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Dawn of the Dead

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Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Background:  Dawn of the Dead is probably the single most influential zombie movie in modern cinema.  Directed by George Romero in 1977 with an April 1979 US release date.  George Romero not only was able to develop unique and extremely interesting characters, but he was able to drive home a social commentary around modern human consumerism and its impact in our world.
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The movie was shot over a period of about four months.  The majority of the filming taking place at the mall in Monroeville, PA. 
$650,000

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April 20, 1979
May 11, 1979
$5 Million (estimated)
$55 Million 

Dawn of the Dead has received a number of re-cuts and re-edits, due mostly to Dario Argento's rights to edit the film for international foreign language release. Romero controlled the final cut of the film for English-language territories. In addition, the film was edited further by censors or distributors in certain countries. Romero, acting as the editor for his film, completed a hasty 139-minute version of the film (now known as the Extended, or Director's, Cut) for premiere at the 1978 Cannes Film Festival. This was later pared down to 126 minutes for the U.S. theatrical release. In an era before the NC-17 rating was available from the Motion Picture Association of America, the US theatrical cut of the film earned the taboo rating of X from the association because of its graphic violence. Rejecting this rating, Romero and the producers chose to release the film unrated so as to help the film's commercial success.

 

Characters - Francine Parker

 
 

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Executive Producer, WGON TV Pittsburgh
Francine Parker is a television executive with WGON TV in Pittsburgh.  Francine is trying to come to grips with the new reality around her as the world falls apart.  More importantly, she is pregnant with her boyfriend's (Stephen) baby.  Francine is the voice of reason in the group.  With Stephen giving her flying lessons, she becomes another valuable asset to the group. 
 

Characters - Stephen Andrews

 

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Traffic Reporter, WGON TV Pittsburgh
Stephen Andrews is a local traffic reporter for the WGON television station in Pittsburgh, PA.  Steven is a cautious individual and very skeptical of people he does not know.   He is a skilled helicopter pilot with very intimate navigation knowledge of the area.  Stephen's goal is to get his girlfriend, Francine (who also works for WGON), out of the city. 
 

Characters - Roger DeMarco

 
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Officer, Pittsburgh Police SWAT

Roger is known for his expert marksman skills within the Pittsburgh Police SWAT organization.  Roger was part of the unit whose veteran team member, "Willy" went crazy which led to his ultimate demise by another SWAT trooper (Peter).  Roger is resourceful, skilled and a good person to have around.  Roger is friends with Steven Andrews and has plans to leave with him by helicopter as quickly as possible to get out of  the city.  

 

Characters - Peter Washington

 
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Officer, Pittsburgh Police SWAT
Peter Washington is a respected member of the Pittsburgh police SWAT.  From the beginning of the story, it is obvious that he is a natural leader.  Peter makes quick and effective decisions under pressure.  He commands respect from all those who interact with him.  Ultimately he gains the trust of Roger who is his ticket out of the city.  
 

Characters - Blades

 
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If you call being a Biker / Thief / Thug is an occupation, Anywhere USA

Blades is second in command to a rough, road warrior biker clan who has been surviving on the road since the outbreak.  Blades seems to be amused by the world around him and is only concerned about having a good time before it is his time.  Peter shoots Blades causing him to fall off of the second floor in the mall.  We are unsure if he survives.  However, we do see Blades reemerge in Land of the Dead as a fairly intact zombie. 

Movie Review

Dawn of the Dead is one of the best horror films ever made -- and, as an inescapable result, one of the most horrifying. It is gruesome, sickening, disgusting, violent, brutal and appalling. It is also (excuse me for a second while I find my other list) brilliantly crafted, funny, droll, and savagely merciless in its satiric view of the American consumer society. Nobody ever said art had to be in good taste." - Roger Ebert

Dawn of the Dead - Story (wikipedia)

Following the scenario set up in Night of the Living Dead, the United States (and possibly the entire world) has been devastated by a phenomenon which reanimates recently deceased human beings and turns them into flesh-eating zombies. The cause of this phenomenon is unknown. The best description of this phenomenon is described in the Television Series "The Walking Dead," Season 1, Episode 6 (TS-19). 
Despite desperate efforts by the US Government and local civil authorities to control the situation, society has effectively collapsed, communication and order deteriorate and the remaining survivors seek refuge. Some rural citizens and the military have been effective in fighting the zombies out in open country, but cities, with their high populations and close quarters, are essentially deathtraps. The chaos has apparently spread throughout the country, evident by infrequent television and radio broadcasts.
Confusion and chaos reigns at the WGON television studio in Philadelphia. Staff member Stephen, the pilot of the station's traffic helicopter, and his girlfriend Francine are planning to steal the helicopter to escape the zombie threat. Meanwhile, Roger and his SWAT team raid an apartment building where the residents are ignoring the martial law imposition of delivering the dead over to National Guardsmen. Some residents attack with rifles, and are slaughtered by the SWAT operatives, and by their own reanimated dead. During the raid, Roger meets Peter, part of another SWAT team. They find the basement is packed with zombies, placed there by the living residents, and kill them. Roger, who knows of Stephen's plan, suggests they desert their SWAT teams and flee the city.
Late that night, Roger and Peter escape Philadelphia with Francine and Stephen. Following some close calls while stopping for fuel, the group comes across a shopping mall, which becomes their private sanctuary. To make the mall safe for habitation, they kill the mall's zombie population and block the large glass doors with trucks to keep the undead gathered outside from entering. During the operation, the impulsive Roger becomes reckless and is bitten, dooming him to death. After clearing the mall of its zombie inhabitants, the four settle in, each indulging their every material desire.
Time passes as the undead paw at the mall entrances and civilization beyond those doors continues to collapse. As the novelty of their materialistic utopia wears thin, they begin to realize their refuge has become their prison. It is revealed that Francine is about four months pregnant. Roger eventually succumbs to his wounds, reanimates and is shot by Peter as his last dying request. All emergency broadcast transmissions have ceased, suggesting that most, if not all, of civilization around them has collapsed.
A gang of bikers break into the mall, which also allows hundreds of the zombies inside. Stephen foolishly initiates a gun battle with the bikers; he is shot in the arm and then attacked by zombies in an elevator. The ravenous zombies feast upon many of the bikers, and the surviving bikers make a hasty retreat from the mall, having paid a hefty price for what little loot they managed to gain from it. Stephen dies from his wounds and reanimates as a zombie, leading a group of the creatures to Francine and Peter's hideout. Peter terminates the reanimated Stephen while Francine escapes to the roof. Peter decides to stay and contemplates suicide before heading to the roof to join Francine, and the two fly away in the partially fueled helicopter to an uncertain future.

Alternate Ending

The ending in the final cut of the film was not what Romero had originally planned. According to the original screenplay, Peter was to shoot himself in the head instead of making a heroic escape and Fran would commit suicide by thrusting her head into the helicopter's propeller blades. The end credits would run over a shot of the helicopter's blades turning until the engine winds down, showing that Fran and Peter would not have had enough fuel to escape.  During production it was decided to change the ending of the film.

Much of the lead-up to the two suicides was left in the film. Fran stands by the running helicopter waiting for Peter as zombies approach, and Peter puts a gun to his head, ready to shoot himself. However, he suddenly decides to escape with Fran. Romero has stated that the original ending was scrapped before being shot, although behind the scenes photos show the original version was at least tested. The head appliance made for Fran's suicide was used in the film as the head blown off during the SWAT raid on the apartment building. It was made-up to resemble a bearded African American male.

Original Script

The original script from 1977 can be downloaded in searchable .pdf format below:

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