7. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
One of the most beloved zombie flicks of all time, George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead wouldn’t make many people’s lists of police-involved films or TV shows. However, this is a movie about the collapse of “law and order,” and two of its main characters, Roger DeMarco (Scott Reiniger) and Peter Washington (Ken Foree), are involved in law enforcement and symbolize the collapse of police functions. In addition to all the zombie carnage and the whole shopping mall thing, Dawn of the Dead is also interesting for what it indicates we lack: A clear plan for when the feces really hits the fan.
Really, we only get some insight into what’s going on during the zombie apocalypse, and it’s not really due to bad storytelling on Romero’s part. Instead, it’s constantly suggested that, when push comes to shove, a lot of things probably will become an “every man for himself scenario.” Despite all the platitudes and pleas for unity, society may be as strong as its weakest link, and police powers can’t forever maintain the illusion of law, order, and stability.
It’s implied that, to some degree, the government denies what is happening and the US president is ineffective. There’s also little indication of how other countries (like the British, the French, the Japanese, the Soviet Union, etc.) are doing. In fact, rather early on, we see that attempts at conducting rescue missions are doomed to fail due to prejudice, ignorance, panic, and fear. Though critics like Pauline Kael emphasized how humorous Dawn of the Dead is, there are still some dramatic moments that could be lost in the comedic fog (a bit similar to Forrest Gump, which is both better and worse than some make it out to be). After all, Peter is forced to shoot a zombified buddy of his, having to recognize his former chum is now just a flesh-eating ghoul!
Then, of course, you have the realization that, if this could really happen, you could easily die from a single zombie’s attack. Then there’s the fundamental drama that, behind the scenes, no one seems able to find a cure for the virus, or whatever the hell it is. Very much a labor of love, Romero acted as the writer, director, and even editor of Dawn of the Dead. Other zombie films would follow from Romero, all suggesting an uprising or a war amidst the undead hordes. However, many people will always favor this movie above his others.
By the time emergency broadcast transmissions stop, Dawn of the Dead permeates with that classic “they’re all around us” vibe, and it seems no town would truly be safe. Still, this movie does have a faint glimmer of hope, with the helicopter leaving the roof. What next? The film doesn’t quite leave the viewer feeling abandoned, but it does build more uncertainty regarding their fate. And why not?