Horror Remakes that Stand Up to the Original, Part III

Horror remakes often fall flat in comparison to their originals. In the horror genre, George A. Romero is a God! In the sub-genre of zombie-horror films he is the grandfather of all. In 1968 he established himself as the king of the undead with his release of Night of the Living Dead. This black-and-white film noir about a hypothetical virus that reanimates the dead and turns those who are bitten by the infected into slow-moving corpses spawned a slew of sequels as well as imitators. We can thank Romero for shows like the Z Nation, Fear the Walking Dead, and the pan-ultimate, The Walking Dead. Hail to the slow-moving zombies! It has also muse behind spoofs like Simon Peg’s Shaun of the Dead.

Dawn of the Dead '78 and '04 images

Dawn of the Dead (1978) is the second in the “Living Dead” series, written by George A. Romero in collaboration with another horror great, Dario Argento. But there are no connections to the original characters or setting from the first film other than the virus outbreak and zombies. This feature picks up three weeks after the initial epidemic and portrays the U.S. as a population being overrun by reanimated, flesh-eating corpses.

In spite of the best effort of the United States government to manage the unknown virus, it continues to rage out of control. Civil services have all but collapsed and with it goes order and social control, and chaos ensues. The cities are the first to fall with their large populations creating a greater chance to come in contact with the infected. Folks in rural areas and the military fare better because of their smaller populations and weapons.

A television station in Philly, WGON, is still broadcasting, but some of their staff members come to the realization that they should get out of the city and find a safer haven. The dead move into the broadcast station and few of them escape in the station helicopter. While stopping to refuel they have a close call with the dead, but noticed an abandoned mall while flying over and take sanctuary there.

They move in, block off all the entrances to keep the dead out, and clear the mall of any zombies that happened to me inside. They make a living quarter and create a false wall to mask its existence in-case some undead inadvertently get in. They live decadent lives within the walls of the mall. As things do, they eventually go sideways and the mall is attacked by a horde of roaming motorcyclists (of which a young Tom Savini is one) looking to loot the place. They try to the defend their “home” but the mall becomes invaded with zombies and Peter and Francie – two from the TV station – are the only ones to get away in the chopper flying into an uncertain future.

the 1978 Dawn of the Dead mall inhabitants.

Interesting factoid, for some of the zombies Romero used amputees as stunt doubles. He also enjoyed making a commentary on capitalism, the mall culture, and consumerism. The undead could have returned to any location in that area yet they were drawn to the mall. Their reanimated bodies drove them back to their consumer driven former lives.

The 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead is considerably dark and has a faster pace. The premise is the same, but the differences in the story line is quite evident. Sarah Polly, Ving Rhames, and Jake Weber star in this well done film.

Polley’s character, Ana, is a nurse who comes home from a long shift to have date night with her husband, Luis. They miss the bulletin about the outbreak during their “date” and go to bed unaware. A neighborhood girl, who is infected, gets into their bedroom and kills Luis while Ana sleeps. He is almost immediately reanimated and he attacks her but she escapes through the bathroom window and speeds off in her car.

Ana eventually joins forces with some folks – a police sergeant (Ving Rhames), an electrician (Jake Weber), and a petty criminal (Mekhi Pfifer) and his pregnant wife, Luda – and they take refuge in a local mall with some security guards – C.J., Bart, and Terry – who insist on relieving them of their weapons in order for them to stay.


A day later a delivery truck full of people arrive at the mall and there is a dispute with C.J. and Bart over whether to let them in or not, and the two are outvoted and disarmed. The new arrivals are brought into the fold but it is, at times, a tense situation. There is also Kenneth, the man trapped in his gun store across the street, who has ammo, but is starving to death. His store is surrounded by zombies and he cannot get out. Friendships, romances, and animosity bloom in this close quartered community of strangers.

What the remake has that the original film lacks is greater tension between the characters locked in the mall together. Because there are more of them in this mall setting, there is a greater chance for disagreements and conflict. The only gang attempting to get into the mall are the zombies that surround them. Unbeknownst to the mall inhabitants, they also have to worry about Luda. Upon entering the mall she was scratched by a reanimated guard and became infected, but she hides it from the group.

Eventually they decide to leave the mall and set about reinforcing shuttle buses from the parking garage. The group decides to fight their way out of the mall and to the marina in order to take a boat out to a deserted island in Lake Michigan. During the journey to the marina we see something a vastly different. The zombies in this remake are fast-moving and they run after their prey with a vengeance. There is definitely more gore, and thanks to technology, more realistic undead. Don’t forgot to take notice of the zombie baby that the dead Luda gives birth to in the mall – it’s just as hungry as the rest!

The crew loses a lot of people on the way to the boat and the survivors sail into an unknown future. The island is not the Valhalla they sought. This film is definitely worth seeing, plus you get to see Ty Burrell, Phil Dunphy from Modern Family, play a complete douche!

Take a chance and give it a view!

Khuwailah Beyah
Khuwailah Beyah
Khuwailah "Cookie" Beyah hails from North Carolina. She is a pop culture nut and loves all things Nathan Fillion. Ms. Beyah has a passion for the macabre and the horror genre. She serves on the "Nevermore Film Festival" selection committee in Durham, NC and attends several comic and horror conventions each year. She holds an MA from Duke University, but is a dyed in the wool North Carolina Tar Heel fan! She also enjoys writing and reading creative non-fiction.