Remakes, especially of perfectly good movies, strike me as pure laziness on the part of Hollywood, and there currently seems to be a trend away from original ideas in favour of rehashing old plots or importing movies from the Hong Kong, Korea and Japan.
Horror movies seems to suffer from this more than other genres and the results are varied to say the least. The Ring (2002) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre(2003) were surprisingly successful in critical and box office terms, and this seems to have opened the floodgates to a slew of unnecessary remakes that include House of Wax, The Amityville Horror , The Hills Have Eyes, The Grudge(the remake of Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-on), The Eye and Dark Water. The first out of the gate is Zack Snyder’s reinterpretation of George A. Romero’s zombie classic, Dawn of the Dead.
As in the original movie, an unexplained virus is making the dead get up and want to start eating people. A group of survivors make their way to a shopping mall, where they hole up against the zombies trying to get in. But despite a great number of similarities to Romero’s 1978 movie, including cameos from original cast members in new roles, there are some substantial differences, and sadly they are not improvements.
The remake gets off to a cracking start with an amazing opening sequence that introduces the zombies, and the new nightmare Mankind will face, with breathtaking energy. Ana (Sarah Polley), a nurse at the local hospital, discovers her boyfriend has become a zombie after being bitten by a member of the undead, and just about escapes with her life. She meets up with some other survivors, including Kenneth, a moody cop (Ving Rhames), Andre, a crook trying to straighten up his life (Mekhi Phifer) and his pregnant girlfriend Luda (Inna Korobkina) who head toward the relative safety of a shopping mall. Unlike the original movie, but similar to the British zombie flick, 28 Days Later, these zombies can run, instead of lumbering like the undead usually do.
However once in the Shopping Mall, Dawn of the Dead starts to fall apart a little in comparison to the original. Where the 1978 movie poked fun at the zombies by comparing them to mall shoppers and had a wittier, more incisive script, the new version almost turns into an episode of the A-Team as the survivors decide to make a break to the local marina in souped-up buses. The plan is to get on board one of the boats and head to an island, which must rank as one of the dumbest ideas of all time.
The blood and guts is satisfyingly gory, but not excessively so, and there are some interesting innovations, such as the sub-plot with the guy trapped in the gun store opposite the mall who likes to pick off celebrity look-a-like zombies with his sniper rifle.
Aside from zombies that can run, the movie is also clearly influenced by Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later in other ways, especially latterly when the action gets intense and the hand-held cameras start shaking.
Although better in some ways, this movie suffers in comparison with Romero’s more thoughtful version. Dawn of the Dead is, however, an interesting and welcome addition to the zombie genre, and will be appreciated by horror fans. After all, zombie movies aren’t generally known for their sensible plots, but it would have been nice to see fewer annoying characters, plot holes and clich’s. A watchable opportunity missed.