As an iconic writer of traditional horror, you wouldn’t expect the influential author Stephen King to be a lover of the modern genre, particularly as the likes of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now and even Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby share more similarities with the tone of the writer than something like James Wan’s Insidious. Despite this, as a lover of all things horror and science fiction, King is vocal about his love of contemporary cinema.
Creating a comprehensive list of his modern horror favourites, King includes such classics as The Blair Witch Project that transformed the found footage sub-genre, as well as The Descent which utilised ingenious set design to contain its suspense. In addition to these, however, King also adds some strange surprises like the remake of The Last House on the Left from 2009 and even the uninspiring film The Hitcher released in 2007.
Perhaps the biggest surprise, however, is King’s support for the 2004 remake of George Romero’s horror classic Dawn of the Dead directed by Zack Snyder, a film for which King holds a particular passion.
In fact, Stephen King goes as far as to suggest Snyder’s film is “genius perfected” in his 2010 book Danse Macabre, adding that it “begins with one of the best opening sequences of a horror film ever made”. Describing the opening of the film that starts with Ana (Sarah Polley) in bed with her husband when a strange outbreak occurs outside, King recalls “in the Snyder version, the zombies move fast” as the protagonist grabs her car keys and dashes out the front door.
Facing off against the suburban carnage, Ana is faced with pure terror as her neighbourhood is overrun with bloodthirsty, mindless zombies. “I’d argue that the most effective terror sequences are either the result of instinct or pure accident rather than screenwriting or direction, and that’s the case here,” King asserts. Praising the casting of the somewhat unknown Sarah Polley in the lead role, King rightly states that if any other actor was cast in the lead role the same effect would not be felt. “If we saw an actress like Julia Roberts or Charlize Theron as Ana, we’d know she’s going to live,” he says, before describing the opening sequence of the film as “a sonata of anxiety”.
Gushing over the quality of this initial opening sequence, the introduction finally ends when Ana crashes her car against a tree and the film cuts to credits set to Johnny Cash’s ‘The Man Comes Around’. Using news reports and found footage, Snyder stitches together a truly compelling opening credits sequence, with King concluding his thoughts by asserting “It’s here that Snyder shows us exactly what this inspired remake is about and how well he knew what was driving our fear-engines at that particular point in time”.
Featuring the likes of Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Scott Reiniger, Ty Burrell, Ken Foree and Tom Savini, the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead is a surprisingly thrilling ride that proves when he’s on his A-game Zack Snyder can create delightful cinema.