Running 118 minutes, this edition of ‘Dawn of the Dead’ was edited by producer Dario Argento for use in European territories. This version contains numerous scene extensions, and skips over several scenes from the North American versions of the film. The European Version also contains additional music from composer Goblin.
eyelights: Ken Foree. its social satire. its setting. its gore effects. its brisker pace.
eyesores: its undead make-up. its reduced social commentary.
“Attention all shoppers. If you have a sweet tooth, we have a special treat for you.”
By the mid-’70s, legendary director George A. Romero’s film career was sputtering: ‘There’s Always Vanilla’, ‘Hungry Wives’ and ‘The Crazies’ were nowhere nearly as popular as ‘Night of the Living Dead‘ had been.
Meanwhile, Dario Argento had become a tremendous influence in the horror genre, invigorating it with ‘L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo‘, ‘Il gatto a nove code‘, ‘4 mosche di velluto grigio‘, ‘Profondo rosso‘ and ‘Suspiria‘.
Argento, a fan of ‘NOTLD’, wanted to help Romero produce a sequel to it and helped him land the financing required to get it off the ground. In exchange, he would get international distribution rights to the picture.
He also had the right to re-edit the picture for international markets.
And so 1978 saw the release of ‘Zombi’, Dario Argento’s edit of ‘Dawn of the Dead‘ (which was edited further in some countries). Interestingly, it was released nearly nine months before Romero’s own version of the film.
The most notable difference in this version is that it has a brisker pace. This is not just on account of the reduced runtime (from 127 minutes to 116 minutes), it’s also due to a shift in focus from exposition to action.
Argento, who was making a reputation for himself in the horror genre thanks to the disturbingly unique violence in his movies, decided to shoot inserts to spruce up his version with additional zombie grotesquery.
To reduce the runtime as significantly as he did, yet adding new footage, he had to trim elsewhere – and that usually meant in the character development (ex: gone was much of the tension between Fran and Stephen).
The plot generally remains the same, though: Stephen and Fran decide to take their TV station’s helicopter to escape the zombie infestation in Philadelphia. Joined by Rog and Peter, they eventually hole up in an abandoned mall.
Surrounded by zombies.
On top of the additional gruesomeness, this edit has scenes not included in Romero’s theatrical cut; Argento edited his version before Romero was done with his own, so he included material that Romero eventually cut.
An interesting one is the bit in which Peter and Steven decide to build a false wall in front of the entrance leading to their hideout, so that no one would know where to find them if there was an invasion.
This is significant in that it further cements the notion that Peter is the group’s leader, has a longterm gameplan, and has the ability to see it through; the group’s survival is very much dependent on Peter.
This scene contributes a lot.
It’s ironic, then, that Argento edited much of the other plot and character development.
What Argento was doing with his film was the opposite of what Romero did: he was making a pulse-pounding horror film, whereas Romero was doing social commentary and satire. Romero’s vision was far more comic book-y.
Even the music supported these disparate views: Whereas Romero used a lot of public domain music, Argento enlisted his frequent collaborators Goblin to compose a full score. Goblin’s score is creepier, more stylish.
Just like the movie.
Ultimately, Argento succeeded: ‘Zombi’ is an exciting and viscerally-arresting motion picture. It’s more briskly-paced, more gruesome, nearly unrelenting. It’s the same picture and yet it’s entirely different.
It proves the power of editing, how it can transform not just a scene but a whole movie entirely. Armed with the same footage Argento created a picture that’s completely different in tone from its director’s.
Both are valid: they were created for different markets at nearly the same time, and both are official offerings. They merely serve different purposes. The choice is really just a question of what mood you’re in.
Personally, I think that ‘Dawn of the Dead’ has more depth, and that’s what makes it a classic. But ‘Zombi’ is more stimulating. I’d watch Romero’s cut first, though, as its subtext polishes Argento’s version some.
Still, I don’t mind that there’s less exposition and character development here. While that’s usually a tremendous loss, I found it a bit awkward in the original anyway. Here we get a leaner, meaner motion picture.
And sometimes that all you want from zombies.
Post scriptum: for those interesting in comparing both version in-depth, the following links might be of use: http://www.movie-censorship.com/report.php?ID=177418
While they’re slightly jumbled, they still illustrate the differences relatively well.
Date of viewing: August 2, 2017