A decade after dropping the first, full-blown zombie apocalypse on our heads with Night of the Living Dead, George Romero got around to showing us what happened next. This time the thrills were more graphic, thanks to makeup legend Tom Savini and a full-color presentation, and the satire was sharper. But you already knew that. In celebration of the 35th anniversary of its U.S. release, here are 20 Things You May Not Have Known About Dawn of the Dead!
1. A tour of the Monroeville Mall by his friend Mark Mason, who managed the establishment, was most inspirational to George Romero. When Mason mentioned that his mall would be a good place to hole up during a disaster, Romero started formulating the plot of his second Living Dead picture. He also ended up filming Dawn of the Dead in the Monroeville Mall. Other movies with scenes shot there include Flashdance and Zack and Miri Make a Porno.
2. The mall scenes in Dawn of the Dead had to be shot between 2 and 5 AM. 2 AM is when the mall’s final establishment, a tavern, closed for the night. 5 AM is when cardiac patients were admitted to exercise.
3. The Monroeville Mall would once again serve as a horrific setting in Stephen King’s Christine in 1983. A year before that novel was published, Romero and King collaborated on the portmanteau Creepshow with Romero directing and King writing and acting. The two horror icons would also meld minds on Romero’s big screen adaptation of King’s The Dark Half, though the original plan for Romero to direct King’s It for the small-screen as a seven-hour miniseries fell apart because of scheduling problems (Tommy Lee Wallace directed the half-as-long version in 1990 instead). From a Buick 6 was another Romero/King union that withered on the vine, though Romero adaptations of The Girl who Loved Tom Gordon and Gerald’s Game might still happen. Romero has already completed scripts for both possible films.
4. While the political implications of Night of the Living Dead were essentially an unintended factor caused by the casting of a black actor, Duane Jones, in the lead, Romero was fully conscious of the anti-consumerism message of Dawn of the Dead and continued to infuse all subsequent Living Dead movies with political themes.
5. Star Ken Foree said that Romero thought of Dawn of the Dead as a western.
6. Before he was cast in the lead role of Peter, Foree was already friends with Duane Jones, who did not embrace his role as a cult horror icon nearly as enthusiastically as Foree.
7. Tom Savini was supposed to handle makeup chores on Night of the Living Dead, but his involvement was cut short when he decided to enlist in the U.S. Army as a photographer, realizing that he might have to enter combat if he was drafted. His experiences in the Vietnam War greatly influenced the gore effects he’d later create for Dawn of the Dead.
8. According to Savini, “a third” of the stunts and gory set pieces, including the infamous screwdriver scene, were improvised on set.
9. For the even more infamous helicopter decapitation scene, Savini cast friend Jim Krut because of his unusually “low forehead.” The spinning copter blades were add via post-production animation.
11. The original ending was a lot less optimistic. Romero planned to have Peter shoot himself and Francine thrust her head into the whirling blades of the helicopter.
12. When the MPAA gave Dawn of the Dead an X-rating, Romero decided to put out his film unrated.
13. At the time Dawn came out, Ken Foree was doing plays with two future sitcom stars—Jackée Harry (“227”) and Khandi Alexander (“News Radio”)—at Hazel J. Bryant’s theater in NYC. He was making a measly $63 per week for his stage work.
14. Sixteen years later, Foree turned down the lead role of a prisoner in the “X-Files” episode “The List” because he was sick of playing prisoners. Instead he took the supporting role of a prison guard in that episode.
15. The theatrical cut of Dawn of the Dead includes The Pretty Things’ “Cause I’m a Man”, part of the band’s “Electric Banana” sessions of 1967-1968 in which they cut multiple songs for use in exploitation films. For his international cut, Dario Argento used his regular collaborators Goblin to score the film.
16. Roger Ebert, who’d wagged his finger at Night of the Living Dead largely based on the traumatic effect it had on a totally inappropriate kiddie matinee audience, gave Dawn a glowing four-star review, praising the film as “brilliantly crafted, funny, droll, and savagely merciless in its satiric view of the American consumer society” and lauding the “nobility” and “sense of humor” of the lead characters.
17. While some critics celebrated Dawn of the Dead for its “subtle” social commentary, Romero disagreed. He regarded his message as more of a “pie in the face,” as he told Shock Value author Jason Zinoman.
18. Although he made his name with zombie films, George Romero is not a big fan of the genre, particularly films with fast-moving zombies, and thought Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead was too much like a video game.
19. When The Film Journal informed Romero about a shopping scene in 28 Days Later that leaned a little too heavily on Dawn of the Dead, he incredulously replied, “Oh, you’re kidding!”
20. Dawn of the Dead producer and rights-owner Richard Rubenstein is currently converting the film to 3D. Romero told Home Page of the Dead that he “loved” the completed footage Rubenstein showed him and said the 3D is “unbelievable.”