If it's not The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Willard, it's Dawn of the Dead. Horror moviemakers long ago ran out of fresh ways to kill and maim, so they're gleefully trotting out remakes and re-imaginings—call them reanimations—of old, scary stories, hoping to cash in on adult nostalgia and a new crop of bloodthirsty teens.
When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth. That's the only explanation given for why zombies have replaced the living as the dominant species in the greater Milwaukee area. But the handful of humans trapped in a suburban mall aren't pondering the existential dilemma that's suddenly consumed their world. They're too busy fighting for their lives. Throngs of "deadish" monsters crowd the parking lot around them, restlessly and mindlessly searching for a way in. They only want one thing: human blood. Every time one of them bites and kills someone, their numbers rise as the dead only flatline for scant moments before rising again.
While trapped in the mall, a conflict arises among the living about whether or not they are going to help others in danger. Two bullheaded security guards argue vehemently—while brandishing pistols—that they shouldn't help anyone because it could jeopardize their own safety. But others, a woman named Ana chief among them, refuse to sacrifice innocent lives on the altar of their own selfishness. That leads the "good guys" to wrest control of the group away from the security guards so that they can lend humanitarian aid to a few desperate souls about to be consumed by the zombies. There's also a protracted argument about whether to kill infected people immediately, or wait until they die to kill them again. Thankfully, cooler heads prevail and the group decides not to take lives before they’ve already been snuffed out by the zombie "virus." (One person, though, is still killed preemptively.)
Andre, meanwhile, is desperate to protect the life of his unborn child (“I feel like I’m here to bring that baby on this earth, and give it everything I never had”). And though his zeal ultimately takes him down a grotesque—and lethal—path, his original instincts are to be commended. One of the nasty guards, CJ, ultimately redeems himself by blowing himself up (along with throngs of zombies) so that the others can escape.
A TV preacher blames hell's overcrowded conditions for the influx of zombies. While settling in at the mall, one man adds profanity to the question, “Are you the type of man who goes to church?” When a man shows fear, another responds, “You saw hell yesterday. Now you’re scared of going to hell for the bad things you’ve done. I’ll tell you what, go into the store, say five hail marys ... and then you and God can call it even.” Lyrics from Johnny Cash’s song “The Man Comes Around” include the lines, “And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts/And I looked and behold, a pale horse/And it's name it said on him was Death/And Hell followed with him.”
Fogged-up shower glass partially obscures the image of Ana and her husband hugging and kissing (it's obvious they're nude, but nothing explicit is seen). After playing dress-up at the mall's lingerie store, a woman has sex with a man (she's wearing underwear, their motions are explicit and their conversation includes a sexual use of the f-word). A woman strips off her top for the camera during the closing credits. Crude references are made to oral sex.
Gallons of blood. Buckets of brains. And the zombies are faster this time around. The movie opens with a zombified schoolgirl biting a man's throat out. After he bleeds to death, he turns into a zombie and attacks Ana. Things get considerably worse from there. Countless people/zombies are run down by speeding vehicles. Even more are shot through the head with gory results. One nauseating scene has a sharpshooter picking off "celebrity look-alikes" in a crowd of zombies. (In this scene, instead of fighting for their lives, the humans are simply making sport of their undead foes.) Sadly, in the theater I screened the movie, viewers cackled and guffawed as heads blew apart in showers of blood and brains.
Propane tanks are used to set off huge explosions. A gas station explodes when a car smashes into it. Zombies are doused with gasoline, then lit on fire. A snowplow mounted on the front of a passenger van is used to bulldoze through hundreds of bodies. Bloody close-ups show zombies feeding on their victims and humans battling for their freedom. A man thrusts a splintered croquet mallet through a zombie's head. Later, Ana rams a pole through another's skull. Using a chain saw, the humans cut numerous zombies into pieces. Then, when the van they’re in turns over, the still-running saw slices through a living woman's shoulder and chest.
Knowing his partner has been bitten and will soon become a zombie, Andre shackles her to a bed while she attempts to deliver their baby. She dies before the child arrives, and the baby is transformed into a monster when it finally makes its appearance. Before the carnage is over, all three are shot and killed.
Drug and Alcohol Content
At the mall, the remnant drink alcohol to pass the time. A few characters smoke cigarettes.
Zombies could have concocted Dawn of the Dead's back story. Press materials for the film include the lines, "Why it started, where it started—not known. Whatever happened, however it started, overnight, the world has become a living nightmare of surreal proportions." It was 1978 when George A. Romero created what may be the quintessential zombie movie (amazingly, it was a sequel). It featured a mall, a small band of survivors and hundreds of not-quite-dead-yet beasties who look like your neighbors, but act like the devil. Twenty-five years later, first-time director Zack Snyder redecorates the mall, trades reporters for a nurse, replaces bad-boy bikers with surly security guards and turns sluggish brain-eaters into fleet-footed destroyers.
Perhaps I should begin detailing my distaste for all of this with the fact that the moment you see a cute little girl rollerblading down an idyllic street, you know she's going to be the first to go. Or that the sudden appearance of a pregnant woman inevitably means she's about to die a horrible death while giving birth to her grotesquely disfigured zombie baby. Or that there's a "rule" stipulating a bullet to the brain is the only way to stop the monsters (resulting in countless images of heads exploding).
I'll end my list with the disturbing notion that most regular moviegoers know every horror trick by heart. And that as throngs of the still-living shuffle zombie-like out of another round of Dawn of the Dead screenings, most won’t be bothered by the idea that they’ve just been enticed into thinking on those things exactly opposite of that which is "noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy."