If there's anything more fitting than watching George A. Romero's 1978 skewering of our twisted consumerist culture, on Black Friday, it would have to be doing so on VHS. The first major vessel from which we could quench our "own it all" conditioning, VHS made it possible to watch whatever film you wanted, whenever you wanted, provided you could afford to buy it. So, with a heaping amount of irony stirred into my coffee, I loosed the plastic rectangle of awesome from its cardboard sheathing,, and fired up my reliable JVC deck (which boast several special features on the front, including "Advanced Video Calibration" and "Advanced Auto Clock Set"- which means it blinks the word "auto" instead of 12:00). The loud mechanical sound of the videocassette being lowered into place; the reader heads spooling up; the tape spinning up; this all carries with it a million memories of monsters and movies across my thirty years of misspent youth (and counting). Of course, when I first saw ', I didn't drink coffee, our TV had dial knobs, and I had no inclination how Francine had got pregnant.
There are so many interesting and relevant aspects to Dawn of the Dead which we could spend hours discussing. The litigious nature of its current rights holder, which prevents it from being screened in 35mm (legally), depriving anyone under fourth from actually having seen it the way it was meant to be seen; the wild west nature of the special effects (Maestro Tom Savini created many of them on the fly), and their varying degrees of success (even Savini hates the blue color the zombie skin came out looking); the crazy shooting schedule over nights at the Monroeville mall, or the legacy of horror fans making sacred pilgrimage to it (and security guards ejecting anyone who slides down the center of the escalator like Roger did); the rumored unfilmed alternate ending, which saw Peter go through with shooting himself and Francine taking her life with the helicopter rotor; all of these points have seen plenty of attention, and are very relevant for discussion, but none are more relevant today than the underlying social message rallying against mindless, rampant consumerism.
As lifeless shells shamble toward the entrance of a retail outlet, the apple of their all consuming eyes looming the distance, beyond other shamblers, prompting them forward with unexpected, vicious aggression. There's no limit to their violence as they draw near the prize, trampling, grasping, and biting with complete disregard for anything but their own selfish hunger. And this was just a quick description of the morning news' coverage of Black Friday that I saw before starting Dawn of the Dead. At least in the case of the zombies, we get that their motivation is a primal, animalistic drive for what they believe is survival. No such justifying excuse can be made in the case of bargain shoppers who decided saving five bucks on a Blu-Ray was worth leaving Thanksgiving dinner early, to throttle fellow consumers who made it to the wire racks before them. For as far as we've come in any number of other areas, the all consuming drive of stuff that Romero lambasted in his most popular film is still rampant, perhaps even more so than when he created Dawn.
Interestingly, I've come to believe that the criticism of Romero's second Dead trilogy may be rooted more deeply in the way we connect with the anti-consumerism message of Dawn over the newer critiques, than of any stylist or thematic choices made for Land, Diary, or Survival. The irony is that issues explored in Land of the Dead where some of the central issues of the recent presidential election; classism, excessive rich enjoying luxury upon the backs of the working class. Diary of the Dead's social consideration: that our current culture is so completely obsessed with video taping and YouTubing everything, we can device ourselves from the horror of the situation (even ignoring the needs of others in peril), to make sure we capture the moment, is so blindly ingrained into our modern psyche that I don't think film goers could see it (or didn't want to). It made them uncomfortable, which in our world of polarized Internet opinions, meant that they "hated" it. Land and Diary will probably be recalled in a much more appreciated way a decade or more down the line for their subtle brilliance. Being made to feel uncomfortable is precisely the point of horror films and social commentary, by the way.
I'm very convinced that the new trilogy suffers from coming in the shadow of brilliant older "siblings", and thus they aren't given the full amount of credit they are due. Make no mistake, I am by no means saying the new trilogy is on the same level as the original, but time has a way of adding vintage shine to films. Even Day of the Dead was not as highly regarded as it is now, as late as ten years ago. The perennially hated Halloween III: Season of the Witch has seen an amazing reversal in popular horror opinion just over the last five years. So it will likely be with Land, Diary, and (maybe) Survival; we as a culture excuse away criticism of our own activities. It's a defense mechanism. As we put distance between ourselves and these modern films' messages, recognition of their brilliance is bound to rise.
There you have it: the product of my having gorged myself on Thanksgiving fare, slept for twelve hours, chugged coffee, then watched classic Romero on VHS. I think there's some real opportunity for discussion here and would love to hear your thoughts on any number of ideas: Is Romero's criticism in Dawn still relevant? What are your true thoughts on our obsession with Black Friday? If you dislike Land, Diary, or Survival of the Dead, why (beyond "They fraking suck!"; I can get that from IMDB comments)? Does time heal criticism of horror films, rendering their faults more easily forgivable (and should this give hope of vindication to all six Uwe Boll fans)? If we disagree, that's totally cool, so long as there's a bone fide reason. So, Maniacs, where do you stand on Romero's most prominent works and the social messages they contain?
If you simply can't get enough horror happenings here on Mania, might I humbly suggest checking out Tuesday Terrors? It's got all the shocking news to keep you current (and possibly help you survive until the credits roll).
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