George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" Released 30 Years Ago Today
In 1968, George Romero re-invented the horror genre and brought us Night of the Living Dead. A film that would become a cult classic and eventually make its way onto the prestigious National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. It's safe housed to ensure that it will last through any apocalypse (zombie or otherwise) for future generations to come. The film is considered that relevant to the art and history of cinema. Ten years later, In 1978 Romero came out with a sequel of sorts, but this time the film was in color instead of Black & White, set at a mall instead of an isolated farm house, and was even scarier and bloodier than the first film. Horror fans were delighted. And Romero was dubbed king of the genre. Although, we have him to thank for all the slasher rip offs that came after, you have to remember that he did it first, and best.
The plot of the sequel isn't much of a departure from the original. Following the events of Night of the Living Dead, the later film follows four survivors of the ever-growing epidemic of zombies that have risen from the dead as they take refuge in an abandoned shopping mall. The group includes two Philadelphia S.W.A.T. team members, a traffic reporter, and his TV executive girlfriend. They size up the situation, arm themselves, and barricade the mall entrances, all while destroying the zombies inside so they can set up house and live in peace as long as they can. So far it's pretty similar to the 1968 film, but with a change of location. But you can't just do the same old thing so there's going to be at least one added twist to keep things interesting. Well, a gang of bikers discovers the mall and invades it, ruining the survivors' best-laid plans and forcing them to fight off both lethal bandits and flesh-eating zombies (if this sounds familiar it's because the film was remade in 2004 with the same title and similar basic plot).
Apparently the film was so violent for the times comparatively speaking that the MPAA (the Motion Picture Association of America) had threatened to impose an X rating if Romero didn't make cuts. Of course, he did not want to cut the film, but was adamant against an X rating due to its stigma because it was usually associated with hard-core pornography. Ultimately, Romero persuaded his distributors to release the film with no rating at all. Although, on all advertising there was a disclaimer that in effect read that while there was no explicit sex in the film the movie was of such a violent nature that no one under 17 would be admitted.
It's funny today to think that the violence looked so real. Not only do the special effects pale by today's standards (probably a reason for the remake), but the shoestring budget was so small, the film couldn't even afford professional stunt people outside of drivers. So makeup artist Tom Savini and assistant Taso N. Stavrakis volunteered for the task. They are responsible for almost every stunt seen in the film, which accounts for devices such as trampolines (used to launch people into the air) being seen in many shots. A lot of other things didn't exactly go perfectly as planned either. When filming a dive over the rail of the mall, Savini almost missed his pile of cardboard boxes, with his legs and back landing on the ground. And a shot where Stavrakis swung down from a banner was poorly planned, slamming into the ceiling. The team also used the same dummy throughout the course of filming. During that time it was blown up, burnt, shot, and beaten, among other things.
But the flubs endured due to a low budget is also part of the film's charm, and why it's still so well remembered today. If everything had gone perfect, the 1978 production of Dawn of the Dead wouldn't be so endearing. And endearing it is to millions of fans who adore the Horror film. The genre wouldn't be the same today without it, and many standard devices, such as the word "Zombie" itself wouldn't exist without this forefather. So, give respect where it's due and revere Dawn of the Dead as it should be: a necessary evil.