Dawn of the Dead (1978 film)

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"Every dead body that is not exterminated becomes one of them. It gets up and kills! The people it kills get up and kill!"
Dr. Foster
"When there's no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the earth."
Peter

Dawn of the Dead is the second movie in the Dead series of zombie films written and directed by George A. Romero.

There are two versions of the film, the original 1978 Romero version (the first sequel to the original Night of the Living Dead) and |a remake in 2004 directed by Zack Snyder, and starring Ving Rhames and Sarah Polley. Both feature a small group of humans holed up inside a shopping mall during a Zombie Apocalypse, but beyond that the details vary a great deal. There is ongoing and violent disagreement in zombie-film fandom about which one is "better," which usually very quickly boils down to "shambling zombies vs. running zombies".

Synopsis

The movie opens during an ongoing Zombie Apocalypse: law enforcement and government are rapidly losing control of the situation and zombies are overrunning the country, or at least the cities. TV-station employees Stephen and his pregnant girlfriend Francine steal the station's traffic helicopter in an attempt to get to Canada; they are joined by Roger and Peter, deserters from a SWAT team. After an unpleasant episode at a small airport, the group sets down on the roof of a large shopping mall (a structure which, at the time of filming, was something of new development on the American cultural scene).

Once inside they realize if they could block the doors and clear out the few zombies inside the mall they could "be onto a good thing." They block the mall doors using large delivery trucks but in the process cocky Roger gets bitten by a zombie. While they proceed to enjoy all the material goods available to them, Roger slowly wastes away, dies, and revives as a zombie. He is immediately shot and then buried by Peter.

Francine demands to be taught how to fly the helicopter in case of emergency. A passing group of survivalist/bikers notice the practice lessons and decide to "share" the mall with the group. Peter urges Stephen to just let the bikers do their thing and go, but their looting of the mall and letting the zombies in angers Stephen so much that he opens fire on the bikers. In the battle that ensues, hordes of bikers and zombies are both let loose inside, and Stephen is killed and becomes a zombie. Francine and Peter (re-)kill him, escape to the helicopter and fly off to an unknown future.

Followed by Day of the Dead.


Tropes used in Dawn of the Dead (1978 film) include:
  • Action Girl: Francine gradually becomes one.
  • All Bikers Are Hells Angels: A gang invades the mall in the original, letting in the zombies.
  • Asshole Victim: Wooley and later the bikers.
  • Ax Crazy: Wooley.
  • Badass: Peter and Roger.
    • Peter and Roger.
  • Barrier-Busting Blow
  • Bittersweet Ending: Peter and Francine are the only ones who escape from the mall after it is infested again by zombies, while Stephen is dead and the helicopter's fuel is half gone.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Averted with the black leads in both movies.
  • Bolivian Army Ending
  • Boom! Headshot!: Both feature impressive shotgun-blast-to-the-head scenes.
  • Brick Joke: The zombie with the gun in the original who steals Peter's other gun at the end.
  • Camp Unsafe Isn't Safe Anymore : The characters begin the film believing that a mall is the perfect hiding place, but later discover they cannot stay there forever because eventually they're going to run out of food, and the zombies will get in sooner or later.
  • Comic Book Time: The 1978 film apparently takes place a few weeks after the events of Night, released a decade earlier. This pretty much holds true for all the rest of Romero's Dead films.
  • Cozy Catastrophe: For a while, at least.
  • Crazy Survivalist: Several cast members.
  • Creator Cameo: George Romero appears twice in the 1978 film, first as a TV news director and then as a biker donning a Santa suit.
  • Curiosity Killed the Cast
  • Damsel in Distress: Subverted in both films by the female lead.
  • Daylight Horror: Both the original and remake contain obvious examples of this.
  • Dead Hand Shot
  • Death by Materialism: The point of the original.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: Both films avoid this, with bloody zombie-action smashing onto the screen within ten minutes. (A police raid on a zombie-infested tenement in the original, and the remake having zombies come right into the heroine's bedroom.)
  • Driven to Suicide: Peter. Averted to Peter's case since he decides that he wants to live in the last minute and escapes with Francine.
  • Enclosed Space
  • Foreshadowing
  • Gorn: And how!
  • A House Divided: Part of the reason why Humans Are the Real Monsters. It's strongly shown that the zombies are practically harmless, if you know what you're doing, but so many people are squabbling over what to do that they just get to multiply beyond control.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: Most famously, the zombies are an outright satire of mindless consumer culture and "mall drones". Throughout the film, the zombies are handled almost effortlessly; the only danger to humans come when they get stupid or careless -- it's just that humans are more concerned with arguing with each other, engaging in mindless behavior (such as the bikies raiding the mall for things like gold rings and money), and otherwise ignoring the problem.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Averted in the original. Stephen misses a lone slow zombie multiple times before Roger steps in to put it down.
  • It's the Only Way to Be Sure: Dr. Rausch suggests the use of nukes against the zombies, perhaps forgetting that all the living humans killed by radiation or severe burns will eventually get back up. Fortunately, no one takes this suggestion seriously.
  • Just Before the End
  • Kill'Em All:
    • The scripted ending of the 1978 version, but by the time it came to film it Romero had grown to like the characters and decided it would just be pointlessly depressing.
    • The new ending of the remake, after test audiences complained it was too optimistic.
  • Kill It with Fire: See Infernal Retaliation.
  • The Load: Stephen and Francine. Originally all he has going for him is his skills as a helicopter pilot, despite his efforts. Francine starts with nothing. However, as Roger's health fails Stephen is forced to become more proactive and even early on manages to discover the vent system they use to move safely at several points. Francine does very little, though she does learn basic shooting and how to fly the copter.
  • The Mall: Chief setting of both films. In the original, this setting was used to skewer American consumerism by comparing it to the zombie hordes who "consume" everything in sight.
  • Melee a Trois: The film has a climatic 3-way battle with Peter and Stephen vs. the bikers invading the mall vs. The Zombies.
  • Neutral Female: The actress playing Francine famously refused to be just another Screaming Woman. However, during the first confrontation at the airport she just stands there while her boyfriend is fighting with a zombie, neither running nor helping. She does get better though.
  • Not Using the Z Word: For the most part, both films deliberately avoid using the word "zombie." Save for one line in the original ("With those bay doors open, there's going to be a thousand zombies in here...")
  • Our Zombies Are Different: The 2004 version compared to the 70's version. The zombies in that one are capable of running and jumping, with no sign of exhaustion and very persistent. Making them a much more severe threat. The 70's version was mostly scary due to numbers. They were slow and shambling but could easily overcome the humans if they managed to corner them.
  • Pie in the Face: The scene where the bikers pelt the zombies with pies and seltzer water.
  • Room Full of Zombies: The film has a SWAT team raid a housing complex that had their basement filled with zombies.
  • Rule of Scary
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: There are numerous scenes of the Zombies in the mall stumbling about to shopping muzak, notably the end credits.
  • Taught By Experience
  • Thematic Series: This film is a loose-knit sequel to Night of the Living Dead as are the sequels that follow.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Several characters. Most of them do in fact die.
    • The most egregious example being the Mexican bandito biker taking his blood pressure while his friends are getting shot at, eaten, or otherwise leaving the mall and zombies are visibly surrounding him. Also serves as a great Brick Joke.
    • Noticeably, Roger's attitude and reckless actions bring him about to like three bites and slowly turning into a zombie.
    • Stephen could give Roger a run for his money in reckless behavior: He shoots at a zombie with a rifle and misses, nearly hitting Peter in the process. He takes the only handgun and runs off to find Peter and Roger in the mall, leaving Fran defenseless when a zombie wanders up looking for a meal. He shoots at the bike gang after Peter warns him not to and, upon retreating, drops his rifle down the elevator shaft. Finally, when he's bitten and dying, he wastes the last few bullets in his handgun warding off his last few attackers and leaves his brain intact so that when he dies, his zombie self still has the sense memory to schlep up to the hidden nest where Peter and Fran are, with an army of flesh-eaters right behind him.
    • Really, this is the only reason why zombies are a danger in this movie. It's shown repeatedly that if you keep your head on straight, you can easily handle zombies -- there are multiple scenes of characters running straight through crowds of the undead or fighting their way free of groups. With their bare hands, no less. Because people are more concerned with acting like idiots (for example, the people who refuse to heed government warnings about how all dead bodies need to be instantly cremated/decapitated/decerebrated, thus leading to things like the infested tenement building at the start of the movie, the bikies casually smashing their way in and leaving a huge opening for zombies to pour through -- and even then most of the bikies escape alive, if they haven't been shot), the zombies are able to get the drop on them and, from a large-scale perspective, are able to multiply to threatening levels in the first place.
  • Undead Child: Two (running) zombie kids attack Peter.
  • While Rome Burns: The survivors are shown prancing about in the mall as the zombie numbers outside grow bigger.
  • Your Head Asplode: The scene where a SWAT cop breaks down an apartment door in a raid and blows an innocent man's head apart with a single shotgun blast.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: Sorta the whole point.

"Where is Flyboy?"