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Dawn of the Dead by STAX

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                      (A COMPLETE STAX PRODUCTION IN 1999!)

If, like me your a fan of this excellent movie then you'll love all these
great facts about this film...


The success of Night of the Living Dead gave George Romero and his partners
at Latent Image the opportunity to continue producing films. Although the
possibility of immediately producing a sequel was discussed, George has said
that he "didn't want to rush into that...I couldn't really get a lot bigger
with the concept." The project remained in limbo for about five years.
Then, around 1974, Romero was taken on a tour of a mall in Monroeville (a
suburb of Pittsburgh) by one of the mall's owners, who happened to be a
friend and an occasional investor in Romero's film projects. While there,
George viewed some crawl spaces in which, the owner informed him, people
could probably survive in the event of an emergency. The proverbial
light-bulb went on over Romero's head, and the idea for Dawn of the Dead was
After his visit to the mall, George replaced the farmhouse in the second
part of his story Anubis with the massive shopping center. Prompted by his
friend's suggestion, he began to write a dark screenplay that dealt with a
man and a pregnant woman hiding in the rafters of the mall. With about half
of this story written, Romero took a hiatus from the project to make Martin.
Despite some good reviews, Martin's tepid reception dissuaded many
Pittsburgh investors from contributing to another risky project, so Romero
and producer Richard Rubinstein sought alternate sources of financing for
the film. Irvin Shapiro, Laurel's foreign-distribution agent sent a copy of
the unfinished script to an Italian producer named Alfredo Cuomo, who in
turn passed the translated script on to director Dario Argento.
Argento, his brother Claudio (also a film producer) and Cuomo took an
immediate liking to the script, and offered to put up half of the $1,500,000
budget in exchange for most of the foreign distribution rights. With this
initial investment, it was much easier to raise the rest of the budget
within the United States. Romero and Rubinstein each invested $25,000, and
various friends and relatives made their contributions to the project by
investing, convincing others to invest, or both. By late 1977, the budget
was in place and the production could begin in earnest.

The Script

The story that George had based Night of the Living Dead on was an
original, three-part tale he referred to as Anubis. Based loosely on
Richard Matheson's sci-fi vampire story I Am Legend, told the
"living-versus-dead" story in three short stages, all of which took place
at or near the farmhouse from Night. The first part told of a group of
people seeking refuge  from the walking dead in the isolated farmhouse.
The second deals with another group, a search-and-destroy mission against
the invaders. At the end of this "chapter," a cache of guns is accidentally
left behind and discovered by a couple of smarter-than-average zombies.
The conclusion takes place at the same farmhouse, years later; the zombies
are now the dominant society, and a lone human being hiding in the house is
the "monster." Although the original story was always a triptych, Romero
never thought of the films as a trilogy until 1976, when he started work
on Dawn.

The first draft of the Dawn screenplay was very stark, similar in tone to
the first film; a man and his pregnant mate are living in a crawl space
in an abandoned shopping mall. This version of the script, which Romero
has since called "dark" and "ugly," began with the couple's discovery of
a military plan to train the zombies by feeding them (a la Day of the
Dead): trucks are delivering loads of human flesh to the mall for storage
in various large freezers. Only about half of this version was completed.
Dario Argento liked what he read, and wanted to see the rest of the story.
Rubinstein began discussing business arrangements with Cuomo and Argento,
while George went to Rome and rewrote the story, retaining only certain
elements (i.e., the pregnant woman, the mall-as-sanctuary, the freezer).
Each page of this new script was approved and intialed by the Italian
co-producers, and an arrangement was reached whereupon it was agreed that
certain scripted elements would be "accurately reflected" in the finished

The new, 253-page script was very similar to the completed film,
with a few exceptions (Fran's adoption of a puppy from the mall's pet shop,
for example). The story's tone, however, was still darker than the film
ended up being, and the original ending was essentially a repeat of Night's
"no survivors" finale. As written, the film ended with Peter committing
suicide and Fran jumping into the whirling rotor of the helicopter. These
scenes were actually shot, but in the end, Romero decided to let the
characters live "because I liked them too much."

The standard film-industry rule that a script averages out on screen to
about one page per minute implied a four-hour film, but George was merely
trying to effectively communicate the necessary elements to all the
departments involved.

On Location 

Shooting began in November 1977. Dawn was primarily shot in the Monroeville
Mall, a shopping center about twenty minutes outside of downtown Pittsburgh.
At the time, the mall housed 143 stores, 130 of which allowed themselves to
be seen in the film. Fortunately, most of the store managers were very
cooperative; stores and merchandise were used without elaborate security
precautions, although sometimes representatives were on hand (jewelry stores,
the bank, etc.). In TZTAP, Richard Rubinstein relates how the scenes in the
bank were shot: he wrote a check for $20,000 (which at the time, was more
than the company actually had in the bank!), cashed it, shot the
money-throwing scene, cleaned up the cash and got the check back. "I think
we got $19,996 back out of the $20,000," he says.

Shooting took place after the mall closed for the night, beginning around
10:00 PM, and wrapping up around 7:00 AM, when the Muzak would automatically
come on. The crew took a three-week break in December, when the mall was
decorated for Christmas; the TV station scenes were shot at this time, at
a local, independent UHF station.

The tenement scenes were shot in an abandoned apartment building (unheated,
hence the mist on various peoples' breath). A warehouse in downtown
Pittsburgh served as the set for the mall hideout. An electrical fire broke
out on this set at one point; Romero's reaction, according to Gaylen Ross,
was to simply stand aside, let the situation be dealt with, and then ask
calmly, "Okay, are we ready?"

A local gun shop was carefully shot from various angles, so as to seem part
of the mall. This store went out of business shortly after shooting there was 
completed. In one shot, a rack of Dremel tool accessories appears on a 
counter-top; Tom Savini purchased this set whole (due to its 
"going-out-of-business sale" price), and still uses it in his shop today. 

Monroeville Mall 

Dawn's primary location was the Monroeville Mall, one of the country's first 
such shopping centers. These days every city in America has at least one 
shopping mall nearby; this wasn't the case in the late 1970's, however. In 
fact, the Monroeville Mall was so revolutionary at the time that a Holiday 
Inn adjacent to the mall offered a weekend "mall shopping" rate. Thus, 
Steve's naive-sounding question in the film - "What the hell is it?" - is 
merely a reflection of the period in which Dawn was made. 
The mall is still in existence today, though virtually all of the stores 
have changed. There are a few holdovers, though, including Walden Books and 
the ubiquitous J.C. Penney's. Despite these changes, the structure itself 
remains, for the most part, identifiable. The marble pillars and domed 
skylights are exactly as they were twenty years ago, as is the large 
fountain at the eastern end of the mall. (Visitors may also glimpse some 
20-year-old hair do's, particularly in the "Food Court.") 

The "X" File 

In the winter of 1978, Romero and Rubinstein were engaged in a search for 
someone to distribute the film. Three organizations were interested: Warner 
Brothers, American International Pictures (Roger Corman's company), and 
Salah Hassanein's United Film Distribution. All three were concerned with 
the rating the film's bloodshed would prompt, and, sure enough, the Motion 
Picture Association of America guaranteed an X rating unless "radical cuts" 
were made.

The MPAA ratings system was established in 1968. Ironically, one of the 
films that was often cited as an example for the need of such a system was 
Night of the Living Dead...although other films of that period (Blood Feast, 
for example) may have had some bearing upon the matter. At that time, four 
ratings existed: G (General Admission), M (Mature Audiences), R (Restricted) 
and X (No one under 17 admitted). The X rating, however, was not a 
registered trademark, as were the other three, which allowed makers of porn 
movies to use as many X's as they wanted. Thus, the X became a visual symbol 
for "sleaze."

Cutting the gore would have made Dawn of the Dead a ridiculous mediocrity; 
it is part of the film's theme, violence that occurs so often that we become 
numb to it. "Unfortunately," Romero has said, "violence is considered a 
solution for some problems in America. In Dawn of the Dead I tried to make 
this terrible function of violence visible." Nevertheless, most studios at 
that time would not release an X rated film. Romero and Rubinstein decided 
to circumvent the problem by releasing the film unrated, since there is no 
law requiring a film to have a rating.

Instead, the ads would carry a self-imposed warning:

Warner Bros. and AIP both demanded an R rating to release the film, and so 
George decided not to sell the picture. Fortunately, UFD took a chance and 
released the film in its entirety.

Afterwards, Romero tried for years to convince the MPAA that a new rating 
was necessary, what he termed an A rating, connoting "Adult," but non-sexual 
material. This suggestion fell upon deaf ears...although in 1984 the PG-13 
rating was introduced immediately after Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom 
raised a bit of a ruckus; despite a bloody "heart-removal" scene, the 
picture still received a PG rating, apparently in light of the tremendous 
profits to be made. Apparently, as far as the MPAA was concerned, money 
talks, and horror movies walk.

The "Adult" rating did finally come to pass; The NC-17 rating is basically 
an X without the symbol, which is exactly what Romero was calling for all 
along. MPAA President Jack Valenti gives this familiar-sounding explanation 
for the change, which occurred on September 27th, 1990:
"The X rating over the years appeared to have taken on a surly meaning in 
the minds of many people, a meaning that was never intended when we created 
the system. Therefore, we chose to reaffirm the original intent of the 
design we installed on November 1, 1968, in which this "adults only" 
category explicitly describes a movie that most parents would want to have 
barred to viewing by their children. That was and is our goal, nothing more, 
nothing less." 

Several movies have since been released under the NC-17 banner, with little 
fanfare (with the possible exception of Showgirls, which seemed to wish that 
the X was still around for appearance's sake). The X rating is no 
more...although most pornographic films are now released directly onto 
video, which requires no rating. What was lost or gained? You decide. 

The Original Ending 

Dawn of the Dead, as written, was a much bleaker story than the film ended 
up becoming. Although not as grim as Romero's original idea - a pregnant 
woman and her mate hiding in the rafters of an abandoned mall - the Dawn 
shooting script wasn't lacking in the brutal irony that made Night of the 
Living Dead the film that it was. 

As scripted, Dawn ended with a repeat of Night's downbeat climax: everyone 
dies. Peter, having grown too comfortable with his materialistic existence 
at the mall, sadly decides that he'd rather kill himself than leave. As the 
zombies advance, Fran escapes onto the roof, while Peter shoots himself in 
the head. Then, as the zombies begin to emerge from the skylight, a 
distraught Fran makes the same decision and stands up into the helicopter's 
whirling rotor, shearing her head off. As the credits rolled, we would have 
seen the zombies feeding on their final victims. Then, a final, grisly irony 
after the credit roll: the helicopter motor sputters and dies. 

Despite rumors to the contrary, these scenes were actually shot. On the 
commentary track of Elite's Dawn laserdisc, George Romero admits that he 
does not remember shooting them, but Tom Savini vividly remembers the 
bitingly cold night that the effect was filmed on the roof of the 
Monroeville Mall. According to Tom, his trusty mannikin "Boris" was dressed 
with a false Gaylen Ross head which was loaded with squibs. The dummy was 
suspended from a large wooden rig, with a couple of assistants standing by, 
each holding a length of fishing line and a pair of scissors. As Tom blew 
the squibs, the head burst, and the assistants cut their lines, dropping the 
headless body to the roof. Peter's suicide was a far simpler affair; just 
another of the hundreds of squibs that Dawn is rife with. 

As the film's shooting progressed, Romero began to like his characters more 
and more; the story's dark tone began to lighten up, and parts of the film 
became almost "cartoony" in their over-the-top violence and antics. Thus, 
Romero simply couldn't resist creating an alternate, "happy" ending in which 
Peter and Fran escape to an uncertain future. 

No version of Dawn of the Dead has ever contained the original ending. It is 
unknown if this footage was ever edited into a completed scene, or if it 
even still exists in any form, anywhere. Since Romero himself edited the 
film, it seems likely that the mysterious "lost ending" will remain lost for 
quite some time. 


On any given night, various numbers of zombie-extras would be put through the 
makeup "assembly-line." Most often, this just consisted of a layer of gray
cake makeup on the exposed skin surfaces - typically face, neck and hands.
Theorizing that not everyone who had come back as a zombie had died
peacefully, Tom Savini decided to fabricate various foam-latex "scar" and
"wound" appliances to enhace what the effects team called "special" zombies. 

Tom devised a simple method of preparing dozens of these appliances at once.
He would sculpt many different scars, cuts, gashes and bite-marks onto the
bottom of a large, plastic photographic developing tray. Then, by pouring
a layer of hydrocal (a durable plaster-like stone mixture) into the tray,
he created a negative mold of the sculpted scars (which eventually became
known as a "Slab-O'-Wounds.") Tom had merely to pour a batch of foam-latex
onto the slab, scrape off the excess, and bake the whole thing in an oven for
a few hours. The result was a thin foam-latex skin full of ready-to-use
wounds which could be applied at a moment's notice. 

When it was time for the zombies to actually bite someone, Tom was ready.
Having cast the body part to be bitten, Tom would sculpt a thin layer of
"flesh" onto the hydrocal reproduction of that body part. Reproducing this
in foam-latex, Tom would pre-paint the appliance (flesh tone on top, red
and black on the bottom) and prepare some tubing, attached to a pump or
syringe full of blood. (The blood Tom used in Dawn was a stage blood formula
by 3-M; he's generally unhappy about the way this formula photographed,
claiming that it looked, at times, like "tempera paint.") Once the tubing and
appliance were affixed to the actor, the color was matched to that of the
performer's skin, blending it in seamlessly. All that remained was for the
actor playing the zombie to bite down in the right place and tear away a
chunk of foam...although sometimes the "zombie" would become overzealous and
bite too hard, resulting in realistic screams from the "victim!" 


Dawn has been criticized (or, in some instances, glorified) for the amount of 
violence that occurs onscreen. However, aside from a few gruesomely accurate 
large-scale effects, the majority of the film's violence is in its hundreds of 
on-screen "bullet hits." 

Most were done by Tom Savini, who used an old film trick: a sewing button was 
tied to a length of fishing line and concealed under a layer of mortician's
wax upon the actor's face. The wax was then made up to match the rest of the
actor's face, usually "zombie gray." While the camera rolled, Tom would yank
away the button, leaving a neat hole in the wax. Occasionally, Tom would
conceal a small tube in the actor's hair and under the wax, allowing a stream
of stage blood to trickle out afterwards.

For a blood-spattering exit wound, explosives handler Gary Zeller would score 
(or weaken) the costume and attach a squib - a small explosive charge inside a 
blood-filled condom - beneath. The squib's wires would then be attached to a 
detonator box, allowing Zeller to trigger the device at the proper moment.
When Savini's "entry wound" and Zeller's "exit wound" were properly
synchronized, the gruesome illusion of a high-caliber round blasting in and
out of a zombie's body was utterly convincing. 

Of course, the larger the caliber, the greater the damage. Several of Dawn's 
"victims" met their demise in a more visceral display of firepower. Two
notable instances were the tenement-dweller whose head was blown off by Wooley
at the film's beginning, and the zombie whose face Peter removes while saving
Roger's life. 

The former was accomplished by creating a lifelike false head, which Savini 
filled with blood-bags and assorted "innards" (pasta, apple cores, chips, etc)
and attached to "Boris," a life-sized dummy built by Savini for the film. Then
on cue, Tom actually blasted the head off with a 12-gauge shotgun. This rather
unorthodox technique resulted in one of the screen's most infamous

The latter was a bit more complex; Tom sculpted a false face which would
obscure the face of the actress playing the zombie (Jeannie Jeffries). The
space between Jeannie's face and the appliance was filled with blood and
sealed, with a length of monofilament line strategically attached; a yank
on the line pulled away the "face," splashing Scott Reiniger with blood. 

The blood Tom used in Dawn was 3-M Stage Blood, sold by the Alcone Co. in New 
York. (This was prior to Tom's discovery of Dick Smith's blood formula, which
is currently the most popular - corn syrup and food coloring.) Although this
bright blood formula worked well on stage, it photographed oddly, sometimes
looking, as Tom describes it, like "melted red crayons." Romero was pleased
with this unexpected effect, however, since the fire-engine red splashes of
blood enhanced the film's "comic book" appearance. 


The disgusting demise of Sledge Hammer was another simple-but-effective 
illusion. Taso wore a "false chest" appliance sculpted by Tom Savini, which
was glued from his crotch up to his neck. Before the top of the appliance was 
sealed, blood tubes were attached and innards - real sheep's intestines, from
a local butcher shop - were added. 

Savini's philosophy is always thus: you can't get any better than the real 
thing. Unfortunately, whenever real entrails are used on a movie set (where 
things are frequently misplaced or forgotten in the rush to finish the day's 
shots), they almost always end up going bad...which these did (the same thing 
happened on Day of the Dead, seven years later). 

When the time came for Taso's "organs" to be inserted, the stench was so foul 
that he refused to let the "disgusting stuff" touch his body until he rinsed 
them in the sink for about an hour. Afterwards, clean intestines neatly packed 
the appliance was sealed and made up, with some hair glued on as a joke (Taso 
doesn't have any chest hair). It was then a simple matter for the "zombies" to 
tear open the foam chest and remove the intestines for their feast. According
to Taso, some of the extras had no qualms whatsoever about jamming those
stinky entrails into their mouths to earn a close-up; the more discriminating
extras gnawed on bits of ham, turkey, hot dogs, and so forth. 

Run over by a Truck

As Dawn's only stuntmen, it fell to Taso and Tom to play various "stunt"
zombies when the need arose. While shooting the scene of Roger and Peter
driving trucks to block the mall's entrances, Romero wanted to see various
zombies clobbered by the big rigs, an image only alluded to in Night of the
Living Dead "I started to drive...just plowed right through them..." Tom Savini
decided to play the "windshield" zombie. Dressing in a gray, utilitarian
jumpsuit, Tom took a mouthful of stage blood, stood on the truck's bumper,
spat the blood onto the windshield and jumped backwards. Then, a trampoline
(which is briefly visible in the film was positioned behind the truck so that
Tom could run, jump and bounce backwards as if the truck had flung him away; a
group of "zombie" extras were postioned behind Tom in order to break his fall.
They didn't do a very good job - a few shots later in the film, we see the
same stunt from a different angle; Tom lands flat on his back.

Cleverly edited by George Romero, however, the scene plays out perfectly.
We see the zombie staggering in the truck's path; a shot of Roger as he
steps on the gas; the zombie "hitting" the windshield; and the 
"flight" shot. This apparently minor, "throwaway" gag is actually
another convincing combination of stunts, special effects and editing.

Shot in the Eye 

Zombies and motor vehicles often combine to dramatic effect; the zombie who
gets  dragged behind the car in the mall was no exception. This was another
example of a simple trick that resulted in a convincing illusion. 

Taso, in his capacity as a "stunt zombie," came up with a nifty gag that was 
accomplished fairly easily. He dressed an extra in a very distinctive costume, 
with a wig, bandanna, sweater and boots. He then asked her to tuck an arm up 
into her sweater, as if she only had one. This woman was filmed walking
towards the car in an establishing shot. 

Then, for the shot of the zombie stumbling and grabbing onto the car, Taso 
donned the wig and costume. When the time came for Stephen to shoot the 
persistent creature in the eye, Taso used his concealed hand to hold a rubber 
blood-ball, which was attached to a tube that emptied out of an "eyelid" 
appliance. Taso had only to squeeze the ball to send blood gushing out of the 

Since the mall floor was a smooth, marble-like tile, being dragged behind the 
car was, according to Taso, "no big deal." The front-wheel drive of the 
Volkswagen Scirocco did fling some debris at him as it ran over a mannikin and
a small picket-fence, but he managed to escape, for the most part, unscathed. 

The Helicopter Gag 

Since a zombie can only be stopped by destroying its brain, Tom Savini 
concentrated on thinking of various horrible "head-gags" to perform. 
Fortunately, zombies aren't that bright, as evidenced by the scene in which a 
flat-topped ghoul wanders into the helicopter's whirling rotor. 

This gruesome effect was accomplished by casting the head of a fellow with a 
naturally low forehead (Jim Krut, a friend of Tom Savini). Upon this life-mask, 
Tom sculpted a higher skull-cap, which would look normal on Jim's low brow.
This "dome" was duplicated in foam latex and sliced into sections, with some
handy fishing line attached to each chunk of "skull." 

When it came time to shoot the scene, Tom ran blood tubing up under Jim's 
costume, leading up to the cut section in the appliance. On "Action," various 
people, each holding a length of fishing line, ran away, pulling their segment 
of "head" off. Tom pumped blood through the tubing from his position behind the 
stack of crates the "zombie" was standing on, creating a ghastly flow of gore. 
The whirling blades themselves were actually added in post-production, as an 
optical effect. 

The only "hitch" in this effect was that the wig that Tom applied to the top of 
the false head didn't rest properly on the latex "skull," giving Jim a 
Frankenstein-like appearance. This didn't stop the effect from becoming one of 
Dawn's most memorable gags, however. 

Machete in the Head 

Another of Dawn's most memorables effects occurs towards the end of the film, 
when Blades splits a zombie's skull with a machete. Again, this is a good 
example of Tom's "use the real thing whenever possible" philosophy. Instead of 
making a false head, Tom devised a method of using a real machete and the real 
actor in the shot. 

Tom first traced the shape of the actor's (Lenny Lies) head with a piece of
soft wire. He then copied this onto the blade of the machete, which was taken
to a machine shop, where the traced area was cut away. The machete now had a
round "groove" which fit neatly onto Lenny's head. When the shot was filmed,
Tom simply placed the machete on Lenny and quickly yanked it away; with the
footage printed in reverse, the blade appears to smack powerfully into his

The other shots involved the use of the same machete, with blood tubing glued
to its backside; as blood was pumped from the tube, it appeared to come from
the zombie, not the blade. A horrible "THWACK!" sound effect also added to the 
illusion. "Say goodbye, creep!"

Screwdriver in the Ear 

A popular pastime on the Dawn set was improvising zombie death scenes.
The best example of this is the scene where a maintenance-man-zombie (played
by John Harrison) attacks Roger and is stopped with a screwdriver in its

This idea started out as a suggestion of Taso's: an umbrella in the eye. 
Thinking in terms of running through the mall, Taso tried to come up with a 
scenario of "What could someone grab at a moment's notice?" He then thought
that perhaps an umbrella rack could be nearby, and that the hero could grab
an umbrella to fend off the creature. After a bit of discussion, this evolved
into Harrison's appearance as a janitor, with a handy belt full of tools. A 
screwdriver was also very easy to duplicate for effects purposes. 

Tom Savini took three matching screwdrivers and altered two of them; one was 
sawed off about halfway towards the handle, the other at about three-quarters. 
The first shot shows Roger gripping the real, full-length screwdriver. As it 
enters the zombie's ear, we see the second, shorter tool, which is actually 
sliding into a silver-painted drinking straw. John's ear was plugged with 
mortician's wax, and blood tubing was hidden in his hair. The final shot shows 
the shortest screwdriver, simply stuck into the wax, with blood flowing 

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