Star Wars clobbered me over the head with its bombastic musical score, fantastic sound design and revolutionary optical effects. I was dazzled as were millions of other kids in the Summer of 1977. It was like a new religion — the religion of summer blockbusters started with the release of Jaws in 1975. I bought the posters, the iron-on teeshirts and I joined the official fan club. Star Wars forever! Bring on the inevitable sequels and the 10,000 knockoffs featuring plucky heroes, wise-cracking sidekicks and elderly wizards on quests! It will never get old.
Then some time in the late 1970s or early 1980s I saw the director’s cut of Dawn of the Dead at a midnight show in a small theater in Somers Point, NJ. It wasn’t a long time ago or a galaxy far away. It was set in Pennsylvania in 1979 during a zombie apocalypse. It wasn’t the most polished production being that it was shot in a wildcat manner by amateurs and semi-professionals with a budget that was probably less than the space opera’s catering budget. It did have a loopy energy, and I sat in the theater not knowing what was going to come next and enjoying every minute of this extended cut. During that magical midnight screening I forgot all about George Lucas and obsessed over George Romero.
The original Dawn of the Dead is not as easy to find as is its remake or the many zombie shows it inspired, and if you have never seen it, the movie may disappoint. It is very much a product of its time and low budget. Many of the zombies are extras with an obvious coating of gray grease paint. My guess is their participation was probably had for the price of a box lunch. It doesn’t really hold up, but at the time it was glorious. It showed that a movie didn’t need an army of technicians and a boatload of money. It needed an idea, energy and a camera. It was DIY. It was punk rock.