Zombi (1978) (aka Dawn Of The Dead)


I thought it might be fun to review this like I’d never heard of it, the director or the genre before – “well, this is an early entry from a Pittsburgh independent filmmaker called George Romero, in what’s come to be known as a ‘zombie’ movie” but I’m too lazy to keep it up all the way through. You don’t need me to tell you about “Dawn Of The Dead”, right? You’ve seen it? If you haven’t, then go away immediately and watch it. It’s as good as horror films have ever been, rich imagery, great performances, a plot with real depth to it; but if you’re a fan of the sort of films we cover here, then this should be part of your DNA. Books and books have been written about it, which puts it a little outside our wheelhouse, but of the million great things written about it, picking one at random, THIS is excellent.


Why I’m doing this relates to our recent coverage of the movies of Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso, and it’s one of those stories that involves incoherent sequel numbering, a matter close to my heart. I’m guessing due to some contractual loophole, or weirdness in Italian copyright law, they started making sequels to this movie almost right away, only sequels with no returning cast or crew. Lucio Fulci, the legendary director of “The Beyond”, “House By The Cemetery” and “New York Ripper”, made part 2, also known in the UK as “Zombie Flesh Eaters” (all the sequels to that were part of the “Zombie Flesh Eaters” series in the UK).


By part 3, all bets were off. Fulci made most of “Zombi 3”, but it was finished off by Mattei and Fragasso due to Fulci’s failing health; but the most amazing thing is the sheer number of different movies that were released as “Zombi 3” in various parts of the world. “Nightmare City”, “Let Sleeping Corpses Lie”, “Zombie Holocaust”, “Nights Of Terror / The Zombie Dead” and “The Hanging Woman” have all been subjected to it – “Nights Of Terror” is one of my favourite zombie movies ever, by the way – but they calmed down a bit by parts 4 and 5, neither of which bear any relation to the rest of the series or each other. Oh, and part 5 was made before part 4. Part 4 was also directed by Fragasso, but more on them when I get to reviewing them.


So, we’ll be looking forward to Mattei and Fragasso’s section of this franchise, and there’s every chance that part 2 will be decent, as Fulci made some horror classics too. But we’re here to talk about “Zombi”. Firstly is why it’s called that. Although I think we in the UK got Romero’s version, with a few cuts for the more extreme gore, the rest of Europe got a version edited by Dario Argento, with a soundtrack comprised mostly of songs from his band, Goblin. Argento part-financed the movie, and acted as script editor, on the proviso he could re-edit the movie for release in the rest of the world, and his version ended up 9 minutes shorter, at 118 minutes.


If you’d like to read an extremely detailed breakdown of every difference in the versions (and talk of the “ultimate edition”, which has all the footage from all the different versions and stuff from an edit that Romero prepared hurriedly for the Cannes Film Festival) then please go HERE, but if you don’t, then I’ll give you the highlights. Most of Argento’s edits were to trim the odd second of fat from various scenes, and to remove some of the more overt comedy (the biker gang still have plenty of funny stuff to do, though). The guy who gets his head chopped off by the helicopter blades is absent from Argento’s version, perhaps because he never liked the effect, and a few conversations are removed.


What’s interesting, not so much the big stuff, which is a few light-hearted conversations, but the little things. There are hundreds of edits, a second here, a second there, and for a movie which was over 2 hours, I think – and this may be sacrilege to some people – Argento was right. His edit is fantastic, stripping fat from scenes and focusing it better; the original, and even the much longer version, are both masterpieces of cinema, but Argento’s version might just be the best of the lot.


I think this depends on your attitude. I used to be “longer = better” when it came to director’s cuts of my favourite movies, but I was cured of this when the “Redux” version of “Apocalypse Now” was released. I remember the acres of press coverage, the delight from movie fans that we were finally going to see Coppola’s vision in full…and it ended up being unbearably dull. That plantation scene! Ye gods. So, since then, I’ve come to appreciate the work of a good editor, and there are very few films released today that wouldn’t benefit from being 20 minutes shorter. It’s still fun to see the extra stuff from your favourite films, but the number of deleted scenes that deserve to be put back in films is absolutely miniscule.


Well, that’s a brief chat about “Zombi”. Plot mockery and insulting cast and crew – the normal business of this site – will resume with “Zombi 2”.


Rating: thumbs up (obviously)


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