Dawn of the Dead (1978)


As society begins to crumble during the final days of the zombie apocalypse, four people decide to hole up in a mall and wait out the last days of mankind.

Let me set the record straight real quick like, zombies hate being in shopping malls, despise them actually. Dawn of the Dead makes it seem like we’d want to congregate because consumerism, and greed, and blah, blah, blah. Maybe that’s true for the living, but the dead want very little to do with who they were before they came back. We prefer to become wholly different individuals with maybe just a few exceptions. Romero presents it as though the undead were there to reclaim some lost part of their lives, as if they needed something to connect to who they were. No, that’s not why a zombie would be at a mall. The reasons they were there are simple, it’s where the living might go. That’s right, if you see a zombie at a mall it’s simply because of dinner, specifically the human kind of dinner. Well, dinner and Cinnabon, living or dead those damn things are delicious.

I don’t think I really need to explain much about this movie any more than I did for Night of the Living Dead. It’s just about as well-known as its predecessor. In fact this is actually the film George A. Romero loved best among all the other films he added to his zombie series. With so many people liking this better than the original I’ll just briefly explain a bit of the plot I’m sure you already know. It’s been sometime since the zombie apocalypse began (how long is never specifically stated as the timeline is all its own in the Dead series), and the world is falling apart. In a chaotic newsroom an argument is going on between two commentators about the zombie menace. As the newsroom evacuates, helicopter pilot Stephen comes to get his girlfriend Francine so that the two of them can get the hell away, but first they need to make a short pit stop. The two of them need to pick up Stephen’s buddy Roger who himself has just helped to clear out an overrun apartment building and grabbed a fellow SWAT member Peter (played by Ken Foree) to accompany them. After realizing the world is going to shit the group find a mall and decide it’s better than nothing, but the hardships of a post zombified America may catch up with them regardless.


{Shooting from a cart seems like it might be a little bit easier than from the hip}

I love this movie, but I’m guessing that the people at Monroeville Mall can’t stand it. That’s where this movie was filmed, in Monroeville, Pennsylvania. They would film after the mall closed every night except for a few weeks during Christmas. Because of this fact many Dawn of the Dead fans make the trip to the mall every year, despite there not being any real Dawn of the Dead dedications there. Despite that, a lot of people just want to visit the place where the movie was filmed, not really caring if there’s nothing from the film there. I can’t blame either side myself. If I worked at the mall it would most likely get on my nerves if a bunch of people were constantly showing up just to tour the place and leave. On the other hand, as a fan of the film, if I’m ever near the area I’m definitely making a stop there myself. This is my second favorite Romero zombie movie, so I’d love to see where it was filmed. Why my second favorite? Well, as much as I like the movie, it does suffer from a few problems, but let’s discuss what was done right first.


{I’ll rip a few things apart in a minute}

The best thing about the movie is the story. It had a great message about the dangers of consumerism gone awry, a message that Romero didn’t even try and be subtle about. He in fact pushed that message heavily amidst the story of zombies overrunning the world, and a few survivors trying their very best to hide in a mall and wait it out. He showed it by having the zombies mindlessly go after their wants, not their needs mind you, they don’t actually need human flesh to survive, but they want it so strongly it has become a need to them. Placing the setting in a mall was a smart move on Romero’s part as it helped to push his message of consumerism run amok. Even the dead can’t help but make their way back to a mall that means nothing to them anymore, just some place that at one time was very important to them. It does get a little over the top at times, there’s no doubt about that, but it was still handled right for the most part. The story is also very well structured, starting out with a hopeless panic as everyone is trying to flee the coming apocalypse in the beginning, moving on to a carefree and fun loving attitude in the middle as our survivors turn into teenage like mall brats, before finally descending into absolute hopelessness as the created world of our four survivors crashes down around them when the zombies are brought into mall by the careless attitudes of a group of scavengers. The scavengers were a great addition too since they showed how humanity would most likely react as the world fell apart.


{Thankfully we at least don’t have to worry about these guys anymore}

The other thing that makes the second of Romero’s zombie flicks so great are the actors he populated his film with. Each one does a truly terrific job with their characters. Hell, even the scavengers do a great job (played by an actual chapter of the motorcycle club The Pagans with a cameo by Tom Savini). Out of all of them I would have to say that Ken Foree as Peter was probably my favorite. He just had such a powerful performance, playing someone who had pretty much given up on the world long before the zombies became a problem. Actress Gaylen Ross as Fran comes in a close second though. She played a very strong female role which was a nice change from the leading female of his last movie who did nothing but scream and die. She even refused to scream herself because she thought it would ruin her character. I thought that their performances plus the terrific story made this one as good as it was, despite the flaws. About those flaws…



{Zombies aren’t happy with me right now}

The first of the flaws comes in the form of some of the effects, specifically the zombie make up and blood. Most of the effects are very well done. Tom Savini took over the effects department for this movie since he was supposed to do the effects for Night of the Living Dead but couldn’t due to being called up to Vietnam. The man really knows what he’s doing when it comes to special effects, but he still failed a bit for this movie (and he actually acknowledges these failures himself). The zombie skin tone looks terrible for one. Most of them look great as far as cuts and decomposition go, but the greyish skin tone comes out looking blue. Savini thought the grey would help them look more decayed, but it didn’t film as he thought it would and so they end up looking like dead Smurfs instead. Savini regrets how they looked to this day. The other thing that looked bad was the blood. It comes across as almost fluorescent, and it makes some of the blood look ridiculous. Savini tried to get Romero to let him change it, but the director seemed to like it for whatever reasons. Personally, I think that was a big mistake considering how bad the blood looked.



The other flaw was in some of the stupid actions of not just the survivors but the zombies as well. I get that the survivors are supposed to be getting reckless as they begin to adjust to life living in a mall, but they get really dumb at times. Things like firing indiscriminately into a crowd of zombies when they know their bullets aren’t going to do anything, wandering around to examine areas without even bothering to worry about any lingering zombies, getting into wrestling matches with the undead, and even punching zombies square in the face. I don’t think punching a creature who transmits a virus via bite in the mouth is such a good idea. Sure, it looks all cool and badass, but it’s still a completely stupid thing to do. Then again, the zombies seem more interested in grappling around like they’re in an old school WWF match then biting so maybe it’s fine. Seriously, these zombies are more interested in wrestling around than they are in eating anyone, only biting a person if a limb is all that presents itself. They don’t seem to take to kindly to having pies thrown into their faces either. Yes, there is a zombie pie fighting scene. It was added into the film based on a joke someone made about how to kill the dead before they filmed Night of the Living Dead. I get that they were trying to infuse a bit of dry humor into the movie, but it was an ultimately pointless scene that didn’t need to be there.


{Not funny to a zombie}

I definitely have some complaints about the movie, that’s true, but it’s still an excellent flick and one of the better Romero zombie movies. The amazing soundtrack by Goblin is the cherry on top of what makes for a great watch.


The Undead Review


Directed By: George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead, Day of the Dead)

Starring: David Emge (Basket Case 2, The Booby Hatch), Ken Foree (Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3, Devil’s Rejects), Scott H. Reiniger (Knightriders, The Other Victim), and Gaylen Ross (Madman, Creepshow)

Released By: Laurel Group and United Film Distribution Company

Release Year: 1978

Release Type: Theatrical Release

MPAA Rating: Unrated

About The Undead Review

When I was alive I was an asshole and after I died remained pretty much the same, if not a little worse. You’d think becoming a member of the walking dead would mellow a person out, no more worrying about awkward small talk with people, no more having to be politically correct, and the entire world is your upright, bipedal buffet. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun as hell to be a zombie, just somewhat irritating at times, especially those times you have to watch a lame movie or read a lame book. Thankfully, when I am forced to watch these films or read those books, I’ve got places like The Undead Review to bitch and moan to my heart’s content. {When he’s not devouring the living or sinking his teeth into a good film The Undead Review (Andy Taylor) spends his time writing his own stories or hunting down the paranormal. Oh, and did we mention his blind dog once saved the world?)
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