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Why Dawn of the Dead (1978) Is the Best Zombie Film Ever Made!

Celebrating the cult classic movie’s 40th anniversary…

If there was a zombie-apocalypse tomorrow the first place I’m heading is straight to the local shopping mall!

Today we take a look at the best zombie horror film ever made – Dawn of the Dead and just to clarify before we go any further that we are talking about the 1978 original motion picture and not the 2004 re-imaging.

The film celebrates its 40th anniversary this year and I just want to show my deep appreciation for this film that has stayed in my heart for a long time.

What’s it all about?

Dawn of the Dead (also known internationally as Zombi) is a US independent zombie horror film made in 1978 and directed by Zombie-Meister George A. Romero. The film was written by Romero and horror legend Dario Argento and it was produced by Richard P. Rubinstein. It is the second film in Romero’s Living Dead series and shows in a much larger scale the apocalyptic effects of a zombie outbreak on society. Although it is the second in the series it does not feature any of the characters or locations from Night of the Living Dead.

The film follows Stephen (David Emge), Peter (Ken Foree), Roger (Scott Reiniger), and Francine (Gaylen Ross) who are survivors of a zombie outbreak and who manage to find and barricade themselves inside a shopping mall and cut off the total chaos that is going on outside. Romero says he got the idea for the film when he observed the zombie-like state people get in with consumerism and when when they went shopping.

Dawn of the Dead was filmed in just over four months, in late 1977 to early 1978. The film was shot in the cities of Pittsburgh and Monroeville both in Pennsylvania. The prime location for the mall scenes where at the Monroeville Mall. The film was made on a shoestring budget estimated at $1.5 million and grossed approximately $55 million worldwide.

Rotten Tomatoes

Although I don’t believe in going on what critics and reviewers say about movies because I think that everybody has their own opinion. The film has a 92% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes, which calls it “one of the most compelling and entertaining zombie films ever made” in its critical consensus.

In addition to four official sequels, the film has spawned numerous parodies and pop culture references. A remake was released in 2004. Writer James Gunn labeled it a “re-imagining” of the original film’s concept.

Dawn of the Dead was chosen by Empire magazine as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time, along with Night of the Living Dead in 2008.

I first saw this movie when I was a teenager in the 90s. I was introduced to it by my neighbour who also introduced me to a lot of cult horror films that I still love today.

Here are a selection of classic moments…

That Great 70s Synthesizer Music

The film features some great late 70s synthesizer throughout which is provided by The Goblins and horror director Dario Argento himself.

Chopper vs Zombie

When the crew land at a private airfield there is a crazy looking zombie with quite a long forehead which makes you think what’s up with his head. Then he walks into the chopper rotor blades and it slices the top of his head off. Then you realise it all makes sense, that’s why his head was so big, it’s classic 70s special effects!

Stephen “Fly Boy” is Really Shit At Using a Hammer

There is a scene where Stephen and Francine are ambushed by two zombies and while Stephen is fighting with one he’s desperately trying to reach a sledgehammer right next to Frans feet, but she just stands there really pathetic with the ‘I’m just a woman what can I do’ expression. It’s not her fault though it’s just 1970s script writing where women always need saving!

When he does actually get hold of the hammer he kills the zombie and runs at the other and I have never seen such a pathetic attempt at swinging a hammer in all my life.

Peter is Really a Cool Guy

Peter is such a calm and cool character and it’s good to see a black man once again in a lead role in the living dead series. He’s always so calm and collective, even when zombies and the other characters piss him off. The only time he does get annoyed is when Stephen is firing his gun at the zombie standing right in front of him, which nearly hits him, but he does gets over it.

Living in a Shopping Mall

Could you imagine it? I’d love it. Food, clothes and tech on tap. Ever since I first saw this film, I’d always had a dream to leave in a shopping mall. I know to you it might sound crazy, but I’d have everything I needed right in one place. The only problem is making sure I could make it into some kind of fortress because security is a major problem in a apocalyptic world!

That Damn Buddhist Zombie

That damn Buddhist zombie who nearly bites our beloved Fran. Boooo!

Fran Gets Tough

Fran telling the guys she may be a woman and now pregnant, but she’s still part of the team and doesn’t want to be treated any different and to give her a goddamn gun already!

Truck Scene

Peter and Roger have a plan to maneuver all the delivery trucks that have been abandoned around the mall to block the entrances so no more zombies or assholes can get in. Roger gets quite carried away his gunge-ho attitude leads to him being bitten twice. It’s a death sentence for one of our team. Sad face!

Roger in the Trolley

After Roger is bitten he becomes quite ill and unable to walk so Peter pushes a gun-toting Roger around in a little carry cart. It’s a sight to behold.

They Drive a Car Through the Mall

It’s a great little scene where Peter and Stephen are driving around the mall shooting zombies from a brand new Volkswagen Sirocco.

Money and Shopping Scene

Finally after the team rid the mall of all the zombies they are free to go on an indulgent shopping spree and even rob a few banks too, and why not?

Those Shit Arcade Games

All I can say is arcade games where mighty shit in 1978!

Peter’s Great Quote

Peter comes out with the memorable quote of

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

Zombie Roger

Inevitably after getting bit a few times this tends to lead to zombie-ism and Roger succumbs to the infection. Peter does the right thing and honours Rogers request by shooting him once he had returned from the dead.

Although I’m not sure he would’ve wanted to be buried in the shopping mall flowerbeds!

Annoying Tannoy

“Attention all shoppers…” that recorded female voice that is on the PA system is so monotone and depressing, but it goes so well with the atmosphere of the zombie filled mall and works so good as our gang grow tired of the monotonous same things day in day day out.

Biker Gang

Ultimately it was only a matter of time before our gangs sanctuary was found by more survivors. Unfortunately it is a biker gang co-led by Blades and his brother. Blades is played by Real life special effects guru Tom Savini who also provided the gory effects in the film

Biker gangs are bad enough in reality, but in a zombie apocalyptic they seem to be even bigger jerks!

The bikers open the barriers and let all those zombies back in again after our crew spent weeks and months clearing it. But they soon get there comeuppance though as they get overrun by the dead and our team picking them off one by one, but unfortunately another one of our team gets killed and this time it’s Stephen.

Zombie Stephen

Once Stephen is bitten it’s only a matter of time before the undead Stephen leads the other zombies to our gangs cosy hideout.

The Ending

Peter decides to stay and fight off the zombies allowing Fran to escape, but then he has a change of mind and manages to escape onto the roof where Fran is luckily still waiting.They then escape in the chopper, but they don’t know where they are going or what awaits them in the future.

Written by Jay

A caffeine-based life form with a love of the 80s and pop culture.

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