Harry Tears Into The Flesh of James Gunn's DAWN OF THE DEAD Remake Script!
Published at: Sept. 24, 2002, 5:32 a.m. CST by staff
I have never picked up a script in my life with the anger and hate that I came to pick up the James Gunn draft of DAWN OF THE DEAD remake script. I mean, I hated this concept. I have felt that Gunn should never of left TROMA for the world of mainstream film, his satiric gross out juvenile humor was best in a world where you can show a pus dripping mangina and mutant fucking going on. My experience with his work has been one of excess, and a children’s animated show translation to the big screen was just wrong for him. But I hated his Scooby Doo script so vehemently not just because of how bad it was, but because there was another script by Craig Titley that pretty much rocked my world. Of course it wasn't Gunn’s fault that draft was discarded and he was hired, it was Lorenzo DiBonaventura’s… since he’s out of there now… I can relax a bit. The primary assaulter was detained. Long live… oh fuck, Moriarty’s review of that latest SUPERMAN script actually got me more mad at Warner Brothers than I have ever been.
As I stared at the DAWN OF THE DEAD script I wondered what travesties would be inside. How angry would I get. If pushed too far by this script, could I kill those responsible? I mean I lost my mind in anger over what had been done to SCOOBY DOO, this was DAWN OF THE DEAD which I love far more than Scooby. I looked at the script, saw the “Written by James Gunn” part and I just sat it down. I couldn’t read this thing furious.
So I sat it down, put in my ALMOST FAMOUS – UNTITLED: THE BOOTLEG CUT DVD and just basked in its glory for a while. Watching this film sometimes helps to center me, remind me that I’m not here to just hurl dung at the morons, but to just be honest and unmerciful. It’s the best way to help the lead chip eaters to stop gnawing on those 1950’s walls.
I picked up the script and scratched through the title… Picked up a pen and just marked through it and retitled the script, “NO MORE ROOM IN HELL” and thought… “Just read it as a zombie film.”
I had ALMOST FAMOUS on a loop on my screen in the room, so Stillwater provided the score to my reading this night. As I flipped open the script and began reading, I was just wanting to read a good Zombie film.
To my surprise I got exactly that. Actually this is a damn fucking good Zombie film. It is not DAWN OF THE DEAD. It is not a part of the George Romero Trilogy of Zombie films, and if STRIKE ENTERTAINMENT and UNIVERSAL have a brain at all… They’ll retitle this to something other than DAWN OF THE DEAD immediately and film exactly what is written.
You see, I know how Roger Avary read this script, why he hated it so much. He took Romero’s original in with him. The frustration that George Romero is currently having hell trying to get his 4th Zombie film financed and meanwhile the screenwriter of TERROR FIRMIER, TROMEO & JULIET and SCOOBY FUCKING DOO is rewriting his Masterwork for some new production company. They’ll never call him in on the project and if you read the script with that. If you think about the original film at every step of this script, you’re going to hate it.
But right from the get go this is on the other side of the United States. This isn’t set around Pittsburgh or the Pennsylvania area of the country. It is set in Washington State. And just like the previous films, these characters find themselves in a changed world. The script smartly avoids trying to explain why this is happening. It just is. Zombies just happened.
Loved ones die, then try to eat you. This isn’t a funny script, there are a couple of moments of levity, but mainly… This world is fucked. It isn’t examining the big urban centers of the East, this takes place in Everett, Washington… a smaller town… Only 95,990 folks live in the area. It has scenic mountains and beautiful coastlines. This is an area we haven’t seen Zombies hit. It is a bit of an intimate setting. Folks generally live in peace. Sure they have the problems with drugs and a few skinheads, but it isn’t the problems that the East Coast mega-centers have.
The film begins in a suburban house, the dawning of the day where everything changed. There is an attack and we see our first character escape – a nurse named Ana. The attack is not pretty. The person she loves has his throat ripped out by a young pair of teeth, as he dies, he then goes after her.
Instantly you notice some differences and similarities.
First, the zombie process is instant upon death. You flat line, you move and are hungry.
Second, if you’re a fresh kill with little musculature loss – you can move faster than the more decayed and damaged dead.
Third, you will notice that Zombies only attack like living creatures. So a human Zombie will attack humans, but pay no mind to the other living creatures of the Earth. It won’t eat a dog or a rat or bugs or the other wonderful creatures that happen to populate the earth. However, a zombie dog will feast upon a fellow canine that’s heart still beats. A dead vulture will attack a canary, but not an armadillo.
Now for the similarities…
The only way to kill a zombie is to take out the brain.
Zombies do attempt to imitate their actions from the world of the living, though purely from instinct. None are as great at it as Bub from DAY OF THE DEAD, but you will find a Zombie Mailman playing with a mailbox, till he spots you.
In the greatest pro-NRA argument ever “But what if Zombies inherit the Earth” those with the guns tend to be the ones that survive.
There is a MALL, but it isn’t a group of 4 that set up base there… There is no moving of semis. There are no two SWAT guys, there is no Helicopter, no biker gang. Instead, we end up with a group of about 25 or so survivors that hole up in the mall. And it is structured a bit more like ROAD WARRIOR – if there was no Max.
This isn’t a movie about isolation and going stir crazy. About the living becoming zombies themselves by just going through the motions of life. All that is replaced by the survival of a community. A microcosm of the types of people around us. A nurse, priest, policeman, neo-Nazis, crack dealer, upper class type and his girlfriend, the pregnant lady, the farmer and his daughter, the town doofus, a mall security guy, the Gap girl, a Goth girl and her father and so on.
This is a very different movie. There is a mall. There are zombies. But it has a bit more to do with MASADA and ROAD WARRIOR than the original DAWN OF THE DEAD. It is violent. Very violent. It is bleak with an ember of hope. It explores willing yourself to exist in the madness of the world of the living dead. It has the hope of finding an island and making babies and just starting over.
It has some of the themes of all great ZOMBIE movies, but it isn’t self-parody. It isn’t terrible. It has the potential to be a really wonderful Zombie movie as long as they get a good horror director to do this. Personally I’d recommend Alex De La Iglesia, but I would always recommend going to George Romero first. Bring him in, show him the script… Let him give it a shot. Sure he’s got a script of his own, but maybe… Just maybe STRIKE… You get the rights to that too, and then have Romero do this and that one.
Why do I like this script so much?
Well, I don’t want to spoil too much, but I’ll give you this much. I love that this is not about a couple of survivors, but a community trying to continue after the Earth has become Hell. That there is some pretty damn good innovative zombie action dealing with the isolation, the contagion of Zombie bites, scratches and what not. The changes that some of these characters go through. But I'll give you one bit in particular
There’s a character in this script named Michael Shaunessy – he’s one of the very strong characters in the script. He becomes in a lot of ways the de facto leader of the Mall Community. Upon the roof of the mall, he’ll often go up with binoculars and a board to communicate with a guy stuck in a gun shop. They can’t talk to one another, they’re only 250 yards apart… but there’s a good few thousand zombies in-between. They write on their boards and hold them up to look through the binoculars and they form a strange silent friendship. Reminds me of a story my Grandfather told me about a ship mate of his in WWII when they were told lights out, and they had to be quiet, he and this other guy used sign language to continue bullshitting at night.
One day, Michael looks through his field glasses and sees his friend holding up a sign saying, “No More Food!!!” And he realizes that his friend’s siege is over. At the same time the Mall community is running out of Ammo and guns. They’ve hatched a plan to escape to an island, but they’ll need more weapons… but that 250 yards of undead flesh tearing bastards… There is no surviving that.
He lowers a dog on a rope down the side of the mall into the sea of zombies and realizes… they don’t eat it. The farm girl that has been in the mall for months has been training the pet shop dogs with her Husky as the lead to act like sleigh dogs, and to listen to verbal commands… SO… they load the dogs up with food, and offer the gun shop guy Food for Guns and a Ticket to freedom on their trip out.
They get to the gunshop great, but on the trip back a pack of zombie dogs go after our hero dogs, eating, gnawing, devouring the fresh mutts. The folks on the mall try to shoot as many of the zombie dogs in the head as possible, but… Well… I’ll let the movie play out.
This could be, in the right hands, really great Zombie material. It is higher budget than most every Zombie flick ever made, but in a lot of ways, this is the most ambitious Living Dead Re-Animated Undead flick I’ve read a script to. Miles better than the RESIDENT EVIL crap that Paul “I suck badly” Anderson made.
The only thing that really needs to be changed is the title. Now STRIKE… UNIVERSAL… Look, James Gunn has written a good Zombie script using the basic concept of a Mall and Zombies and done something very different from the original film. It is good enough to be a start for its own Zombie film series. You bought the rights to those story elements and the title, but the title will only hurt this film.
To the folks that are familiar with the Title DAWN OF THE DEAD, they will always wish curses on this project. To those that vaguely know the title… it might scare them away from the project because they remember watching some of that a long time ago and it was just too much for them. Generally I’d say… FUCK THEM, but hey, you’re trying to make as much money as possible with the script you have… Well, stand by this script… dated July 19, 2002. Don’t Change Anything other than the title.
Create TWILIGHT OF THE DEAD, NO MORE ROOM IN HELL, ENDTIMES or even THE RATKINGS. Just don’t call it DAWN OF THE DEAD, this isn’t part of that series. Amongst those that love that series, you have essentially bought the remake rights to EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, but not STAR WARS or RETURN OF THE JEDI. Gunn wisely didn’t use the characters of Luke Skywalker or Han Solo or Yoda, but he did write a science fiction film using some of the basic themes, but took it in a radically different direction. It can be its own thing.
But DAWN OF THE DEAD isn’t the name brand that EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is. It is a cult film, and the cult in question LOATHES remakes – and truthfully you guys are not doing a remake – y’all are basically just making a Zombie movie that partially takes place in a mall for part of it. I would also recommend going with Make Up as often as possible in lieu of CG.
Now I admit, I have just recently rewatched DAWN OF THE DEAD and DAY OF THE DEAD here at the house. As I read this script, which is very graphic… I read it red. The tone as I read it was very serious. These people don’t believe they’re going to win. Many are in denial. Others have had profound soul changing experiences by this. They wonder about loved ones out there, separated? Zombied? Or with a bullet in their heads? The end of this script, like all good Zombie movies is all at once tonally depressing as fuck, but with that ember of hope.
What happens on the Island? Do they get to the Island? We don’t know. We just know, they’re going to try and get there. Who? No, you have to watch the film for that… or read the script.
As for James Gunn… His SCOOBY DOO script may suck the pellets from a rat’s ass, but this script is a damn fine Zombie film. So I guess it is a good thing that Lloyd Kaufman convinced me not to have him placed in a plastic bag, 12 feet under in Nevada. I just hope nobody fucks with this script… other than the title… that is…