Next morning, we see a truck driving up through their parking lot. More survivors! But CJ ain’t having none of that. “If we start letting people in here, then we’re gonna let the wrong ones in, and then I’m dead. And you know what? I don’t want to die.” A tense standoff ensues where CJ draws his gun and basically says he’ll kill everyone if it means he’ll stay alive. Remember this, it’ll be significant later. Anyway, he and Bart then make the mistake of objectifying Ana, which Michael does not take kindly to. BOOM! Bart’s down and de-gunned, and Officer Ving does the same to CJ. Terry, ever the freethinker, immediately turns on his compatriots and helps our heroes lock them up. Now about that truck…
God damn I love watching that truck plow down zombies. I think I have problems… Also, for some reason that whole exchange between Michael and Andre delights me. I like odd things.
Out of the truck comes 8 new survivors – one of which is being wheeled in on a wheelbarrow.
I’m sure she’s fine.
Others include a pretty blonde whose name I can’t be bothered to remember (Maggie? Monica?), a nice looking older gentleman named Glen, Frank and his teenage daughter Nicole, a farmer named Tucker, a lady trucker with the unsurprising name of Norma (played by one of my personal Canadian icons, Jayne Eastwood) and Ty Burell as lovable jackass Steve.
Ok, maybe only lovable to me.
But hey, now they have a truck! Officer Ving can now get to Fort Pastor and his brother! Or not? “That place is bloodbath city,”
Ty Steve informs us. “Is everyone there dead?” “Yeah, in the sense that they all sort of, uh, fell down… and then got up… and then started eating each other…” HEART YOU TY-STEVE.
Michael begs Ving to stay. “There are people here who could use your help,” he pleads.
Officer Ving don’t care ’bout nobody! “It’s nice to see you’ve all bonded through this disaster,” Ty-Steve quips.
Our moody officer goes to the roof to blow off some steam. Andy is on his roof asking for info. Kenneth tells him the Fort Pastor is gone and no help is coming.
Oh, Andy. You made our heartbroken Officer Ving chuckle! BFFs!
Back inside, we learn that as well as the clearly ten-seconds-away-from-attacking-everyone wheelbarrow lady, Papa Frank has also been bitten. Ruh roh. His daughter is too busy making doe eyes at Terry to do much about it though. Poor wheelbarrow lady finally kicks the bucket. Or has she? I gotta tell ya, that moment when Ana leans in to check if she is breathing… Eeesh. I always hold my breath in anticipation. And nothing ever happens but I STILL always expect it to. Don’t worry though, we’re not denied wheelbarrow lady coming back and scaring the shit out of everyone. She runs at Ana and gets a fire poker through the eye for her efforts.
But Ana is now starting to piece together that bites are what spread the infection and that if you get bit, you’re as good as dead. WELCOME TO THE MOVIE, ANA. This does not bode well for Frank though, or Luda for that matter, but Andre hasn’t told anyone about Luda yet and he certainly doesn’t seem to be planning on doing that any time soon. As he slinks away, Michael decides that if Frank’s bite is going to turn him into the undead then they need to shoot him now. Ana is not on board with this plan, nor is his daughter Nicole, unsurprisingly. Ana turns into a bit of a bitch here, goading Michael into shooting this man holding his sobbing daughter. They reach a compromise of sorts where they’ll just wait until he DOES die, THEN shoot him. That works out better for everyone, right? Nicole and Frank get their tearful goodbye, Ving waits until Frank comes back and then… BLAM! Fare thee well, Frank.
Next up is my favourite montage: we get to see how our survivors are passing time during the apocalypse while Richard Cheese’s jazzy cover of “Down With The Sickness” plays. I love it so much. Chess games! Trying on clothes! Dirty sex! Star gazing! bike riding! Lobbing golf balls at zombie heads! Glorious. The montage merges into the best game ever: “Shoot the zombie I think looks like a particular celebrity”. Ken holds up a sign with a name on it, challenging Andy to find him in the crowd of undead and hit him. And they’re not far off in their descriptions.
I would be awful curious to see the one they called “Rosie O’Donnell”…
Later, Ana makes a passing comment about wanting to check on Luda. Andre gets weirdly defensive and evasive. No one calls him on this. Way to pay attention, everyone. Oh well, time for a family dinner! Everyone sits together and swaps stories. They start off cute and comical but of course, everything eventually dissolves… “What were you best at?” Anna asks Michael. “Being a dad,” he answers softly. WAY TO BRING THE PARTY DOWN, MIKE. Then… POWER OUTAGE! Perfect time for Luda, halfway to zombie town herself, to go into labor.
At least Andre has the forethought to restrain her so she doesn’t try to like, you know, EAT HIM, or anything.
Michael takes Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dumber out of their holding cell so they can lead him into the dark, creepy underground parking to find the generator and fix the power. CJ won’t go without a weapon, so Michael gives him an axe. Why this is less threatening to him than a gun, I have no idea. I’d be just as terrified, if not more so, to be wandering around in the dark with an asshole like CJ knowing he was ARMED WITH AN AXE. But I digress. Officer Ving has also joined the party because apparently he’s done this before? I don’t know what that means. I sincerely doubt you’ve had to change a fuse or check a generator in a dark, creepy parking lot that may or may not have undead ghouls running around wanting to eat your skin, Ving. I sincerely doubt it.
UMMMMMMMM, THERE’S SOMETHING IN THE BASEMENT GUYS. BART SAW IT. AND WE CAN HEAR WEIRD PANTING AND SEE FAST BLURS OF MOVEMENT AND THE MUSIC IS GETTING REALLY HIGH AND TENSE AND – Oh. It’s a dog. Nevermind. Guess everything’s fine.
AHHHH HOLY SHIT MONKEY BARS ZOMBIE!! Of all the zombies, this one is my favourite. He has no legs! He manuevers the parking lot from the sprinkler pipes like a kid on money bars! Brilliant! Oh, and uh, RIP Bart.
Our three remaining heroes make their escape and manage to lock an extremely flimsy chain link fence that has about three seconds left before it just collapses completely. Just enough time to set ALL THE ZOMBIES ON FIRE. Now, personally? I’ve always subscribed to the Max Brooks philosophy of “Don’t set a zombie on fire.” Because now you’ve got an unstoppable killing machine hungry for your flesh who is also ENGULFED IN FLAMES. And until those flames liquify their head, that zombie is now ten times more likely to kill you.
That said, it seemed to work out pretty well here for our boys in the parking garage.
Back to Andre and Luda. Luda has finally kicked the bucket. Andre goes in for one last kiss (another moment that always makes me hold my breath despite the fact that I KNOW nothing will happen) and we see…
STOMACH MOVEMENT. For some reason, this doesn’t send Andre screaming for the hills, but instead makes him all weirdly sentimental. Luda wakes up, hungry for flesh, and again, Andre chooses to CONTINUE WITH THE BIRTH instead of just shooting her like any sane person would. It’s about this time that Norma decides to check on the happy couple. Bad timing, Norma. She finds a creepy calm Andre holding the newborn and a CLEARLY zombified Luda trying desperately to break free and eat them all. Norma shoots Luda in the head, as any normal person would. Andre then shoots Norma. IN SUPER SLOW MOTION. She shoots him back. IN SUPER SLOW MOTION. We now get the most intense slow-motion shootout in a zombie movie I’ve ever seen. Oh, and not once does Andre even come close to dropping the baby.
Here comes the calvary! Too late for Norma (RIP) and Andre (RIP) but they do manage to find the new little bundle of joy!
Gross. Classic. I love you, James Gunn.
At the makeshift funeral for Norma and Andre and Luda, Officer Ving gives a rousing speech about how he’s always thought “better them than me” at funerals. Uh, thanks Ving. He then adds that now he knows there are things worse than death – like waiting here to die. Slowly, a plan unfolds that involves reinforcing some buses down in the parking garage, picking up Andy across the street, driving to the marina to hope on Ty-Steve’s boat, and sail off into the sunset. CJ thinks the idea is crazy… BUT JUST SO CRAZY IT MIGHT WORK. CJ is now a part of the group! Hooray for the asshole redemption arc!
Next up is the montage of everyone reinforcing these buses. Where they got half these supplies, I don’t know, but let’s just assume there’s sort sort of industrial construction warehouse store in the mall or something. Also, as far as I can tell, Nicole’s contributions seem to be PAINTING things.
Is that really an important part of this process? That your bus looks like it has teeth? Oh, and panicking unnecessarily over the dog which she has gotten far too attached to is also Nicole’s “thing,” it seems. This is the part of the film where I decide I hate Nicole.
Officer Ving (whose name apparently is Kenneth?!) tells Andy they’ll come for him in five days. A gaunt looking Andy responds with a sign that simply says “hungry”. Poor ol’ Andy isn’t looking too good… Kenneth wants to gather everyone and come up with a plan for getting Andy some food, but first Ana and Michael need a little makeout time in the bus. I approve. I don’t need a big overblown romance in all my films, but clearly these two would eventually get it on, right? I mean come on.
WHO WOULDN’T MAKE OUT WITH MICHAEL’S BEAUTIFUL FACE IF HE GAVE THEM A CHAINSAW?? WHO??
Back to Officer Ving trying to save Andy. While everyone argues on the best way to get food to Andy, Ving sees Nicole playing fetch with Chips, her newly adopted dog… The dog they found in a parking garage full of zombies… wait a second… thinking… thinking… Zombies don’t like dogs! This is perfect! Send the dog over to Andy with supplies! What could go wrong? Except maybe zombies following the dog into the building to eat An-
So, Andy’s toast. And Nicole, in all her brilliance, decides she needs to save CHIPS, the dog that no zombie has so much as even tried to SNIFF, from the undead. She steals the truck, drives over, manages to get in without getting bit, and then comes on the walkie to say “Guys? I found Chips! I got him! He’s ok!” This is the point where I scream “NO ONE IS WORRIED ABOUT THE FUCKING DOG!” Look, I love dogs, I love all dogs and I can’t stand the idea of a dog being hurt in a film. And if I thought that dog was in any danger then yeah, I’d be all aboard the “rescue Chips from the undead!!” train. But Chips is in no danger. NONE. And now Nicole has put not only herself, but all the people who have to come rescue her dumb ass, in danger. Nicole, I hate you.
So off they go, on a suicide mission to rescue Nicole through the sewers. Ty-Steve balks at having to go, so they leave him behind to guard the ladies and make sure the door is left open for them to come back. Yep. That sounds like something he’ll make sure to do. Our rescue team manages to make it to the gun shop, load up on ammo, and blow Andy’s head off.
Literally. Kinda cool. Nicole, of course, is completely uninjured and still a pain in the ass. They need a way out, and CJ has a plan: “How about a barbecue?” CJ blows a small propane tank in the middle of the street, giving the group some time to escape. Tucker however ends up falling back into the sewer and injuring his leg. CJ, now an established good guy, tries selflessly dragging Tucker to safety, but to no avail. As the undead begin to feast, Tucker begs CJ to shoot him and CJ complies, but with sadness in his eyes. Can I just say how much I love a good redemptive arc? I am not one of those girls who has always had a thing for bad boys, but bad boys with a heart of gold? Former bad boys who learn to care for others? Assholes that become heroes? Those I dig.
Shocking no one, Ty-Steve has not left the door open for them. Ana to the rescue! Unfortunately the horde is too great and the zombies are now IN the mall. Escape time is now or never, people! Run! Run! Into the elevator! To the parking garage! There’s no time!
CJ, you can stop now. You’ve already won me over.
Everyone on the buses! It’s time to bust outta here!
WAY more zombies than anyone anticipated. Holy crapballs. This is where shit gets intense/amazeballs. We got chainsaws slicing zombies in half through slits on the bus! CJ blowing another propane tank sky high! BBQ’d zombies and carnage everywhere! I love it!
Then comes the inevitable danger of walking around the back of a bus that is careening down the streets at perilous speeds while trying to operate a chainsaw:
WHOOPS. RIP blondie.
The second bus is down! CJ notices and actually tells them to go back. What a change in our former asshole security guard! Blondie and old dude are toast, but Ty-Steve made it out….
…Or almost did. RIP Ty-Steve! But on the plus side, we get to see Phil Dunphy all zombied out and what’s better than that?
Terry and Officer Ving did manage to survive the bus crash, and they now join the only bus left standing. They race to the marina! Crash into the dock! So intense! CJ bravely insists everyone get to the boat as he stays behind to fight off the hoard. CJ, the man who insisted at the beginning of this film that he’d murder EVERYONE to save his own skin, is risking everything so others can get away. They’re overtaking the bus! CJ NO! As the horde descends upon him, CJ lights a flare and just before blowing the giant propane tank next to him he mutters, “It fucking figures!”
RIP CJ. You died a hero’s death and I forgive you for being a dick.
Time to set sail! Ana, Kenneth, Terry, Nicole, Chips, Michael, all aboard! Wait, Michael, what are you doing? Why aren’t you getting on the boat, Michael? Get on the boat Michael. MICHAEL.
Seems that Michael incurred a bit of bite in all the melee. He knows he can’t go with them. Ana can’t bare to leave him behind. I feel you, Ana. This always kills me too. NICOLE gets to live, but Michael has to bite it?! UGH. FUCK YOU, LIFE. He kisses Ana’s hand and pushes them off the dock. Ana watches from the water as he slowly raises his gun, and…
GUNSHOT. BLACK SCREEN. THE END.
Except not really, because once again we get a little epilogue of sorts over the credits. It seems our four remaining survivors have stumbled upon Ty-Steve’s video camera and after seeing a few snippets of Steve’s personal video collection, we get to watch Terry document our survivors at sea. Hey, is that a dinghy? Wonder what’s inside…
We also get to see the water running low, the food turn to maggot meat, gas running out, tempers running high… But look! An island! a dock! Salvation!
Or maybe not so much.
Well there you have it folks! Tune in tomorrow when I visit the zom-com classic Return of the Living Dead. I’m excited to hang out with the Tar Man again…