Dawn of the Dead (also known as Zombi internationally) is a 1978 zombie film, written and directed by George A. Romero. It was the second film made in Romero’s Living Dead series, but contains no characters or settings from its predecessor, and shows in larger scale a zombie epidemic’s apocalyptic effects on society. In the film, a pandemic of unknown origin has caused the reanimation of the dead, who prey on human flesh, which subsequently causes mass hysteria. The cast features David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger and Gaylen Ross as survivors of the outbreak who barricade themselves inside a suburban shopping mall.
Dawn of the Dead was shot over approximately four months, from late 1977 to early 1978, in the Pennsylvania cities of Pittsburgh and Monroeville. Its primary filming location was the Monroeville Mall. The film was made on a relatively modest budget estimated at $650,000 US, and was a significant box office success for its time, grossing an estimated $55 million worldwide. Since opening in theaters in 1978, and despite heavy gore content, reviews for the film have been nearly unanimously positive.
Cultural and film historians read significance into the film’s plot, linking it to critiques of large corporations as well as American consumerism and of the social decadence and the social and commercial excess present in America during the late 1970s.
In 2008, Dawn of the Dead was chosen by Empire magazine as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time, along with its predecessor, Night of the Living Dead.
In addition to four official sequels, the film has spawned numerous parodies and pop culture references. A remake of the movie premiered in the United States on March 19, 2004. It was labeled a “re-imagining” of the original film’s concept. It retains several major themes of the original film along with the primary setting in a shopping mall.
Filmed in Monroeville Mall, Monroeville, PA.
A Behind The Scenes still from the Extended Version of the Ultimate DVD boxed set indicates George A. Romero had a third cameo in the picture. The still shows the director standing to the side of the camera, his sleeve rolled up, holding a pistol upwards. Behind him a part of the mall can clearly be seen, indicating it was shot on site. Near the end of the picture, a similar shot exists: a POV from a man holding a pistol firing up past a fenced in area on the upper floor where Peter is running across.
The weapons store featured in the film was never a part of the Monroeville Mall. George A. Romero shot those scenes in a gun shop in downtown Pittsburgh and edited the footage in to make it look like it was a shop in the mall.
Director Cameo: [George A. Romero] the director in the television studio.
Cameo: [Christine Forrest] (wife of George A. Romero) director’s assistant in the television studio.
Director Cameo: [George A. Romero] Santa Claus biker (briefly visible in biker raid).
Cameo: [Tom Savini] Zombie who breaks window of truck then is shot by Roger with revolver.
In the scene where Roger hits the zombie (played by Tom Savini) with the truck and it leaves a bloody smear on his windshield, the effect was created by Savini throwing himself on the non-moving truck and spitting a mouthful of blood on the windshield.
Tom Savini chose a friend to play the helicopter zombie because he was notorious for having a low forehead.
The airstrip used in the film, the Harold W. Brown Memorial Field (aka Monroeville Municipal Airport), is still in operation as of 2002. The privately run airfield is approximately 10 miles from the Monroeville Mall, where the bulk of the film was shot.
The two zombie children who attack Peter in the airport chart house are played by Donna Savini and Mike Savini, the real-life niece and nephew of Tom Savini. Incidently, these are the only zombies in all of Romero’s “Dead” films that spontaneously run and never do the trademark “Zombie shuffle”.
The voice of Christine Forrest (George A. Romero’s wife) can be heard on a pre-recorded announcement in the mall (“Attention all shoppers…”).
The skating rink shown in the film was part of the Monroeville Mall. It has since been replaced by a food court.
Much of the fake blood used in the blood packets was a mixture of food coloring, peanut butter and cane sugar syrup.
When the film was first released, the shooting budget was reported to be $1.5 million. On his commentary track on the “Ultimate” DVD release, producer Richard P. Rubinstein admitted that amount was inflated for foreign buyers, and the actual budget was around $500,000 (including deferred lab fees and Rubenstein and director George A. Romero deferring much of their salaries).
Many effects were thought of on the spot. Tom Savini created many effects (such as the arm in the blood pressure tester) with no preparations whatsoever.
There was originally a scene during the biker raid involving a zombie getting an arrow in the head from a crossbow. It was filmed but never featured in the final cut.
Tom Savini used the same dummy throughout the course of filming. During that time it was blown up, burnt, shot, and beaten, among other things.
In the Extended Edition (available on both laserdisc and Anchor Bay’s “Ultimate Edition”), the music that is heard when Peter and Stephen are closing the gates of the mall in an effort to keep the bikers out is taken directly from the opening credits of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975).
Some of the zombies (notably one in the tenement scene) were actual amputees.
EASTER EGG: On disk 4 (Document of the Dead) of Anchor Bay’s “Ultimate Edition” DVD set, there is a hidden menu (shape of one of corpse on screen) item which can only be selected after seeing all items.
Filming at the Monroeville Mall took place during the winter of 1976-77, with a three week reprieve during the Christmas shopping season (during which other footage, e.g. the TV studio, was shot). Filming at the mall began around 10 p.m., shortly after the mall closed, and finished at 6 a.m. The mall didn’t open until 9, but at 6 the Muzak came on and no one knew how to turn it off.
Joseph Pilato, who played Captain Rhodes in Day of the Dead (1985), appears as a policeman at the boat dock.
Joseph Pilato auditioned for the role of Stephen.
The alarm company is named BIG BRUISER.
Tom Savini, head of makeup effects, was unhappy with how the blood mix (produced by 3M) photographed; it looked fluorescent. Director George A. Romero felt it was perfect for the film’s comic book style.
Much of the stock music used in this film was licensed from the Music De Wolfe Library, a much-used resource of stock music for motion pictures.
Shooting at the mall was suspended over the Christmas season because it would have been too costly to nightly remove and then later re-hang all the seasonal decorations.
Extras who appeared in this film were reportedly given $20 in cash, a box lunch, and a Dawn of the Dead T-shirt.
In order to save on production costs, director/editor George A. Romero had all the 35mm film stock developed into 16mm, and used that as his work reel. After choosing the scenes and takes he wanted, he had those alone developed into 35mm prints for the master reels.
The MPAA had threatened to impose the X rating if George A. Romero didn’t make cuts. Romero did not want to cut the film, and he was adamant against an X rating, due to its stigma of hard-core pornography. In the end, Romero was able to persuade his distributors to release the film with no rating, although on all advertising and trailers, there was a disclaimer that in effect read that while there was no explicit sex in the film, the movie was of such a violent nature that no one under 17 would be admitted.
The narration for the USA radio and TV commercials for this film was provided by Adolph Caesar.
While writing the script for Night of the Living Dead (1968), George A. Romero and John A. Russo contemplated how they should have the zombies destroyed. Co-star and makeup artist Marilyn Eastman joked that they could throw pies into their faces. This is undoubtedly the basis for the pie fight scene in this film.
Dario Argento was an admirer of George A. Romero’s work, and vice-versa. When Argento heard that Romero was contemplating a sequel to Night of the Living Dead (1968) he insisted that Romero come out to Argento’s native Rome to write the script without distractions. Romero knocked out the script in 3 weeks and, though Argento read the script as it came out, he left all the writing to Romero. Argento also provided most of the film’s soundtrack and, in return for the rights to edit the European version of the film, assisted in raising the necessary funds.
Tom Savini choose the gray color for the zombies’ skin, since Night of the Living Dead (1968) was in B&W and the zombie skin-tone was not depicted. He later said it was a mistake, because many of them ended up looking quite blue on film.
Some of the actors playing zombies in the movie would frequently get drunk at a late-night bar called the Brown Derby, which was in the Monroeville Mall. One night they stole a golf cart and crashed into a marble pillar, causing $7,000 worth of damage.
Zombie actors took photographs of themselves dressed up in full zombie makeup inside a photo booth on the second floor. They then replaced the sample pictures on the front of the booth with the ghoulish ones.
Many of the extras cast in the film (especially the zombies in close-up shots) were friends and relatives of the production crew.
The outdoor scene where hunters, emergency crew and soldiers are shooting at zombies was done through local volunteers. Several local hunters arrived on-scene with their own weapons, the local National Guard division showed up in full gear, and local emergency crew (police, fire and ambulance) were present, all voluntarily.
Several members of the marauding band of bikers were played by members of the local chapter of the Pagans Motorcycle Club. The elaborate motorcycles they drove were their own.
The scene between Roger and Peter in the trucks when they are kidding each other about their height was entirely improvised by the two actors.
The scenes between Stephen, Peter, Roger, and Frannie in the helicopter were filmed with the helicopter never running or leaving the ground. A shell was painted blue for the day scenes and black for the night scenes and interspersed with real helicopter footage.
In the original draft of the script, the TV station’s call sign was WJAS, the call sign of an actual radio station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where the film was shot. The call sign was replaced with WGON, which was not issued to any station at that time (it had been issued to an AM radio station in Munsing, Michigan, but the station had gone dark some time before). WGON has now been issued to a licensed low power FM radio station (WGON-LP, 103.7) in Slidell, Louisiana.
The bit in the movie where Roger slides down between the escalators was Scott H. Reiniger’s idea.
The car driven in the mall is a 1977 Volkswagen Scirocco.
The helicopter used in the film was a Bell Jet Ranger II. The registration number was N90090.
Much of the fighting done by Fran was at the behest of Gaylen Ross, who refused to play a character who would not fight the zombies on her own.
Both parents of Christine Forrest make appearances as zombies in the film.
The living quarters where the four heroes shacked up in wasn’t located in the mall. It was a set built at George A. Romero’s then production company The Latent Image located in Pittsburgh. The elevator shaft was located there as well.
With such a shoestring budget, the film couldn’t afford professional stunt people outside of drivers, so makeup artist Tom Savini and assistant and friend Taso N. Stavrakis volunteered for the task. They are responsible for almost every stunt seen in the film, though not all went perfectly as planned. When filming a dive over the rail of the mall, Savini almost missed his pile of cardboard boxes, with his legs and back landing on the ground. He had to work from a golf cart for several days. The shot where Stavrakis swung down from a banner was poorly planned and he wound up continuing on and slamming into the ceiling.
Gaylen Ross said that the brief scene where she is skating in the ice rink was a near-disaster. She had stated on her resume that she could ice skate, but hadn’t done so in nearly 20 years. She admitted in an interview that she was being shouted instructions on how to skate by the rink manager (who was out of camera shot) and stayed on her feet barely long enough to complete a single loop.
Gaylen Ross refused to scream during the film. She felt that Fran was a strong female character, and if she screamed, the strength would be lost. She told this to George A. Romero once, when he told her to scream. He never asked her again.
Director George A. Romero has said several times that David Emge’s zombie walk is his favorite out of all the Dead movies. He has even gone on to go on to say that the performance is worthy of Lon Chaney.
There is great dispute over the film’s alternate ending, where Peter shoots himself in the head and Fran commits suicide by sticking her head up into the blades of the copter. Some, such as makeup artists Tom Savini and Taso N. Stavrakis, maintain that the scene was filmed, while director George A. Romero used to be adamant that it wasn’t. However, in the documentary Document of the Dead (1985) which was shot during the making of this film (and is included on some DVD copies), Romero clearly states to Frumkes, as they walk around the mall set, that they did indeed film the alternative ending, although he never filmed the effects shot. Gaylen Ross had a head mold made for the effects scene, and Savini did not want to see it go to waste, so he dressed the head up as a bearded African-American man, and that is the head that is blown off by a shotgun blast at the beginning of the film. To create the exploding head effect, Savini cleared the set and had the head shot at with an actual shotgun. Romero decided that this conclusion would be too depressing (after the horrors that have occurred) and, partially at the suggestion of his future wife, Christine Forrest, gave Peter and Fran a little bit of hope.
The German Dubbing of the Film (which features, among others, Christian Brückner who usually dubs Robert De Niro, as Ken Foree’s Voice) was written and directed by filmmaker Roland Klick.
Peter is the first person in the franchise to refer to the undead as “zombies”. The term is never used in Night of the Living Dead (1968).
The beer the hunters are seen drinking is Iron City Beer, a once-popular beer brewed in Pittsburgh in which ‘George A. Romero”s film company, The Latent Image, produced and filmed a number of Iron City Beer TV commercials during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The Monroeville mall used as the site of much of the action was once the largest mall in America. Now it is almost a inconsequential mall compared to other larger sites.
Cameo: [John Amplas] In 3 roles: LBiker wearing a head pendant and holding an ax; Zombie thrown over the balcony by Peter; Zombie who gets arm pulled off.
Cameo: [Randy Kovitz] Biker (wearing blue beret)
Cameo: [Joe Shelby] Zombie in car.
Joe Shelby’s Biker Van Driver character is the one who wears the funny cowboy hat and glasses.
Noted rock and country music journalist Chet Flippo wrote about the making of this movie for Rolling Stone. His article “When There’s No More Room in Hell, the Dead Will Walk the Earth” was published in the March, 1978 #261 issue. Moreover, Flippo appears in the film in an uncredited bit role as the zombie with a nasty gash across his cheek who’s wearing a cowboy hat and a leather jacket with fringe hanging off the sleeves.