10/07/2022

When There’s No More Room in Hell…

Take a look back at what makes Dawn of the Dead the King of Zombie movies...

Everyone's Favorite Zombie Movie : Dawn of the Dead

George A. Romero is the zombie movie king: not only did he create the 1968 gory classic Night of the Living Dead, he also spawned an entire film series out of it. The first sequel was the delightfully over-the-top Dawn of the Dead, released in 1978. It’s not often that a horror franchise manages to actually spawn more than one classic, but Romero is considered the King of the Zombie Film for a reason.

The movie takes place in the same universe as Night of the Living Dead, though it doesn’t actually contain any of the same characters. The setting is also different, though they do both technically take place in Pennsylvania. Instead, Dawn of the Dead expands on the greater effects of the zombie apocalypse and shows the outbreak on a larger scale. The film primarily takes place in a shopping mall overrun with zombies. In fact, the film was shot in the Monroeville Mall, which was actually operational during shooting. The outbreak is never really explained, but realistically, the source of the zombie virus doesn’t matter – the movie is more about outrageous gore and witty satire about American consumerism.

The film stars David Emgee as Flyboy, Ken Foree as Peter, Gaylen Ross as Fran, and Scott Reiniger as Trooper. The characters all have excellent chemistry, and the film has some of the strongest acting in a horror movie. The powerful performances helped the film become a critically acclaimed hit. This is a BIG SPOILER, but Romero has actually said that the zombie walk that David Emge does after being turned is his favorite zombie performance out of all his Night of the Living Dead series entries.

Gaylen Ross’s Fran in particular stands out as a fantastic female horror character. It turns out that Ross was very adamant about Fran’s portrayal in the film. She refused to do any of the classic high-pitched scream tropes, as she felt this would ruin Fran’s credibility as a strong woman. She also angled for many of the films’ fight scenes between Fran and zombies because, again, Ross felt that these helped sell her as a powerful woman.

The iconic greyed out look of the zombies was masterminded by horror makeup legend, Tom Savini, who notably worked on Romero’s film, Day of the Dead, as well. Savini was actually supposed to work on Night of the Living Dead, too, but couldn’t commit to it because he was suddenly drafted into the Vietnam war. Thankfully, he had his time to shine with this one, and he really flourishes the film with gruesome, bloody effects. During the scene in the tenement building, the effects team used an actual shotgun to create the famous exploding head scene – the prosthetic head was filled with hunks of meat that burst out upon being shot.

The scale of the film is incredible – there are hundreds of zombies attacking throughout. Zombie makeup would wind up being applied to two to three hundred extras each weekend. Funnily enough, the zombies’ blue-ish grey tint was actually a mistake – the hue of zombie skin was actually meant to look more grey than blue. Either way, it looks great and totally gives the zombies a uniquely paltry look.

The extras would often head out to bars in the nearby area in full zombie regalia during shooting. Romero and the other filmmakers practically encouraged this, because they felt that their drunkenness improved their shambling zombie performances. However, Savini did note that some of these drunk extras did wind up causing damage on the set. A group actually crashed a golf cart into one of the mall’s pillars, leading to approximately $7,000 in damage.

The intricate zombie designs are definitely one of the greatest parts of the film. There are a ton of quirkily detailed reanimated corpses that appear throughout, like the Nun Zombie, the Sweater Zombie, Machete Zombie, and Mustachioed Zombie. There are a few cameo appearances from zombie extras, too – Romero’s wife, Christine Forrest, appears as Elf Zombie, and Day of the Dead’s Joseph Pilato appears as a policeman on a boat dock. George A Romero himself actually makes a cameo as the Santa Claus biker and as the director in the television studio.

One of the most visually glorious portions of the film are the scenes with the biker zombies. Several of the zombie extras here were actually played by local members of the Pagans Motorcycle Club, who rode their own bikes to set. Despite the fact that there was an entire zombie movie series fronted by Romero, Dawn of the Dead is actually the only entry in the series that actually uses the word “zombies” – before the bikers crash into the mall, Peter exclaims, “When they open those doors there’s gonna be a thousand zombies in here!”

Not only does Romero direct the film, but the horror auteur Dario Argento helped write the script. For the international cut of the film, entitled Zombi or Zombie, Dario Argento scored the film with his frequent collaborators, Goblins, who also provided music for his classics Suspiria and Deep Red. The group knocked it out of the park by providing their trademark synth-heavy and eclectic musical flares. Romero’s cut, on the other hand, contains music from De Wolfe Music Library, a huge stock music library. It includes the polka song, “The Gonk,” with additional zombie moans peppered throughout.

Supposedly, there is an alternate ending to the film that features Peter committing suicide via gun and Fran chopping her own head off between helicopter blades. This final scene has been hotly debated for decades – Romero swears that these scenes were never shot, but molds and special effects were prepared for the movie. Ultimately, Romero ended up falling in love with the characters and decided to throw in a little hope for them at the end, as opposed to having the ending be so desolate and depressing.

Although the ending does have a dash of hope, the movie is still gut-churning and violent. The body count by the end amounts to 93 dead – 76 zombies and 17 humans. The film features the brutally dark line, “When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth.” This line became so famous that it actually ended up being used as the tagline for Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of the movie. Funnily enough, Romero actually came up with that line while drunk. Dario Argento had mentioned something to him about zombies originating from Haiti, which prompted Romero to put on a voodoo priest impression and deliver the iconic line.

The classic film will be getting a 4K Bluray release this November via Second Sight Films, a UK distributor that specializes in cult classic films. The release will be available in either 4K Ultra HD or Blu-ray – it was originally due to release before Halloween, but a manufacturing mishap pushed the 4K Bluray release to November 16th. It will be well worth the wait, though – the set will include commentary from George A. Romero, Tom Savini, Dario Argento, and other key players.

Click here for more details on the Limited Edition Dawn of the Dead 4K 7-disc boxset, or pre-order from Zavvi