Analyzing Dawn of the Dead (1978)

ImagePreparing for the Summer of Zombie Blog Tour where I will host one very talented Zombie Author June 18th, I decided to write about zombies for the next few weeks leading up to the event.  I decided I will only publish Zombie related articles until then and last night I began my research, watching and reviewing Dawn of the Dead (1978)

“When there’s no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the earth.”

Hailed as quite possibly the best Zombie flick of all time, George A. Romero’s second installment in the “Living Dead” series opened in the US in New York City, April 20, 1978. The film was shot over four months in the cities of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Monroeville. The majority of the film takes place in the Monroeville Mall. Originally it received an X rating due to the violence and gore. The original US release was 139 minutes- the version I watched was 2 hours and 19 minutes, featuring the extended scenes and “mall hours”; making it one of the longest films I’ve watched in a while.

Being a fan of makeup and special effects, I think it’s important to note that this was one of Tom Savini’s first big films. Tom Savini is an actor, stuntman, and director respectively. He did make up and effects for films like, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984), Creepshow 2 (1987), Day of the Dead (1985) and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) and even had a role in Dawn of the Dead, credited as “Motorcycle Raider”.

The Premise: This is the film that set the stage for so many “Zombie Apocalypse” style movies and pieces like “The Walking Dead “comic series, later made in to the hit AMC show. The dead are coming back to life and all hell is breaking loose as an expert looks in to a news camera at a busy news station explaining “They eat their victims, that’s what keeps them going.” Martial law is being enforced at midnight, the military wants to evacuate the city and you essentially see a standoff between civilians and police. As citizens’ loot and cause chaos, the police desperately try to maintain order. This part of the film I found pretty realistic even for 1978 standards. This is EXACTLY what would happen in a situation like this. Being forced with having to leave your homes and everything behind, people will defend their rights. It’s at this point where we learn there are other groups of people, outlaws, hillbillies and those that take pleasure in hunting zombies for sport and torturing them. This inadvertently makes us look at our world and how we treat others. If you ask me, I think there are elements of truth to these scenes. The film delves in to examples of how people behave in any society when daunted by dire circumstances, would you respond with compassion, violent tendencies, and loss of hope, pessimism, anger, and heartbreak all the while struggling to survive?

The Characters: There are many characters however; the film focuses on four main ones. Image

Stephen Andrews, a helicopter pilot for the WGON TV station, where the film’s opening scenes begin. He’s the Caucasian hero/lover boy. He romances Francine Parker to no avail, eventually succumbing to elevator zombie attack. He turns, and Peter shoots him.

Peter Washington, one of the 2 SWAT agents that are sent to an apartment complex where tenants are storing their dead. He’s the cool dude, and one of the only black characters ever that survives until the very end. He’s tough, no nonsense and a solid character throughout.

Roger DiMarco, the other SWAT team agent, I found his character kind of funny, in a bad acting sort of way. He’s a hillbilly that frequently whelps out “Yee Haw” and “Yeah!” He thinks he’s a hot shot, too cool for school and sees himself as vital member of the group. At one point, coming dangerously close to being attacked, he yells “Man there’s a lot that needs to get done before you lose me!” at an annoyed Peter.

Francine Parker, I’m not sure what her job was at the WGON TV station but she ends up with Stephen Andrews in a romantic situation as they take refuge in the mall. She is your stereotypical seventies female character. She’s moody, emotional, spends way too much time picking out new clothes and begins to lose hope and become cynical and withdrawn. She learns how to shoot and fly a helicopter though and that makes her an unlikely heroine of the story.

The Zombies, of the slow ambling, wandering aimlessly, mouth open variety.  Image

The acting wasn’t too bad given the film content and time period. The only one I found annoying was Scott Reiniger who played Roger DiMarco. It’s hard to say whether it was his acting ability or the way the character was written however.

Things that bothered me with the film were mainly the makeup and some of the action sequences. Some of the zombies looked like they had been painted white in the face, some were green, and some were blue. The makeup made them look Halloween-y. The black zombies just looked ashy; they could have done so much better with the makeup. The special effects were what one would expect for a late seventies filming. The blood looked more like red water paint than viscous blood, the entrails weren’t wet or gooey enough making them look simply like painted foam pieces. The stunts are all CLEARLY done by men. At one point a blonde woman zombie goes to bite Roger and he shoots her in the head and kicks her off, but when he does, it’s clearly a large man being pushed over. Really? A woman couldn’t do that? But the makeup was the biggest problem I had with this movie.

Things one learns from this film   Image

Never taunt a mob of zombies with only a plate of glass separating you.

Taking things that don’t belong to you is fun.

Never trust a biker.

Volkswagen Golfs are reliable cars

Nurses and Nuns can also become zombies.

Some of my favorite moments

When Peter and Roger restore the power to the mall, the camera pans around to Zombies going up and down escalators, one falls in Imagea fountain, the expressions on their faces are pretty amusing.

At one point, there’s a persistent biker, wearing a sombrero that is adamant about testing his blood pressure in one of those “insert arm here” machines. He goes back several times and even though he’s being attacked and chewed on by zombies, he still feels it necessary to check his blood pressure. The last scene for that fellow is just simply his detached arm, still in the cuff of the machine.. The reading was high. Lol

There was another scene that panned to this zombie wearing a blue smart suit from the seventies. You know the ones with all the pockets in the jacket. I chuckled out loud at that, my father had the exact same suit!

At one point the gang rapes the mall for clothes, hair styling products, candy as well as a video game arcade. It’s set to a musical montage naturally featuring upbeat swing style music that morphs in to a 70’s organ solo. It just seems like so much fun is being had by all.

ImageIn Summary

I thought, for the late seventies, this was an excellent film. I thoroughly enjoyed it despite finding myself chuckling out loud, which is always part of the fun when watching zombie movies anyway. I devised a scale to measure the standards of this flick. The scale is based on what we are used to now with films like World War Z and shows like The Walking Dead and it’s rated out of 10, 10 being the best.

Story – 9/10. The story was well written and it was a first for its time
Acting – 7/10. Some of the acting was weirdly over the top.
Effects – 7/10. It could have been better.
Makeup – 6/10. There’s no room for green or blue zombies.
Gore Factor – 7/10. It was gory for the time but we expect much more now.
Overall – 8/10 brains.

If you consider yourself a zombie connoisseur and you HAVEN”T watched Dawn of the Dead you simply must.

Live Humbly, Eat Brains, and Survive,


Everything George A Romero/ Living Dead Related

Dawn of the Dead Movie poster
Stephen Andrews in elevator
Zombie Knife in throat
4 Survivors
The Zombies
Roger Zombie


About SparkyLeeGeek

I'm a cheesy broad with a good sense of humor. I'm also a self professed geek, dog lover, Whovian and music snob. I have earned money by painting, I've worked in call centers, with dogs and in the fitness industry. I also write for Bubblews and I have 2 separate blogs on Blogger: "My Whovian Take" a blog dedicated to Doctor Who and "Life in Fog Goggles" a blog dedicated to daily life and living with Fibromyalgia and CFIDS. I will be featured in an upcoming Anthology for titled "The Horror Addict's Guide to Life" My interests range from Doctor Who, dogs, and Science Fiction to Zombies, Humor and Astronomy. Creativity is my passion.
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6 Responses to Analyzing Dawn of the Dead (1978)

  1. grankemosabi says:

    The remake was better…

  2. Thought your followers might be interested in my new book which contains over 40 behind the scene images from DOD 1978.

  3. Bub says:

    I’d give it a nine or ten based on the multi layered social commentary so very lacking in horror these days, and the incredible atmosphere Romero works into every frame. This truly is a day-glo apocalypse.

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