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May 08, 1979 - Image 8

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Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1979-05-08

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Page 8-Tuesday, May 8, 1979-The Michigan Daily
Romero' ghouls knock 'em dead

By CHRISTOPHER POTTER
Nightmares are supposed to be
personal, esoteric trips, wonderfully
dependent upon individual predilec-
tions. So how is it that George Romero
knows my nightmares with the
terrifying incisiveness of a cackle at
three a.m.?
In the lexicon of filmmakers Romero
remains an unclassifiable, completely
personalized animal. He revels in chaos
amidst the ordinary, in the mutated
dissolution of everything safe and
familiar into monstrous perversity.
A DECADE AGO Romero ripped the
lid off the horror film genre with his now-
messianic Night of the Living Dead. His
dubious chronicle of dead bodies retur-
ning to life to devour the living hit upon
an ingenious methodology: Combine
the most ghoulishly horrific events with
the most mundane community
surroundings (all the action took place
in a rural community near Pittsburgh),
and you are stuck face to face with the
darkest vision of society sliding lop-
sidedly into pandemonium.
Ten years removed, Romero has
launched a new assault on our
vulnerable rationality. His sequel is
Dawn of the Dead, and while one might
regret his apparent lack of thematic
progress one can only marvel at the
degree of artistic sophistication with
which the director has refined his grisly
view of man's fate.
Dawn of the Dead, like its forebear, is
deceptively simplistic in plot, though
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garishly rich in texture and effect. Once
again a horrible osmosis is taking
place: Recently dead, bodies are rising
up-instinctive, brainless automatons
driven by a single-minded lust for living
human flesh. They stalk the cities and
countryside, turning every live victim
into a ghoul like themselves. In Night of
the Living Dead, organized humanity
managed to put down the rebellion; this
time the tables have turned-the zom-
bies are irreversibly winning out.
DAWN. OF THE DEAD'S opening
sequence at a Philadelphia TV studio
elucidates Romero's unique, brilliant
talent for pulsating anarchy. We find
television, the social Gibraltar of
America, in a state of total
derangement: Though ostensibly
broadening a talk show, the studio's
employees are fleeing left and right as
panic grips the city. They trade insults,
sabotage the cameras, throw objects at
the talk host and his guest. As a

Eventually they land on top on an
enormous, isolated shopping mall.
They find the building teeming with
zombies, an All-American cross section
from a nurse to a nun to a Hare Krishna
devotee. ("Why do they come here?"
Francine asks. "This was an important
part of their lives," Stephen replies).
The group first plans merely to take
what they need, then to leave, but they
soon realize the cornucopia they've
stumbled onto. With civilization crum-
bling outside, why not simply remain in
the mall, where every human need and
desire can be fulfilled?
After several pitched battles in which
they destroy the ghouls inside the cen-
ter, our heroes claim the mall as their
own and set up permanent living quar-
ters in their monument to human con-
sumerism. Yet their interior Eden soon
unravels: In subsequent tussles with
both zombies and a marauding motor-
cycle gang (battles in which Romero

ultimately more horrifying perspective
of the madness which has destroyed his
world.
Romero's conception of the tribal
existence of the remmants of humanity
is frighteningly apt; in his world all
society is reduced to the metaphor of
the biker gang. Survival of the fittest is
the only religion, complemented by
more than a touch of macho imperative
(Guns become the ultimate power-sex
symbol; the S.W.A.T. duo contem-
ptuously refers to Stephen as "Flyboy,"
and you keep anxiously wondering
when they will make a move toward his
woman).
~AiETS
Yet the visual metaphor of the
shopping center is Romero's crowning
touch. A studied microcosm of the 29th
Century, the gargantuan mall becomes
a cathedral to all desires, a cloistered
Xanadu where one can hide oneself
away forever and always. Never has
man's eternal longing for the womb
been transferred to the screen in such
seductive and terrifying fashion; even-
tually and ironically, the immense
caverns of the building turn almost as
close and dense as the claustrophobic
house in Living Dead-they comfort yet
kill.
BUT ALL SANCTUARIES are tran-
sitory, and by film's end Romero's two
surviving protagonists must move on.
It's basically an ending more hopeful
than its predecessor's: Though Living
Dead's zombies were finally done in,
human error and swinish excess did in
the film's hero as well. This time
around the ghouls may win out, but at
least a couple of characters we've come
to know and care about live to fight
another day.
Is Romero preaching salvation
through purgatory? Dawn of the Dead
is only the second part of a projected
trilogy). Will human ingenuity prove
resourceful enough; will the human
soul turn pure enough to vindicate
mankind? Could it be that beneath the
whole bloody, shrieking apocalypse
lurks a romantic's heart rather than a
cynic's? If so, you can still rest assured
Romero's road to redemption will
prove the most hobgoblined route
imaginable.
Join
the
Arts
Page

It's that wacky, zippy crew of flesh-happy zombies, taking over a shopping mall
in George A. Romero's new "Dawn of the Dead." Any resemblance between the
flesh-eaters and Briarwood patrons is strictly intentional.

technician says: "Our duty is done
here."
Romero cuts to a combined S.W.A.T.-
National Guard assault on a low-
income housing project whose residents
refuse to give up their dead (who can
only be destroyed by destroying their
brains). In one ghastly, elongated
sequence, ghouls dismember both
police and familial residents, maniacal
cops gun down zombies and humans
alike, police and tenants commit
suicide rather than face the horror.
Clearly God is dead, and Hell has
swallowed up the Earth.
Out of this maelstrom emerge four
protagonists: Stephen (David Emge)
and Francine (Gaylen Ross), em-
ployees of the TV station, along with
Peter (Ken Foree) and Roger (Scott
Reiniger), S.W.A.T. officers who decide
to flee while they still can. Stephen and
Francine are lovers; Roger is white
and diminutive in stature, Peter is
black and imposingly, menacingly
large.
THIS UNLIKELY quartet secures a
helicopter and soars into the sky in
search of any available sanctuary.

marvelously mixed the comic with the
horrific), first Roger then Stephen are
killed.
Resurrected as a zombie, Stephen
leads his fellow ghouls to the humans'
hiding place. Peter and Francine
barely manage to escape in their
helicopter, though their future seems
obvious: They're low on fuel and lack
sanctuary. In a shot reminiscent of the
end of Hitchcock's The Birds, their
machine ascends into the sky as the
surrounding ghouls are left to inherit
the mall and perhaps the Earth. -
THOUGH DAWN OF THE DEAD
lacks quite the innovative muse of
Romero's recent, complex vampire ex-
cursion, Marti, his film still represen-
ts a quantum artistic leap from Night of
the Living Dead. Romero's sense of
pace and editing, always acute, is now
honed to a razor's edge; though the film
runs more than two hours it never loses
its manic grip for a moment. The direc-
tor's mastery over his medium has
become so assured that he is able to
rely far less on. his celebratedly
gruesome, calculated "shock shots,"
opting instead for a more relaxed and

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