101 min., 1985
Written by George A. Romero
Directed by George A. Romero
My rating: ★★★
My favorite of the series.
* * *
It’s been a few years since the events of Dawn of the Dead. We now turn to a group of people in a helicopter that are looking for anyone. They land and find nothing but the living dead. They head back to a military base where they are doing research and living alongside their military “protection”. Our main character is a woman by the name of Dr. Sarah Bowman (Lori Cardille). She has been working in this base/bunker trying to figure out how to stop people from coming back from the dead. Working with her is Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty) who has been dubbed Frankenstein by the military men and for good reason. While Sarah is trying to stop the problem, Frankenstein is taking a different route and trying to make the zombies “behave”. In the process he is cutting through the captured zombies too fast and putting people’s lives, doctors and military men, on the line. Newly appointed “leader” Captain Rhodes (Joseph Pilato) isn’t as nice as the last guy and he’s letting everyone know it. What follows is an interesting look at what happens when two different types of people, the wait and see and the do it now, are stuck in a situation where neither are likely to be right.
That’s what I really like about the movie. In the Night of the Living Dead it was people suddenly stuck together and it was more a fight or flight movie. Dawn of the Dead was more like looking at some friends briefly renting a house for a couple of months (with zombies outside). This is a group of people that have stuck together for a long time and both sides have had losses, with each blaming the other. You have the main characters, Rhodes, Logan and Sarah, that make sure that they are heard, but then there are others that are just trying to keep their sanity together. Among them is John (Terry Alexander), radio operator Bill McDermott (Jarlath Conroy), Private Steele (Gary Howard Klar), Private Rickles (Ralph Marrero) and a few others.
John and Bill are perfect examples of people that are just trying to take advantage of everyone and in the end they don’t really care if anyone else lives or dies. It’s best shown when Sarah goes to where they “live”. They have a little trailer home where in the back they’ve made “paradise”. They put down fake grass, lawn chairs and even a beach back drop. They (John) start talking and Sarah asks him why they don’t help anyone. They eat the food and drink the water but when it comes down to it, they never actually help. Instead of actually answering the question he diverts it to (yes I’ve boiled it down) society sucks, this is what we deserve, she’s stupid for trying to fix the problem, let’s have sex and make babies. In other words, ignore the situation, bury your head in the sand and let everyone else fix the problem. The other situation that stands out is when Miguel (Anthony Dileo Jr.) is bitten and there is the stand off between the three military and the three nonmilitary. The military side is actually the ones thinking logically. He’s bitten and he will change. While emotions are running the other side. John just casually brushes off the fact that Rhodes just lost two more men, trying to help the scientists again. All he says is that now the sides are even. That’s a pretty asshole thing to say. As far as we know up to this point, they’ve only lost one person, while the military loses are up to seven. How is that even? But if Rhodes were the one to say it, he’d be a monster who doesn’t care about people.
On the other side you have the aggressive military men. Steele and Rickles are both trapped in a situation where they really can’t be happy. To me, both keep trying to show off and try to keep their cool, usually by mocking those around them. But when it comes to certain things you can actually see that they, especially Steele, actually do “care” about the others. When Rhodes tells him to shoot Sarah, but just jokes, but when he sees (by a gun pointed at him) that he’s serious, he very reluctantly gets ready to shoot her. His eyes and actions show clearly that he is not cool with this. The other occasion is when Miguel is feeling better and Steele hands him the rod/stick that is used to move the zombies. Steele looks at Miguel and in a very sincere voice asks if he’s got it, maybe from fear and safety but he could have easily yelled at him or called him a name, but he didn’t. But after the accident he reverts back to being pissed, possibly because he just had to shoot one of his friends.
Then there’s Rhodes. The asshole military cliche. But in this situation he actually makes more sense than most times they appear. Most of the time when this type of character appears they just seem to be using their power as a way to keep control of everyone around them. Turning from a trained military man into a complete savage. In this movie we have Rhodes who kinda fits that role except he, and his men, never go down the road of turning into savages. The final time when he snaps is when he finds out his men are being experimented on. I think that would set most people off. But let’s turn back to the beginning of the movie. All Rhodes seems to be trying to do is figure out exactly what the scientists are doing and about how long it’s gonna take. Now I’m trying to imagine someone trying to build a fully functioning space shuttle from the ground up with no actual parts or foreknowledge and it taking years. They keep telling me that there is progress being made, but everything they tell me I don’t understand and in these years I’ve lost five friends who have been “forced” to help get supplies. Why would I trust those people? Because I have to? But that doesn’t create actual trust, it creates resentment. If you really look at what’s been going on, the scientists actually haven’t been doing anything (I’m talking in the short term), and the military guys are saving them and doing the dirty work (getting the zombies). I wouldn’t trust them either.
I’d like to bring up the character of Sarah. In a day and age where the “strong female lead” is a character the usually has to be forced into a movie, I look back at this movie and see that a character like that can be written into a movie and not feel crammed in. Sarah is just a strong character that happens to be female. Compared to the character Francine from Dawn of the Dead who was just a complete waste of space, Sarah is smart and tough without it feeling out of place. If more characters could be like her that would be amazing.
On to other things. I really loved the opening to the movie. The helicopter landing and the echo of “hello, is anybody there” is just cool and pretty much puts a nail in the coffin of they’re fucked, especially when the zombies show up and they just start pouring out of everywhere. You don’t need to see a confrontation between the humans and zombies, you just know that there’s nothing there and pretty much the rest of the world is the same.
Along the lines of the zombies, the effects of this movie still stand up more than I ever thought they would. My favorite scene of special effects is when the one soldiers is getting his head ripped off. The effects are great but what really adds another level to the realism (at least to me) is that as his head is being pulled away, his voice is getting higher. I love that! I’m just imaging being alive while it’s going on and hearing myself sounding like that.
Another thing that I really liked (as I stated before) is that the military men never turn into complete savages. In most movies where military men have been locked up for a while, the moment a woman appears or lets their guard down they jump at the chance to rape her. This movie never goes that route. Yes they talk about getting it on with her, but it never goes farther than that. It’s nice to see that not everyone thinks that soldiers (or just men in general) lose all control whenever a woman is around.
So in the Night of the Living Dead review I stated that it’s the most important of the films for me, and that hasn’t changed. The reason that this one is my favorite is that I can watch over and over and still have fun with it. The others are fine and I still enjoy them, but this one just has more to say, at least to me. To me there is a difference between influential and favorite. A movie can be extremely influential to someone but watching it once is enough and there’s no need to go back. But you can have a movie that is just plain enjoyable and you can watch it a million times and never get tired of it. That to me is a favorite movie. Then again your favorite movie can also be the one that influenced you the most too. A good example of that for me is the movie Aliens. It’s extremely influential but I can also watch that movie a million times.
And here’s BUB!
P.S. – Support horror in all its forms. Even if I didn’t like the movie you might want to check it out and yell at me about how wrong (or right) I am.
And for your viewing pleasure here is the trailer.
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