Friday, October 25, 2013

Halloween Hootenanny/Italian Horror Blogathon: Zombi - L’alba dei Morti Viventi aka Dawn of the Dead - The Dario Argento Cut

I was initially debating whether this warrants inclusion in an Italian horror blogathon or not (and I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on this subject as always, dear readers), but seeing as it was arguably this film (and especially this cut) that spawned and influenced pretty much every Italian zombie movie to follow, I think it deserves more than an honourable mention in the history of spaghetti splatter. Plus, I've had the DVD of this version (which is included as part of Arrow's excellent Blu-Ray edition of Dawn) for a few years now, so I think it's high time I gave it a spin. And finally, the fact that this is an international co-production makes it an ideal bridge between the Italian films I've been looking at for the past several days, and the American ones (mostly from the 70s) I'll be watching over this coming weekend...

Now, I'm gonna assume that everyone reading this has seen Dawn of the Dead (and if you haven't, I'm frankly puzzled as to how you ended up here), so I think we can go without the usual synopsis. Instead, I'm just going to mention some of my initial reactions to this alternate version of what is one of my top ten favourite horror films... though I suppose I should say a brief few words about the genesis of this cut. Basically, in exchange for help with financing the film, Romero gave Argento the rights to the film in all non-English speaking territories, and also allowed him to create his own edit for distribution in these areas.  

In a nutshell, because it's Argento who is controlling the editing and music here instead of Romero, this has a totally different feel to the US theatrical cut. If I had to sum it up, I'd say that this version is tighter (as the reduced running time would suggest) and more action orientated. Starting as he means to go on, I find that the introductory scenes at the TV station felt more chaotic here (though it could just be me), which is probably as it should be. Furthermore, I felt that many of the action and suspense set-pieces played more effectively, perhaps due to Argento having a seemingly more acute and accomplished sense of cinematic rhythm than Romero. And also effecting these scenes immensely, and usually for the better, are the changes in music...

More specifically, I think that replacing some of the library music Romero used (which frankly sounds like it was taken from a 50s/60s B-movie during these parts) with Goblin, or sometimes just silence, helped these scenes quite a bit... one example being where Stephen (David Emge) is trying to shoot a zombie in the boiler room (or whatever the heck it is). However, having said that, there are times when said library music is definitely missed (especially that fan favourite, "The Gonk")... plus some of the Goblin pieces (as great as they are) are perhaps a bit overused. Needless to say though, this cut is essential viewing for fans of the prog-rock soundtrack pioneers.

Finally, considering the fact that this edit is about ten minutes shorter than the theatrical release, it's somewhat surprising to find the occasional addition of new footage here... i.e. stuff that Romero left on the cutting room floor. The only one that springs to mind currently is an early scene where Peter (played by living genre legend, Ken Foree) admonishes Stephen for being so damn cocksure, especially considering the fact that they've only just narrowly escaped from their last encounter with the living dead. It's not anything that I'll miss when I return to the original cut, but it's a well written and acted exchange nonetheless, and it further underscores Peter's status as one of the only characters who actually has his head screwed on straight. And lastly, I just wanted to say that to me this cut definitely feels more European than its American counterpart, no doubt due to the editing from Argento and added score from Goblin, but maybe also be for other reasons I can't quite articulate right now.... or it could simply be the fact that I've watched so many Italian horror films during the last seven days... at any rate, it's brought home what one of my film tutors once told me, which is that an editor can potentially have as much, if not more power over a movie than its director. All in all, this is a must see for fans of the original movie, Argento enthusiasts, lovers of Goblin, and of course, connoisseurs of zombie films, be they Italian or otherwise. 


  1. I just (finally !) picked up the Dawn of the Dead deluxe DVD set and as I've never seen the Argento cut your post has really perked my curiosity - so I'll be checking it out this week. Also got my tickets for Goblin coming up in Dec. !!

    1. Excellent news on both fronts! I thoroughly hope you enjoy both this alternate cut and the Goblin show... and needless to say, I'm extremely jealous regarding the latter!