George Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead (1968) is a low budget classic. He made it for about $114,000 and grossed over $10 million, with the film hailed as a critical masterpiece.
His second zombie feature, Dawn Of The Dead, however, is a bigger and more audacious film.
Not exactly a sequel, Dawn Of The Dead explores parallel themes with an expanded budget and builds on the spirit and ideas of the original while establishing an identity of its own.
As civil society breaks down amid the worldwide rise of the living dead, SWAT team members Peter Washington (Ken Foree) and Roger Demarco (Scott H Reiniger), and traffic reporters Steve Andrews (David Emge) and Fran Parker (Gaylen Ross), escape in a helicopter.
Running low on fuel and supplies, they break in through the roof of a deserted suburban Philadelphia shopping mall (the movie was filmed at the Monroeville Mall near Pittsburgh every night from midnight to dawn).
After fighting the zombies they manage to secure the mall and stock up on supplies. There are some great scenes as the group aimlessly walk around trying different food delicacies and clothes, trawling through empty shops to piped muzak.
Before long they find themselves besieged by a (human) motorcycle gang who would rather kill them in order to loot the mall than band together against the zombies. The zombies follow the bikers into the mall and there are fierce battles between heroes and bikers, bikers and zombies and heroes and zombies . . .
Setting the standoff in a shopping mall is a brilliant choice, creating apocalyptic menace in an unusually benign setting.
Dawn Of The Dead is gloriously, delightfully excessive, and horror makeup and effects master Tom Savini splatters his mark all over.
The film is also so violent and gruesome that it was originally released unrated in the United States for fear of being slapped with an X rating.
Italian horror maestro Dario Argento helped secure funding for the movie, in exchange for the right to oversee the international cut of the film. Argento also served as an uncredited writer and helped with the score using his band, The Goblins.
Scott H Reiniger