Document of the Dead, a behind-the-scenes, all-access look at George Romero’s 1978 classic Dawn of the Dead, was originally released in 1985. Over the years, director Roy Frumkes has fleshed out his film school project with follow-up interviews and supplemental footage, resulting in several different versions. I would hazard a guess that most readers caught the version included in the Dawn of the Dead Ultimate Edition DVD. Almost 35 years after the project originally started, Synapse has released The Definitive Document of the Dead, Frumkes’ (supposedly) final version of his Romero stalk job. Re-edited and re-mastered, and with all-new exclusive material, The Definitive Document of the Dead is the longest version to date. Read on for the full review.
Back in 1978, George Romero essentially granted Roy Frumkes and the School of Visual Arts an all-access pass while shooting Dawn of the Dead. More than just your standard behind-the-scenes glance at a few days of shooting, Frumkes’ doc digs deep into Romero’s burgeoning “style”, comparing Dawn to Martin and Night of the Living Dead with an infectious movie geek enthusiasm. We get some super sweet time-lapse footage of Tom Savini applying zombie make-up, and Romero seems eager to divulge details of his directorial vision, so it’s easy to see why Frumkes refers to Document of the Dead as a “teaching tool”––the first hour of rough, grainy footage would serve as the perfect primer for any wanna be horror filmmaker.
As the years progressed, Frumkes continued to interview Romero, the two hooking up in 1989 to discuss Two Evil Eyes and Monkey Shines, and then again in 2005 for Land of the Dead. While the first half of The Definitive Document of the Dead is lean and focused, the latter half is lumpy and meandering. Some new tangents seem out of place, or even unnecessary. It’s like a house that’s been remodeled so many times, you can’t remember what it looked like when it was first built.
And yet this hodge-podge of a documentary remains remarkably entertaining, even with all the clunky additions. Frumkes greatly admires Romero’s “silent film” style––for instance, his ability to build tension without dialogue or character motive––and the tone of the doc progresses from “teaching tool” to “love letter” with each new interview. It’s Frumkes’s love and admiration for Romero that renders the film so likable. In some cases, hero worship is completely warranted.
Special Features: An all-new audio commentary by Frumkes
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Skulls