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Dawn of the Dead: Ultimate Edition

"When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth" opines Peter Washington (Ken Foree) in George A. Romero's seminal 1978 zombie classic Dawn of the Dead. And in his vision, hell is other people. Shot ten years after Romero made Night of the Living Dead, the low-budget cult hit that reinvented the zombie film, Dawn was the second chapter in Romero's "Zombie Trilogy" (which concluded with 1985's Day of the Dead, although Romero's been talking about a fourth entry since, and of this writing it is in preproduction). And with his undead cycle, he made zombies a full-color spectacle that would prove equally influential. Seriously — every Italian filmmaker working in Giallo ripped off Romero's blood-gushing zombies, while it also proved deeply influential on modern filmmakers — Anchor Bay's "Ultimate Edition" disc arrived in conjunction with the theatrical release of the comic riffing Shaun of the Dead, and was an obvious inspiration for Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later and more obviously the 2004 remake of the same name. But more than just influential, Dawn of the Dead is a low budget American masterpiece of both horror and black comedy. Following four survivors looking to get away from the recent epidemic that has the dead returning to life to feast upon the living, soldiers Peter and Roger (Scott H. Reiniger), helicopter pilot Stephen (David Emge), and his girlfriend/TV producer Francine (Gaylen Ross) find safe haven in a shopping mall, where — slowly but surely — the four get the run of the place. Zombies keep coming, though, and setting the film at a mall gives the film the extra layer of bite, as one time commercial director Romero mocks the consumerism that used to be his bread and butter (at one point Francine asks "What are they doing? Why do they come here?" Stephen replies "Some kind of instinct. Memory, of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives.") But troubling for this crew is both cabin fever, which claims one member who loses his cool and gets bitten, and a gang of roving bikers (including the film's special makeup effects artist Tom Savini), who wish to claim the mall for themselves. Like the all of the films in the trilogy (and Romero's tangentially related zombie-ish The Crazies), the director's view of humans in chaos is deeply pessimistic, as no one is smart enough to band together — leaving the agenda-less (or close to agenda-free; is eating an agenda?) zombies the world to take over. Unrelenting in its gore, some may find the film a bit hard to stomach — 20-plus years after the fact the film still has bite. But for those with a tolerance or appreciation for it, this is a must-see/must-own.

*          *          *

Anchor Bay (those kings of multiple dips) has with their fourth release of the title has finally gotten in right with this four-disc set that includes three cuts of the movie. On the first disc the theatrical version (127 min.), which is presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) in DTS, Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby 2.0, and in its original monaural soundtrack. Extras on this disc (which is identical to the single disc Divimax release) include the commentary by George Romero, wife/AD Christine Romero, and Tom Savini, which is moderated by DVD producer Perry Martin. Also included are two trailers, TV and radio spots, a poster/image gallery, a Romero bio, a comic book preview, and two Easter eggs (cut scenes from the documentary The Dead Will Walk) On Disc Two the extended edition (139 min.) is presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and in 2.0 mono. Extras on this disc include a commentary by producer Richard P. Rubenstein that's moderated by Perry Martin, a Monroeville Mall commercial (the film's main location), another still gallery, and two more similar Easter eggs. On the third disc is the Dario Argento produced European cut (119 min.) that is more kinetic and loses some of the politics, and is presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and in Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby 2.0, and in its original monaural soundtrack. The extras include a commentary by stars David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger, and Gaylen Ross, three foreign trailers, two UK TV spots, another still gallery, a Dario Argento biography, and two more similar Easter eggs. The fourth disc features 1989's feature-length documentary Document of the Dead (92 min.), which features Romero making the film in 1977, and then 12 years later when Romero was working on Two Evil Eyes (Document is already on DVD, and was originally released by Synapse as a special edition). New is Perry Martin's The Dead Will Walk, a 75-min. retrospective that talks to the main cast and crew, and numerous Zombie cast members. "On Set Home Movies" offers behind the scenes footage with comments from zombie extra Robert Langer, while "Monoreville Mall Tour" features numerous cast members returning to the mall to give an after-hours tour. Also on Disc Four is an Easter egg featuring someone who may be the film's strangest fan, a Buddhist monk. Four-DVD folding digipak in paperboard slipcase.
—DSH



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