Dawn of the Dead (1979)

126 mins | Horror | 19 April 1979

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HISTORY

       According to a pressbook in the AMPAS library files, the film was the second chapter in director George A. Romero’s planned “Dead” trilogy about zombies. The first installment was Night of the Living Dead (1968, see entry) and the third would be Day of the Dead (1985, see entry). Each film depicted a stage of the zombies’ gradual takeover of civilization. Romero described Dawn of the Dead as the balance point in the series, when zombie and human societies are on equal footing.
       Principal photography began Nov 1977, as reported in a 28 Nov 1977 HR brief and in a 31 Oct 1977 Village Voice article. The shooting schedule was approximately four months and took place entirely in and around Pittsburgh, PA. The primary location was the Monroeville Mall in Monroeville, PA, just outside Pittsburgh. The $50 million shopping complex inspired Romero to conceive the story. The film crew worked during closing hours, generally between 10pm and 8am.
       Romero collaborated on the concept and screenplay with Italian filmmaker Dario Argento. As described in a 29 Nov 1978 Var article, Argento was also responsible for editing an international version, released in Italy Sep 1978 under the title Zombie, which was five minutes shorter than Romero’s cut for the U.S. market. Romero acknowledged that the differences between the two versions were often unnoticeable to some viewers, but he explained that his cut included comedy and slang that was more appropriate for American audiences, while Argento’s release incorporated more action and exposition.
       To avoid an ... More Less

       According to a pressbook in the AMPAS library files, the film was the second chapter in director George A. Romero’s planned “Dead” trilogy about zombies. The first installment was Night of the Living Dead (1968, see entry) and the third would be Day of the Dead (1985, see entry). Each film depicted a stage of the zombies’ gradual takeover of civilization. Romero described Dawn of the Dead as the balance point in the series, when zombie and human societies are on equal footing.
       Principal photography began Nov 1977, as reported in a 28 Nov 1977 HR brief and in a 31 Oct 1977 Village Voice article. The shooting schedule was approximately four months and took place entirely in and around Pittsburgh, PA. The primary location was the Monroeville Mall in Monroeville, PA, just outside Pittsburgh. The $50 million shopping complex inspired Romero to conceive the story. The film crew worked during closing hours, generally between 10pm and 8am.
       Romero collaborated on the concept and screenplay with Italian filmmaker Dario Argento. As described in a 29 Nov 1978 Var article, Argento was also responsible for editing an international version, released in Italy Sep 1978 under the title Zombie, which was five minutes shorter than Romero’s cut for the U.S. market. Romero acknowledged that the differences between the two versions were often unnoticeable to some viewers, but he explained that his cut included comedy and slang that was more appropriate for American audiences, while Argento’s release incorporated more action and exposition.
       To avoid an X-rating for excessive violence, the film was released in the U.S. as “unrated,” without an official seal from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and included a warning that no one under eighteen would be admitted, according to a 7 Feb 1979 Var article. The filmmakers felt that the stigma of an X, which suggested pornography and obscenity, misrepresented the film and would jeopardize its box-office prospects. In an address to the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), Romero argued for the economic benefits of a new rating, such as an “A,” to designate adult films that do not contain sexually explicit material, according to an 18 Apr 1979 Var article.
       However, the film was advertised in some theaters and press materials as R-rated. A 27 Apr 1979 DV article reported that the MPAA was threatening to take legal action against these exhibitors for “‘unwarranted use’” of the registered classification marked rating. In 1982, the MPAA issued a similar warning, complaining about the continued misuse of the R-rating in regards to Dawn of the Dead, according to a 17 Jun 1982 DV article.
       The film’s budget ranged between $700,000, as cited in a 31 Oct 1977 Village Voice article, and $1.7 million, as mentioned around the time of the film’s release in an 18 Apr 1979 Var article.
       Box-office results were strong, both in the U.S. and overseas. After a month in release, domestic earnings were over $5 million, according to a 6 Jun 1979 Var article. That figure climbed to $16 million, as reported in a 26 Feb 1980 DV. A 24 Oct 1979 Var brief noted that worldwide grosses had reached $24 million, aided by solid earnings in Japan, Italy and Germany.
       Critical reaction was mixed. Janet Maslin in the 19 Apr 1979 NYT acknowledged that she left the screening after fifteen minutes because of her “pet peeve about flesh-zombies who never stop snacking,” while Kevin Thomas in the 11 May 1979 LAT called the film “ambitious in scope as it is terrifying” and “one of the most genuinely original American movies of this or any other year.” Thomas was particularly impressed by how Romero used the shopping mall to stage a metaphor about consumerism.
       Since its release, the film has achieved a cult following, represented by zombie fans who converge at the Monroeville Mall. A 22 Oct 2009 WSJ article reported on the opening of a zombie museum and an annual zombie walk at the Mall, which drew nearly 900 people in 2006 and established the first Guinness World Record for a zombie gathering. As of 2013, the Monroeville Zombies museum was preparing to close and relocate, according an 18 Apr 2013 Pittsburgh Tribune article.
       Filmmaker Zack Snyder directed a 2004 remake, also titled Dawn of the Dead (see entry).
      End credits include the following acknowledgments: “Produced with the cooperation of: Robert Cox; Marvin Lieber; Miguel Lisenberg; Oxford Development Co.; Pennslyvania National Guard (1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery); Pittsburgh Housing Authority; Pittsburgh Explorers Club; Resource Investments, Inc.; Alvin Rogal; Frank Rubinstein; Irvin Shapiro; Max Toberoff; Susan Vermazen.”
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
27 Apr 1979.
---
Daily Variety
26 Feb 1980
p. 1, 14.
Daily Variety
17 Jun 1982.
---
Hollywood Reporter
28 Nov 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
21 Feb 1979
p. 15.
Los Angeles Times
11 May 1979
p. 23.
New York Times
19 Apr 1979
p. 14.
Pittsburgh Tribune
18 Apr 2013.
---
Variety
29 Nov 1978.
---
Variety
7 Feb 1979.
---
Variety
18 Apr 1979
p. 22.
Variety
6 Jun 1979.
---
Variety
24 Oct 1979.
---
Village Voice
31 Oct 1977.
---
WSJ
22 Oct 2009
Section A, p. 1, 18.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Herbert R. Steinmann and Billy Baxter Present
A Laurel Group Production
In Association With Claudio Argento and Alfredo Cuomo
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
Unit mgr
PRODUCERS
Asst prod
WRITERS
Scr consultant
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Lighting
Asst cam
Still photog
Key grip
Key grip
Slate
Grip
Grip
Grip
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
MUSIC
Orig sd track/Orig mus
with
Orig sd track/Orig mus
Addl sdtrack
SOUND
Boom man
Sd transfers
Re-rec mixer, Trans/Audio, Inc.
VISUAL EFFECTS
Graphics
Explosive eff
Explosive eff
Opt consultant
Titles
Titles
Titles
MAKEUP
Makeup and cosmetic spec eff
Makeup asst
Makeup asst
Hair styles
PRODUCTION MISC
Weapons coord
Continuity
Casting
Casting asst
Casting asst
Business mgr
Dist consultant
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Helicopter services
Helicopter pilot
Mall liaison
Mall security
Insurance
Film shipping
Prod accounting
Prod accounting
Equipment
Prod services
Prod services
Hi-fi equipment
Fur coats
Home furnishings
STAND INS
Stuntman
Stuntman
Truck stunt driver
Truck stunt driver
Truck stunt driver
COLOR PERSONNEL
Technicolor adv
Technicolor adv
SOURCES
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Zombies, Zombies -- Dawn of the Dead
Dawn of the Living Dead
Zombie: Dawn of the Living Dead
Zombie
George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead
Release Date:
19 April 1979
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 19 April 1979
Los Angeles opening: 11 May 1979
Production Date:
began November 1977 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Duration(in mins):
126
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

At Philadelphia television station WGON, the news crew tries to keep the public informed about a plague of zombies that feeds on humans and threatens the nation. According to a doctor interviewed in the studio, the only way to kill zombies, whose numbers are rapidly increasing despite their slow movement, is with fire or by destroying their brains. Unless exterminated properly, dead victims will reanimate and become part of the flesh-eating army. As their colleagues at the station panic, news producer Francine and her boyfriend, Stephen, agree to rendezvous on the roof at 9pm and evacuate in the WGON helicopter. At the appointed time, they are joined by their friend, Roger, a soldier with the National Guard, and his colleague Peter. Stephen, nicknamed “Flyboy,” pilots the helicopter, and the group escapes Philadelphia. The next day, they stop for fuel at an abandoned gas station and defend themselves from several zombies before continuing. Still in need of gasoline and rations, they land on the roof of a large indoor shopping mall. Except for the presence of zombies, the shopping complex appears to be deserted. Through a skylight, the group enters a storage room containing survival supplies. They barricade the entry to the storage area before taking a brief rest. Eager to pillage goods from the rest of the mall, Peter and Roger locate master keys, walkie-talkies and floor plans. After destroying the few zombies in their path, they unlock a department store, secure the door behind them, and collect various items, such as a television and a radio. By the time Stephen joins them, more zombies sense ... +


At Philadelphia television station WGON, the news crew tries to keep the public informed about a plague of zombies that feeds on humans and threatens the nation. According to a doctor interviewed in the studio, the only way to kill zombies, whose numbers are rapidly increasing despite their slow movement, is with fire or by destroying their brains. Unless exterminated properly, dead victims will reanimate and become part of the flesh-eating army. As their colleagues at the station panic, news producer Francine and her boyfriend, Stephen, agree to rendezvous on the roof at 9pm and evacuate in the WGON helicopter. At the appointed time, they are joined by their friend, Roger, a soldier with the National Guard, and his colleague Peter. Stephen, nicknamed “Flyboy,” pilots the helicopter, and the group escapes Philadelphia. The next day, they stop for fuel at an abandoned gas station and defend themselves from several zombies before continuing. Still in need of gasoline and rations, they land on the roof of a large indoor shopping mall. Except for the presence of zombies, the shopping complex appears to be deserted. Through a skylight, the group enters a storage room containing survival supplies. They barricade the entry to the storage area before taking a brief rest. Eager to pillage goods from the rest of the mall, Peter and Roger locate master keys, walkie-talkies and floor plans. After destroying the few zombies in their path, they unlock a department store, secure the door behind them, and collect various items, such as a television and a radio. By the time Stephen joins them, more zombies sense their presence and surround the store entrance, but the men find a way out through an air-conditioning duct and are able to return safely to the storage area with their loot. Meanwhile, Francine is left alone without a weapon and is almost attacked by a zombie, but she fends off the creature with a flare until the men rescue her. Since the storage area appears to be a safe hiding place, the group decides to stay, set up an encampment and take advantage of the mall’s abundance. When Peter comments that Francine looks sick, Stephen reveals that she is almost four months pregnant. The next day, the men notice tractor-trailer trucks parked nearby and devise a plan to utilize the vehicles to block the main doors of the mall. During the procedure, Roger becomes overzealous and is bitten by a zombie. Back inside, Francine treats Roger’s wounds while Peter and Stephen stockpile guns and ammunition from the mall’s hunting store. Next, they lock the outside doors of the complex, set the alarm and exterminate all the zombies inside. Stephen and Peter then build a false wall to disguise the hideout area. With the mall secured and cleared of zombies, the four survivors enjoy a luxurious shopping spree and relax at the ice rink, barbershop and arcade. Later, Roger’s infection from the bite becomes worse, and he dies. When Peter sees Roger’s corpse come back to life, he shoots his friend in the head. As weeks pass, the storage area becomes a decorated and well-equipped home for Francine, Peter and Stephen. However, zombies still gather outside and wander the parking lot. One day, as Stephen instructs Francine how to fly the helicopter, a motorcycle gang, who have survived the plague, notice them on the roof. That night, the riders prepare to invade the mall, but Stephen and Peter are warned of the attack on the citizens band radio and arm themselves. When the gang forces open the mall's doors, zombies again wander inside. The thuggish riders slaughter the first influx of creatures and raid the stores. Upset about the intrusion, Stephen shoots at the riders, then Peter joins the gunfight. Using their knowledge of the airshafts and passageways within the mall, Stephen and Peter evade the gang, but in the process Stephen is wounded in the arm. One by one, the motorcycle riders are either shot by Peter or torn to pieces by zombies. As Stephen struggles to escape into the elevator shaft, he encounters a group of zombies and is mauled. Peter hears the attack, but is unable to help and returns to the hideout. As dawn breaks, Peter and Francine prepare to evacuate by helicopter. Meanwhile, the zombies have taken over the mall again, and the reanimated Stephen has become one of them. The undead Stephen finds his way to the hideout, breaks through the false wall and is shot in the head by Peter. However, a horde of zombies is close behind, and Peter orders Francine to leave without him. After locking himself in the hideout, Peter prepares to commit suicide. Suddenly, he changes his mind and fights off the zombies while running to the roof. As Francine takes off, Peter climbs aboard, and they escape together. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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