Dungeon Classics #20: From Dusk Till Dawn

FilmDungeon’s Chief Editor JK sorts through the Dungeon’s DVD-collection to look for old cult favorites….

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996, USA | Mexico)

Director: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Juliette Lewis, Harvey Keitel
Running Time: 108 mins.

The early nineties saw the rise of filmmakers and friends Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriquez (they both debuted in 1992). They collaborated a number of times, but From Dusk Till Dawn is probably the greatest success in terms of cult appeal. Tarantino wrote the script and plays one of the lead roles and Rodriquez directed and edited the movie. The result is a cult classic. The first half is like watching a Tarantino neo-western crime movie. The dialogue is pure Tarantino and thus essential stuff for the cinema obsessive. The cast is excellent with Clooney in a formidable lead role as ruthless criminal Seth Gecko. The dynamic with his crazy, rapist brother Richard (played by Tarantino) ensures many extremely funny moments. During the second half, From Dusk Till Dawn surprisingly turns into a horror movie. A vampire flick to be more precise. It surely is thrilling, though not as good as the terrific first half. But some great supporting parts (by a.o. Fred Williamson and Tom Savini) add to the bloody fun.

Day of the Dead

Director: George A. Romero
Written by: George A. Romero
Cast: Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, Joe Pilato, Jarlath Conroy

Year / Country: 1985, USA
Running Time: 102 mins.

In George Andrew Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) the dead were resurrected and started a crisis. In Dawn of the Dead (1978), the zombies were taking the upper hand. Now in 1985’s Day of the Dead, there are barely any humans left. A small group of survivors consisting of soldiers, scientists and civilians, are holed up in a military complex with hundreds of flesh-eaters roaming around on the outside.

There has been a time leap since Dawn, so the zombies are slowly decomposing and are looking more gray and green than in the previous ‘Dead’ movies. The different groups living in the claustrophobic complex are each dealing with the situation in their own way. The scientists are searching for a way to ‘control’ the zombies, while the soldiers want to wipe them all out. The few civilians on the other hand, just want to enjoy the time they have left.

The lack of any prospects starts to create tension within the group. Especially with the psychopathic Captain Rhodes (Joe Polito) who commands the small military force. Before long, their infighting leads to a final clash with the zombies. Romero shows us once again that humans are a greater danger to themselves than any outside threat.

Romero called Day of the Dead his favorite entry in the series, even though it was derided by critics upon release. Today the film got more of a cult status. And justly so. As a film basically showing total apocalypse, it succeeds brilliantly. The only problem is that it’s pretty depressing. From Dr. ‘Frankenstein’ Logan conducting gruesome experiments on zombies in his underground lab to the unpleasant characters: it all contributes to making this film pretty hard to sit through. In Dawn, the shopping mall location lended itself well for some inventive humor. The funniest thing about Day is the ‘intelligent’ zombie Bub who even utters some dialogue in the film (A..llli….ciaaaa…).

Romero’s golden touch, the fantastic special make-up effects by Tom Savini and the dark atmosphere make this a must-see for horror fans. The successful military satire is another good reason to see Day of the Dead. However, dejected types might be better off not watching this. Like the other ‘Dead’ films its concept may well be brilliant, but it is still a nasty and depressive movie. Twenty years later Romero would continue his series with Land of the Dead.

Rating:

Biography: George A. Romero (1940, New York), who lived in Pittsburgh, made his feature debut with Night of the Living Dead. It was a low budget zombie movie that was both groundbreaking and shocking in its time. Quickly, it became a major horror classic. He then directed some smaller, personal films in which he often combined horror and social commentary. In 1978 he topped the success of Night of the Living Dead with his brilliant follow-up Dawn of the Dead. In the eighties his career stagnated a bit when he created the third part in his zombie series Day of the Dead. It was a failure both commercially and critically. In 2005 Romero made a small comeback with Land of the Dead. Romero died in 2017.

Filmography (a selection): Night of the Living Dead (1968) / There’s Always Vanilla (1971) / Season of the Witch (1972) / The Winners (1973, TV episodes) / The Crazies (1973) / O.J. Simpson: Juice on the Loose (1974, TV doc) / Martin (1977) / Dawn of the Dead (1978) / Knightriders (1981) / Creepshow (1982) / Day of the Dead (1985) / Monkey Shines (1988) / Two Evil Eyes (1990) [with Dario Argento] / The Dark Half (1993) / Bruiser (2000) / Land of the Dead (2005) / Diary of the Dead (2007) / Survival of the Dead (2009)

Dawn of the Dead

Director: George A. Romero
Written by: George A. Romero
Cast: David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger, Gaylen Ross

Year / Country: 1978, Italy / USA
Running Time: 139 mins.

Ten years after the towering success of low-budget zombie flick Night of the Living Dead, its director George A. Romero finally delivered a follow-up. And when he did it exceeded all expectations. In this appropriately titled sequel, the zombie threat has grown alarmingly. There are barely places left that are zombie-free. In this apocalyptic nightmare, we follow a group of four survivors that want to fly to safety by helicopter.

They manage to land on the roof of a zombie infested shopping mall. Once they have sealed off a ‘living room’, they realize this isn’t such a bad location considering the times. After all, a shopping mall offers them plenty of supplies and relative protection against the flesh eating things outside. But new problems arrive. Tensions within the group are a constant factor and a gang of sadistic bikers, armed to the teeth, want to invade the shopping mall.

Never before (and after) were zombie movies this tense, entertaining and metaphorically rich. Its basic concept works incredibly well. We have the heroes, the location and the multiple threats that ensure an amazing two-and-a-half hours. Typically for Romero, the group consists of two white men, one black man and a pregnant woman who together form an interesting Utopia in the barricaded shopping mall.

The zombies, a metaphor for consumerist society, are great in evoking a varied set of emotions. They can be scary, funny and sad. That the humans are more frightening than the monsters is shown through the constant infighting of the heroes, the bloodthirsty rednecks and the bikers pointless torturing of zombies. Romero effectively makes the point that humans are incapable of dealing with crises. The extremely gory effects by Tom Savini require a strong stomach – especially during the finale – and the Italian rock band Goblin provides the fitting musical score. All the wonderful elements combined ensure a movie experience that is both intelligent and a lot of fun.

Rating:

Biography: George A. Romero (1940, New York), who lived in Pittsburgh, made his feature debut with Night of the Living Dead. It was a low budget zombie movie that was both groundbreaking and shocking in its time. Quickly, it became a major horror classic. He then directed some smaller, personal films in which he often combined horror and social commentary. In 1978 he topped the success of Night of the Living Dead with his brilliant follow-up Dawn of the Dead. In the eighties his career stagnated a bit when he created the third part in his zombie series Day of the Dead. It was a failure both commercially and critically. In 2005 Romero made a small comeback with Land of the Dead. Romero died in 2017.

Filmography (a selection): Night of the Living Dead (1968) / There’s Always Vanilla (1971) / Season of the Witch (1972) / The Winners (1973, TV episodes) / The Crazies (1973) / O.J. Simpson: Juice on the Loose (1974, TV doc) / Martin (1977) / Dawn of the Dead (1978) / Knightriders (1981) / Creepshow (1982) / Day of the Dead (1985) / Monkey Shines (1988) / Two Evil Eyes (1990) [with Dario Argento] / The Dark Half (1993) / Bruiser (2000) / Land of the Dead (2005) / Diary of the Dead (2007) / Survival of the Dead (2009)