Friday, October 29, 2010

DVD Review: Dawn of the Dead (Arrow Video 4-Disc Edition) DVD

George A. Romero's

Arrow Video

RATED: 18 Certificate
DIRECTOR: George A. Romero
CAST: Ken Foree (Peter), Gaylen Ross (Fran), David Emge (Stephen), Scott H. Reiniger (Roger), Tom Savini (Blades)

TAGLINE: When There's No More Room in Hell, the Dead Will Walk the Earth

SUMMARY: A National Emergency grips the US as the zombie population grows at an alarming rate. Two S.W.A.T. officers, a helicopter pilot and his girlfriend escape the city and take refuge in an abandoned shopping mall after securing it following a series of flesh-shredding confrontations with the undead. Their survival is threatened when a band of looters leave a door open allowing the zombies access to the mall once more and a final stand-off for survival must play out.

FILM: Dawn of the Dead, it's the scripture of zombie films in my eyes. Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Return of the Living Dead(1985) - these were the undead trifecta that informed my youth. I came of age during a time when the pop-utopia that was the VHS-era made zombie and slashers films ever accessible to the developing minds of young horror-geeks everywhere. In 1985 I was 12 years old, my parents didn't pay too much attention to what I watched, and the video clerks didn't care that I was a bit too young to be watching violence and gore flicks. From a young age I'dbeen fed a steady diet of slashers like Friday the 13th (1980) and Halloween (1978) on the late-night chiller programs not to mention awesome tele-films like Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981) and Gargoyles (1972). By age 12 or 13 I found myself looking for something more extreme and visceral. That's when I discovered Dawn of the Dead.

It's sometime after the events of Night of the Living Dead and the mysterious plague of zombies has spread worldwide. At the start of the film we meet Fran (Gaylen Ross) a  producer at a Philadelphia television station. We see society very much falling apart within the studio as talking heads debate the zombie apocalypse, it's a cacophonous shouting match. Her boyfriend Stephen (David Emge) aka "Flyboy" is the stations traffic helicopter pilot. He has the idea to take the chopper and fly North in an effort to find somewhere to start over. Stephen comes across as a bit of an over confident jerk while Fran seems conflicted but likable.

We are then taken to an inner-city tenement where a SWAT team is gearing up to raid an apartment building. This is when we meet Peter (Ken Foree) and Roger (Scott H. Reiniger), two of the more likable SWAT team members. The raid prove disastrous from the get-go as blue/grey skinned zombies start chomping on SWAT and tenement dwellers left and right. Adding to the chaos is Wooley (James Baffico) a racist trigger happy SWAT team member with an itchy trigger finger and a mouthful of racial slurs. Some great flesh-tearing gore and explosive head-shot kills are presented during this encounter. Peter and Roger end up in the basement where they discover the tenement residents have been keeping their zombified loved ones. They open fire and destroy the undead in a hail of gunfire. Deeply affected by the hopelessness of the situation the men decide to flee the city. One of them knows of Stephen's plans to commandeer the traffic chopper and make their way to the meeting point.

After a brief introduction the quartet take flight and head north. They make a brief stop at an airfield in search of fuel where the group is attacked by several zombies that prove to be unforgettable film moments including the iconic zombie that adorns nearly every DVD edition of Dawn of the Dead, the infamous flat-top chopper death and the unflinching killing of zombie children. Stephen is shown to be innefectual when it comes to killing the undead and it is during one of these encounters that he and Peter begin to go at odds of each other. Barely escaping the airfield the foursome continue north and fly over groups of hunters and National Guardsmen in rural areas on zombie-hunts that strongly recalls events from Night of the Living Dead. Further on they come across a shopping mall and the decision is made to stop for supplies. Once inside they realize that the mall would make for an ideal sanctuary to wait out the zombie plague. It is during this phase of the film that the dark-comedy and satire of American consumerism come into play in full effect further bolstered by wacky montages of zombie-killing and looting set to a zany musical score.

I can't speak of Dawn of the Dead and not mention the fantastic technicolor blood and gore effects by Tom Savini. The kills are fantastic and loaded with gorgeous splatter and a great cast of memorable zombies.  Add to that the great film score from Goblin who are best known for scoring numerous Dario Argento films and you have a potent mix of horror, black-comedy, visceral gore and an iconic film score that makes for most enjoyable and iconic zombie film of all time, and that's no lie.

George A. Romero established himself as one of the Masters of Horror with Night of the Living Dead (1968), and he would go onto direct other non-zombie genre fare in the interim prior to Dawn of the Dead. He touched on occult with Season of the Witch (1972), a prescient viral-plague film The Crazies (1973) and the atmospheric vamp film Martin (1977) - but these films were underfunded and received little distribution. It wasn't until Dawn of the Dead (1978) that Romero would cement his place as one of the greatest horror filmmakers of all time. The period following brought about a quick succession of genre classics including Knightriders (1981), the classic Stephen King-Romero anthology team-up Creepshow (1982), the 3rd installment of the trilogy Day of the Dead (1985), Monkey Shines (1988) his Edgar Allen Poe fueled team-up with Dario Argento Two Evil Eyes (1990). After The Dark Half (1993) it would be seven years before Romero made another film, the underwhelming Bruiser (2000) and another five years before beginning a new ...of the Dead trilogy - Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2007) and Survival of the Dead (2009)  - none of which neared the glory of the initial trilogy. It's an unenviable place to be for Romero, to be judged against your own filmography and in a market that won't fund your non-zombie related projects.

DVD: Arrow Video's 4-Disc edition of George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead features three versions of the film. The U.S. Theatrical Cut, the Director's Cut and the Argento Cut plus a fourth disc of bonus features. All three versions of the film are presented in anamorphic widescreen. They each look brilliant though I think the theatrical cut gives the best image and audio quality overall. Aside from the blu-ray versions of the film this is as good as its gonna get. Each film includes 2.0 mono audio, the exception being the U.S. Theatrical Cut which gets 5.1  and 2.0 stereo mix as well as the original mono. English subtitles are only available for he Director's and European Cut.

I've mentioned it in my Inferno - 20th Anniversary Edition review and I'll state it again - Arrow Video is the Criterion Collection of cult and horror cinema. Their releases are brilliant from the ground up. Loaded with special features, fantastic packaging, and they give the transfers the love and care they need to pop on the HD television sets. No exception here. The films are presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic aspect rations, very good looking transfers all three cuts of the film. Aside from the audio/visual supplemental material we get the typically stunning Arrow Video deluxe packaging. Two 2-disc digi-pak edition DVD's housed in a gorgeous slipcase.

While the above image is of Arrow Video's Dawn of the Dead blu-ray the DVD features the same deluxe packaging, poster and art art options.

- 4 Sleeve Art Option including newly commissioned artwork from Rick Melton
- Double Sided Fold-Out Poster
-'For Every Night There is a Dawn' 16-page Collector's Booklet written by Calum Waddel

DISC 1 - U.S. Theatrical Cut (122 min.)
The U.S. Theatrical Cut is the film as presented in theatres in the U.S. in 1979. It features a score comprised of original music from Goblin and library music tracks.
Disc 1 Extras:
Commentary with George A. Romero, Tom Savini and Chris Romero
Commentary with producer Richard Rubenstein moderated by DVD producer Perry martin

DISC 2 - Director's Cut (139 min.)
Also known as the Extended Version it is not an actual Director's Cut as Romero prefers the shorter running Theatrical cut. This Extended Version premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1978. This version of the film contains additional scenes and gore plus a music score comprised of library temp tracks.
Disc 2 Extras:
The Dead Will Walk Documentary (75 min.) Documentary featuring interviews with Claudio Argento, Dario Argento, George A. Romero, Caludio Simonetti, Toma Savini, Ken Foree, Michael Gornic and more.

DISC 3 - Dario Argento Cut (119 min.)
The Argento cut of the film was edited by Dario Argento himself for the European market. It contains several extended scenes and omits several from the U.S. cut. This version also features additional music from Goblin not found on either the U.S. or Extended versions
Disc 3 Extras:
US Trailers (2:37 min)
German Trailers (0:58 min.)
TV Spots (1:28 min.)
Radio spots (2:23 min.)
Reviews Gallery
*Giallo Trailer (Macabre, Sleepless, House by the Cemetery
*Scream Greats (53 min.)

DISC 4 - Special Features
Document of the Dead (84 min.) - The original documentary filmed during the making of Dawn of the Dead by filmmaker Roy Frumkes.
*Commentary with writer and director Roy Frumkes (84 min.)
*Document of the Dead: The Lost Interview and Deleted Scenes
*Fan of the Dead (52 min.)

* Denotes features not found on Anchor Bay's 4 Disc Dawn of the Dead Ultimate Edition

For comparison here is an exploded view of Anchor Bay's Region 1 Ultimate Edition of Dawn of the Dead

The Anchor Bay 4-Disc Ultimate Edition of Dawn of the Dead contains several features not found on the Arrow Video edition. They are...
- George A. Romero Bio
- Comic Book Preview
- 5.1 DTS Surround Sound on the U.S. Theatrical Version
- Monroeville Mall Commercial (0:27 min.)
- Memorabilia Gallery
- Production Stills
- Audio Commentary with actors David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger and Galylen Ross found on Anchor Bay's European Version
- On-Set Home Movies with Audio Commentary from zombie extra Robert Langer (13 min.)
- Monroeville Mall Tour with Ken Foree (11:28 min.)
- Comic Book

So, each edition has it give and take. The actor Commentary on Anchor Bay's Ultimate Edition is pretty great, but the Tom Savini episode of Scream Greats is equally awesome.

VERDICT: Simply a wonderfully comprehensive deluxe-edition of George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead in it's varied versions here. What can one say about this film thats not been said already? I say it's Romero's finest moment. Arrow Video's immaculate attention to detail and deluxe packaging make this a no-brainer must-buy. As someone who own's Anchor Bay's Ultimate Edition I can tell you that this is worth a double-dip. Keep in mind, it's Region O PAL formatted DVD. I've treated myself to all three cuts of the film and poured through the extensive supplemental  features several times over, Dawn of the Dead is really one of my favorite films of all time. ****1/2 (4.5 out of 5 stars)