Over the yearsÂ Zombie fans expect a few duds (House of the Dead, Resident Evil) along with the hits (The Serpent and the Rainbow, 28 Days Later). And since the Evil Dead trilogy,Â they’ve come to expect a little self-aware zombie mockery, best showcased recentlyÂ in Shaun of theÂ Dead.Â And finally, there are movies that confuse even the most devout fans. The kind that make audiences go, “What just happened?” Dawn of the Living Dead, an overlyÂ ambitious title created by brazenly combining the titles of two preeminent zombie movies (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead) is clearly in the final group.
Originally titled Curse of the Maya, a much more fitting title, Dawn of the LivingÂ Dead ostensiblyÂ follows the story of a couple who purchase a house in the middle of the desertÂ only toÂ discover that it’sÂ builtÂ atop an ancient Mayan burial ground. You know, their dream house turns into a nightmare and all that.Â As Jeffrey, low-budget champion Joe EstevesÂ wanders from scene to scene likeÂ a slightly overweight version of his brother Martin Sheen while newcomer Amanda Baumann, as Jeffrey’s fianceeÂ Renee, is the real protagonist of the film, recovering from a stint in a psychiatric ward due to “manic depressive issues.” Almost immediately after moving into the house Renee starts having visions of a little girl in her sleepÂ and a few travelers get gorily destroyed by the undead.
By the time writer, director, producer David Heavener shows up as a macho-man windmill worker, audiences must resign themselves to accept the occasional laugh-out-loud moments unintentionally offered up, because the plot itself becomes too meandering and hole-filled to follow. Sometimes Dawn of the Living Dead feels almost like it might be poking fun at itself, but either Heavener never intended it to or he hasn’t managed to make it clear that he’s in on the joke. Regardless of the reasons, awkward moments and unexplained plot twists provide most of the entertainment here.
Cinematographer Joseph Rubinstein eitherÂ can’t seem to master the art of shadows or, and this may be closer to the truth, heÂ just doesn’t care. In each cut the angles change drastically and the shadows fall across the actor’s faces in the most haphazard ways. One person in a conversation could have daylight behind them while the other has dusk. In one memorable scene, the couple argues because Renee has woken Jeffrey up so early (five a.m.), but when they run outside, it’s broad daylight. Though director David Heavener has a dozen films under his belt, heÂ stillÂ doesn’t understand aÂ good scene change. Film footage is spliced together so scenes bleed into each other, leaving the plot dangling andÂ audiences trying to gather as much as possible from their surroundings in order to understand what’s happening.
Everything else aside, though, the zombies are actually downright scary looking. If the majority of the budget was spent on makeup and special effects, as the case seems, then it was well spent. The Mayan zombie family that habituates the desert behind the house are actually frightening, even on grainy film and with little to no plot to support the fear factor.Â A scene with a zombie baby stands on its own as classic over-the-top, so-bad-it’s-good film-making. In the behind-the-scenes footage, Heavener, speaking like a classicallyÂ unaware Fred Willard character, describes hisÂ impetus for the zombieÂ baby fight scene. Again, unintentional hilarity ensues.Â Dawn of the Living Dead may not have muchÂ storyÂ to offer, but its zombiesÂ at least doÂ their best to redeem themselves.
Zach’s Rating: D-
Zombie enthusiast’s rating: C
Typical horror fan’s rating: F