Blu-ray and DVD Reviews

Dawn of the Dead - Unrated Director's Cut

Reviewed by: Scott Chitwood
Movie Rating:
7 out of 10
Extras Rating:
7 out of 10
Movie Details:
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Rating: Unrated

Starring:
Sarah Polley as Ana
Ving Rhames as Kenneth
Jake Weber as Michael
Mekhi Phifer as Andre
Ty Burrell as Steve
Michael Kelly as CJ
Kevin Zegers as Terry
Michael Barry as Bart
Lindy Booth as Nicole
Jayne Eastwood as Norma
Boyd Banks as Tucker
Inna Korobkina as Luda
R.D. Reid as Glen
Kim Poirier as Monica
Matt Frewer as Frank

Special Features:
The Lost Tape: Andy's Terrifying Last Days Revealed

Special Bulletin: We Interrupt This Program!

Undead Scenes with Commentary by Director Zack Snyder

Raising the Dead

Attack of the Living Dead

Splitting Headaches: Anatomy of Exploding Heads

Feature Commentary with Director Zack Snyder and Producer Eric Newman

DVD-ROM Features

Other Info:
Widescreen (2.35:1)
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
French and Spanish Languages
English and French Subtitles
Running Time: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Synopsis:
This is a remake of the 1978 horror film by the same name. The following is from the DVD cover:

"Packed with more blood, more gore, and more bone-chilling, jaw-dropping thrills, Dawn of the Dead Unrated Director's Cut is the version too terrifying to be shown in theaters! Starring Mekhi Phifer, Ving Rhames and Sarah Polley in an edgy, electrifying thrill-ride.

When a mysterious virus turns people into mindless, flesh-eating zombies, a handful of survivors wage a desperate, last-stand battle to stay alive and human."

This version of the film was not rated, but the theatrical version was rated R for pervasive strong horror violence and gore, language and sexuality.

The Movie:
I never saw the first Dawn of the Dead, so I can't tell you how this movie compares to it. I never saw the remake in theaters either, so I can't tell you how this unrated version compares to the theatrical version. What I can tell you is that I liked the film. I typically don't like horror movies, but for some reason this movie hooked me and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Maybe it's because it's almost more of a disaster movie or a survival movie than a horror flick.

The first 15 minutes of the film had me absolutely riveted. In short order we are introduced to Ana, then she's attacked by zombies. (Incidentally, they are never referred to as 'zombies' in the film and they never waste time trying to explain their presence.) Their idyllic suburban paradise is quickly turned into an apocalyptic hell with undead chasing the living everywhere. They use CG to great effect in the film as you are treated to explosions and fires across the skyline, stunning shots of car wrecks, and zombies being run over in shocking ways. The zombies are also impressive because they are fast and violent, not the foot dragging version like their predecessors. The story then shifts from epic disaster to a small tale of a few survivors holed up in a mall. While I would have liked to have seen them try to race across country more, it makes budgetary sense for them to stay in the mall location. Besides, that's how the first film was set up, too. The film transitions more into a character drama at that point as we get to know the characters better.

The cast is pretty solid. While none of them are considered "A List", they all handle their roles well. Sarah Polley is Ana, the central figure of the story and our heroine. Ving Rhames plays Kenneth, the cop torn between his own survival and his duty. Mekhi Phifer from E.R. plays Andre, a hoodlum with a pregnant wife. It's an interesting role for him as he slowly realizes that his wife may be turning into a zombie. Jake Weber also plays a convincing American and a good everyman hero as Michael. Max Headroom himself Matt Frewer has a brief but dramatic role as Frank. The rest of the cast is also good.

I thought they did a good job exploring this unique situation in the script. They show what happens when a husband turns into a zombie and attacks his wife. They show a kid as a zombie. They show the boredom the survivors go through as they wait for help. They show them making a game of shooting zombies. And, of course, you find out what happens when they make a run for it. I especially liked how video during the credits showed what happened to the remaining survivors after the film ended. The twisted sense of humor helps, too. After all, they usher in the apocalypse with Johnny Cash singing and an amusing musical number halfway through. About the only thing I didn't care for was the religious commentary throughout the film. It seems a bit ridiculous for the creators to use a zombie flick as a podium to attack religion.

Overall I thought they did an impressive job with this film. They made a great looking film on what I assume was a tight budget. They had an intriguing story played out by good actors. It had everything going for it that an entertaining horror film should. I liked it enough to want to see a sequel.

The Extras:
There is a good selection of bonus features included on this DVD:

The Lost Tape: Andy's Terrifying Last Days Revealed I thought this short feature was a great tie-in to the film. It shows video made by Andy, the man trapped on the roof of the gun shop. He keeps a video diary as he is stranded in the building. It ends up being a short story on its own as we see what went on across the street from the main characters. While it is slow at times, it's a great idea and it really expands on the story. I'd like to see other films do this sort of thing on their DVDs.

Special Bulletin: We Interrupt This Program! This is the news footage seen in the film complete and uncut. They show the newscasters explaining the disaster from it's beginning to its end. From this you learn how the zombie virus spread all over the world and how it ended civilization. You see video of the President, survivalist instructional videos on killing zombies, reporters being attacked, and even videos of frat boys having their way with a sexy zombie before being attacked. Somebody that made this must be a Babylon 5 fan because the main newscaster was from that series and Bruce Boxlietner is the voice of the President. Anyway, this video, too, expands on the film.

Undead Scenes with Commentary by Director Zack Snyder There's 12 minutes of deleted scenes included here. Most of them are brief zombie attacks that were cut or a sentence here and there that was dropped. None of them were that great or memorable and they are better left on the cutting room floor. The only good one was a scene of a zombie cut in half and crawling across a floor.

Raising the Dead This shows how they turned an army of extras into zombies. They go into detail about the variety of makeup effects from elaborate appliances all the way to putting Halloween masks on guys and drenching them in fake blood. If you like makeup effects, you'll love this.

Attack of the Living Dead This shows how a few of the more memorable effects scenes in the film were done. They show how they turned a stuntman into the fat zombie woman in the film. They show how they took a one armed man and turned him into a zombie jogger who is missing his arm. They also show how they made the pregnant zombie, the zombie with a stake through his head, and the zombie with his legs missing. Again, if you love makeup effects, you'll love this.

Splitting Headaches: Anatomy of Exploding Heads This short feature goes into detail about how they made the zombies' heads explode. It's pretty interesting from a technical standpoint how they made it look so realistic. They are definitely creative, twisted minds.

Feature Commentary with Director Zack Snyder and Producer Eric Newman These guys recorded the commentary a couple of days before the release of the film, so you're not treated to their hindsight on the project. However, they do talk about what they had to cut for budgetary reasons, how they shot the film, trivia, and more. It's an interesting commentary if you enjoyed the movie.

The Bottom Line:
"Dawn of the Dead" is an entertaining horror flick. It has a pretty good story, a solid cast, and some cool effects.

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