31 Days of Horror: Day 7 Movie: Dawn of the Dead
Filmed in Monroeville Mall, Monroeville, PA.
The weapons store featured in the film was never a part of the Monroeville Mall. George A. Romero shot those scenes in a gun shop in downtown Pittsburgh and edited the footage in to make it look like it was a shop in the mall.
In the scene where Roger hits the zombie (played by Tom Savini) with the truck and it leaves a bloody smear on his windshield, the effect was created by Savini throwing himself on the non-moving truck and spitting a mouthful of blood on the windshield.
Tom Savini chose a friend to play the helicopter zombie because he was notorious for having a low forehead.
The airstrip used in the film, the Harold W. Brown Memorial Field (aka Monroeville Municipal Airport), is still in operation as of 2002. The privately run airfield is approximately 10 miles from the Monroeville Mall, where the bulk of the film was shot.
The voice of Christine Forrest (George A. Romero’s wife) can be heard on a pre-recorded announcement in the mall (“Attention all shoppers…”).
The skating rink shown in the film was part of the Monroeville Mall. It has since been replaced by a food court.
Much of the fake blood used in the blood packets was a mixture of food coloring, peanut butter and cane sugar syrup.
Many effects were thought of on the spot. Tom Savini created many effects (such as the arm in the blood pressure tester) with no preparations whatsoever.
There was originally a scene during the biker raid involving a zombie getting an arrow in the head from a crossbow. It was filmed but never featured in the final cut.
Tom Savini used the same dummy throughout the course of filming. During that time it was blown up, burnt, shot, and beaten, among other things.
Some of the zombies (notably one in the tenement scene) were actual amputees.
Filming at the Monroeville Mall took place during the winter of 1976-77, with a three week reprieve during the Christmas shopping season (during which other footage, e.g. the TV studio, was shot). Filming at the mall began around 10 p.m., shortly after the mall closed, and finished at 6 a.m. The mall didn’t open until 9, but at 6 the Muzak came on and no one knew how to turn it off.
Tom Savini, head of makeup effects, was unhappy with how the blood mix (produced by 3M) photographed; it looked fluorescent. Director George A. Romero felt it was perfect for the film’s comic book style.
Much of the stock music used in this film was licensed from the Music De Wolfe Library, a much-used resource of stock music for motion pictures.
Shooting at the mall was suspended over the Christmas season because it would have been too costly to nightly remove and then later re-hang all the seasonal decorations.
Extras who appeared in this film were reportedly given $20 in cash, a box lunch, and a Dawn of the Dead T-shirt.
The MPAA had threatened to impose the X rating if George A. Romero didn’t make cuts. Romero did not want to cut the film, and he was adamant against an X rating, due to its stigma of hard-core pornography. In the end, Romero was able to persuade his distributors to release the film with no rating, although on all advertising and trailers, 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.
Tom Savini choose the gray color for the zombies’ skin, since Night of the Living Dead was in B&W and the zombie skin-tone was not depicted. He later said it was a mistake, because many of them ended up looking quite blue on film.
Some of the actors playing zombies in the movie would frequently get drunk at a late-night bar called the Brown Derby, which was in the Monroeville Mall. One night they stole a golf cart and crashed into a marble pillar, causing $7,000 worth of damage.
Zombie actors took photographs of themselves dressed up in full zombie makeup inside a photo booth on the second floor. They then replaced the sample pictures on the front of the booth with the ghoulish ones.
Many of the extras cast in the film (especially the zombies in close-up shots) were friends and relatives of the production crew.
The outdoor scene where hunters, emergency crew and soldiers are shooting at zombies was done through local volunteers. Several local hunters arrived on-scene with their own weapons, the local National Guard division showed up in full gear, and local emergency crew (police, fire and ambulance) were present, all voluntarily.
Several members of the marauding band of bikers were played by members of the local chapter of the Pagans Motorcycle Club. The elaborate motorcycles they drove were their own.
The scenes between Stephen, Peter, Roger, and Frannie in the helicopter were filmed with the helicopter never running or leaving the ground. A shell was painted blue for the day scenes and black for the night scenes and interspersed with real helicopter footage.
In the original draft of the script, the TV station’s call sign was WJAS, the call sign of an actual radio station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where the film was shot. The call sign was replaced with WGON, which was not issued to any station at that time (it had been issued to an AM radio station in Munsing, Michigan, but the station had gone dark some time before). WGON has now been issued to a licensed low power FM radio station (WGON-LP, 103.7) in Slidell, Louisiana.
The helicopter used in the film was a Bell Jet Ranger II. The registration number was N90090.
Much of the fighting done by Fran was at the behest of Gaylen Ross, who refused to play a character who would not fight the zombies on her own.
The living quarters where the four heroes shacked up in wasn’t located in the mall. It was a set built at George A. Romero’s then production company The Latent Image located in Pittsburgh. The elevator shaft was located there as well.
With such a shoestring budget, the film couldn’t afford professional stunt people outside of drivers, so makeup artist Tom Savini and assistant and friend Taso N. Stavrakis volunteered for the task. They are responsible for almost every stunt seen in the film, though not all went perfectly as planned. 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. He had to work from a golf cart for several days. The shot where Stavrakis swung down from a banner was poorly planned and he wound up continuing on and slamming into the ceiling.
Gaylen Ross said that the brief scene where she is skating in the ice rink was a near-disaster. She had stated on her resume that she could ice skate, but hadn’t done so in nearly 20 years. She admitted in an interview that she was being shouted instructions on how to skate by the rink manager (who was out of camera shot) and stayed on her feet barely long enough to complete a single loop.
Gaylen Ross refused to scream during the film. She felt that Fran was a strong female character, and if she screamed, the strength would be lost. She told this to George A. Romero once, when he told her to scream. He never asked her again.
Peter is the first person in the franchise to refer to the undead as “zombies”. The term is never used in Night of the Living Dead.
The beer the hunters are seen drinking is Iron City Beer, a once-popular beer brewed in Pittsburgh in which ‘George A. Romero”s film company, The Latent Image, produced and filmed a number of Iron City Beer TV commercials during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The Monroeville mall used as the site of much of the action was once the largest mall in America. Now it is almost a inconsequential mall compared to other larger sites.
The most profitable film in the “Dead” series.
Some of the cast were made physically sick by the makeup work.
Dawn of the Dead was intentionally more comedic than Night of the Living Dead because George A. Romero wanted it filmed in the style of a comic book.
It took up to three hours in makeup to transform someone into a zombie.
Romero’s favorite film in the “Dead” series. It was also his favorite audience experience when it was first released into cinemas.
People still visit the shopping mall just to see where Dawn of the Dead was made.
Every year we have a tradition in the Forto house where we celebrate the greatest month of the year, October, with scare your socks off, hide under the covers, turn on all the lights, sleep with one eye open, fright fest, movie marathon every night of the month! We call it 31 Days of Horror.
What is your favorite scary and/or Halloween movie? I would love to hear from you!
I welcome your comments and suggestions. Please comment below.
- 31 Days of Horror. Day 6: Night of the Living Dead (robertforto.com)