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Film / Dawn of the Dead (1978)

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Shop 'till you drop. Dead.

"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

Dawn of the Dead is the second movie in the Living Dead Series of Zombie Apocalypse films written and directed by George A. Romero. It was first released in 1978, ten years after the original film in the series, Night of the Living Dead. European audiences might better know this film from when it was distributed as Zombi, which itself would receive an unofficial sequel of sorts in Zombi 2, thereby beginning a headache for horror movie buffs and collectors over film name changes and numbering issues.

Shortly after the start of a Zombie Apocalypse, a news reporter, a helicopter pilot, and two renegade SWAT team members strike out on their own and set up shop in a suburban shopping mall, but they're beset by both a growing horde of zombies and looters.

Officially followed by Day of the Dead, and loosely remade in 2004.


Dawn of the Dead contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Action Girl: Francine gradually becomes one.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: The main characters use the ventilation ducts located above the mall's stores to move around without being noticed by the zombies (and later, the bikers).
  • All Bikers Are Hells Angels: A gang invades the mall in the original, letting in the zombies.
  • All There in the Manual: In the Novelization, Tom Savini's Knife Nut biker gang member is named Hatchet (materials for the movie call him Blades). The book also reveals the last names of many of the main characters.
  • Ambiguous Ending: Peter and Francine are the only ones who escape from the mall after it is infested again by zombies while Roger and Stephen are dead, and the helicopter's fuel is half gone, leaving their fates up to the interpretation of the audience.
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  • Awesome, but Impractical: The army units outside Philadelphia are seen transporting artillery cannons, which are less than useless against a zombie horde. Sure, any zombie who gets hit with an artillery shell will certainly be neutralized, but artillery is far too slow to be of any real use.
  • Asshole Victim: Wooley and later the bikers.
  • Ax-Crazy: Wooley, the unhinged racist SWAT cop at the beginning.
  • Barred from the Afterlife: We're presented with a theory that zombies are here because Hell is full so the dead have to walk the Earth.
  • Barrier-Busting Blow
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Subverted by Peter at the end when he decides to face the zombie horde rather than escape and ensures that he has a gun he can use on himself when they storm his room. However, at the last second he decides to make a break for it and escapes the overrun mall with Francine (this was changed from the original ending, where he really did kill himself).
  • Beware the Living: Present and accounted for with Wooley, the gung-ho yet dumb rednecks and the biker gang, all of which signify the devolution of society.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Averted. The black main character is one of the only ones to survive.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: Peter and Francine escape, but with little fuel left in the helicopter, and no clear destination. Also, the zombie apocalypse isn't going anywhere.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Features an impressive shotgun-blast-to-the-head scene.
  • Brick Joke: The zombie with the gun 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 (or other people) will get in sooner or later.
  • Catapult Nightmare: When the film opens we see Francine suffering (and waking from) one of these. Unfortunately for her, reality is no less of a nightmare.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: Steve Niles wrote a three-issue adaptation for IDW Publishing, same year as the remake.
  • Comic-Book Time: The 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.
  • Cosy Catastrophe: For a while, at least. The montage of the group enjoying their time in the shopping mall comes to mind.
  • Crazy Survivalist: Let's say the bikers aren't exactly "there" after about a year of the Zombie Apocalypse.
  • Creator Cameo: George Romero appears twice in the film, first as a WGON news director and then as a biker donning a Santa suit.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The rednecks and National Guardsmen show what happens when a large, put-together force with good ground stands their ground against the zombies rather than falling to pieces.
  • Curiosity Killed the Cast: Narrowly averted with Stephen, who routinely gets himself in a trouble by being too curious and impatient for his own good. He almost gets himself killed during the airfield scene and later, when the group just lands in the mall.
  • Crystal Clear Picture: Used for every TV picture, although genuine static appears at the end, after transmissions have stopped coming.
  • Daylight Horror: The scene at the airport gas station.
  • Dead-Hand Shot: In the earlier segments of the film, those are quire plentiful. Some of them twitch.
  • Death by Materialism: Stephen's death. He easily could've survived if he hadn't started shooting at the bikers, all because they were looting the mall which he considered "his" at this point.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: Soundly avoided, with a gory police raid on a zombie-infested tenement coming early in the film.
  • Devoured by the Horde: One of the bikers gets cornered once they enter the mall, and watches his own organs get removed in short order.
  • Distracted by the Luxury: Once the mall is secured and cleared, the group finds themselves with a whole lot of time and not a lot of things to do. Especially Francine tries to live a life full of luxuries, but they all quickly find it boring and tedious.
  • Distressed Damsel: Subverted. Francine is more than capable of handling herself (especially for the standards of late 70s) and she's the one that comes to the rescue twice.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Subverted in Peter's case since he decides that he wants to live at the last minute and escapes with Francine.
    • The original script played this straight, with Francine also killing herself by jumping into the rotating blades of the helicopter. They decided to eventually change this, since the preceding movie already had a similar "everybody dies" Downer Ending, and the world in the movie is a total Crapsack World anyway.
    • A minor character does this very early on, overwhelmed by the horror of the world he's in.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Continuing from Night of the Living Dead, zombies are mostly quiet and the only noise they make are snarling while they're after prey or eating until Stephen becomes a zombie, he begins to make the ghostly moans later films would use.
  • Enclosed Space: Most of the film takes place inside a shopping mall.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Berman the TV host throws a lot of verbal abuse at Dr. Foster and is a lot more contrary to him than is warranted, but when a technician sneaks up behind Foster and makes bunny ears above him, Berman angrily yanks the man's hand down.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The one-legged priest's warning to Peter and Roger at the tenement, about how the police and National Guard taking the building will do nothing to stave off the oncoming apocalypse, foreshadows the coming collapse of society, which manifests in the second half of the movie and also in Day of the Dead.
      "You are stronger than us... But soon, I think they be stronger than you."
    • Francine insists on learning how to fly the helicopter in case something happens to Stephen. Turns out to be a prophetic idea that saves her and Peter.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Stephen is choleric, Roger is sanguine, Francine is melancholic and Peter is phlegmatic.
  • Gilded Cage: The mall quickly becomes this, despite its relative safety and abundant supplies.
  • Good Shepherd: The one-legged priest who gives last rites to the zombified people in the basement and then steps aside for the SWAT team to deal with them.
  • Gorn: And how! Not as bad as in Day of the Dead, but still plenty.
  • Gun Porn: The scene where Peter and Stephen raid a gun shop inside the mall. Also doubles as sort of a Lock-and-Load Montage.
  • Happy Ending Override: While it certainly wasn't a happy ending for the cast, Night of the Living Dead ended with the zombie horde being cut down relatively easily, with the implication that they were ultimately a manageable threat. This movie, set three weeks later, shows that things are gradually getting worse, and by the end, civilization has collapsed completely.
  • 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 comes when the living humans get stupid or careless — it's just that humans are more concerned with arguing with each other, engaging in mindless behavior (such as the bikers raiding the mall for things like gold rings and money - utterly useless in a post-apocalyptic world), and otherwise ignoring the problem.
  • Human Resources: One of Dr. Rausch's proposed solutions to manage the growing zombie problem is feeding the bodies of the recently deceased, whose brains have been destroyed (so that they in turn can't reanimate), to the zombies so that they won't go after the living. The people in the TV studio are less than enthusiastic about the idea.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: In one of the last TV broadcasts, Dr. Rausch suggests that the survivors should utilize the corpses of the non-zombified dead to stretch the food supply of the zombies, much to the disgust of the audience.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Averted; Stephen misses a lone slow zombie multiple times before Roger steps in to put it down.
  • Incongruously Dressed Zombie: The Hare Krishna and nun zombies.
  • 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 would eventually get back up. Fortunately, no one takes this suggestion seriously. Not to mention a nuke won't actually kill the zombies that aren't outright incinerated in the blast and will just create radioactive zombies as well.
  • The Jaywalking Dead: Several zombies are easily cast aside when Roger and Peter start using trucks to block the doors of the mall. Later, when locking the doors from the inside, more zombies are taken out as they drive the silver coupe through the mall.
  • Jerkass:
    • Wooley, one of the men in Roger's SWAT unit. A gigantic racist, to boot: he's eager to kill Blacks, Jews, and Puerto Ricans (though not in those terms) before the raid on the tenement begins, and slaughters tenants indiscriminately in said raid. Peter, a black man, pumps him full of lead.
    • A special mention goes to the WGON station manager who's willing to run a scroll of (by now) inoperative rescue stations because, as he puts it, "every minute that those stations aren't on, people won't watch us. They'll tune us out."
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Just like the other two movies in the Dead trilogy the human antagonists' goals are not too far removed from those of the heroes, and in fact may well be a whole lot smarter. While the bikers' plundering is pretty damn irritating for the heroes, it's little different from the protagonists' own earlier ransacking of the mall (plus they only begin hunting Peter and Stephen after the latter idiotically starts shooting at them) and after they are done they get the hell out and move on, which takes the heroes months to bring themselves to do.
  • Just Before the End: Civilization seems to be collapsing during the first half of the film. By the beginning of the second half, the collapse is implied to be complete, with TV broadcasts having ceased (though it's mentioned the last one was only three days ago) and a roving biker gang instead of the police or military arriving at the mall.
  • Kill 'Em All: The scripted ending ended with everyone dying, but by the time it came to film it Romero had grown to like the characters and decided it would just be pointlessly depressing. It also would have been WAY too similar to the end of the previous film, 1968's Night of the Living Dead.
  • Libation for the Dead: Peter pours one out for Roger.
  • Lighter and Softer: Though the film is still dark and very violent, there's a much bigger emphasis on comedy than in Night of the Living Dead, and the ending is far more open-ended and bittersweet when compared to how the previous movie ended.
  • 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 helicopter.
  • Made of Plasticine: Par for the course, considering the genre. Special mention goes to the biker at the blood pressure tester, who seems to get his arm chewed off in just a few seconds.
  • The Mall: Chief setting of the film, used to skewer American consumerism by comparing it to the zombie hordes who "consume" everything in sight.
  • Market-Based Title: It was recut by Dario Argento and released as Zombi in Europe, where it in turn received a slew of unofficial sequels of its own, starting with Zombi 2.
  • Mêlée à Trois: The film has a climatic three-way battle with Peter and Stephen vs. the bikers invading the mall vs. the zombies.
  • Mercy Kill: Done twice by Peter to his newly zombified friends. First to Roger after the midway point of the film, then Stephen at the climax.
  • Morning Sickness: Francine is pregnant throughout the film, noticeably showing by the end. When the group first reaches the mall, Peter notices she looks sick and Stephen reveals her condition. Later, she is puking into a toilet and asks Stephen to leave her alone, not wanting him to see her like that.
  • Neutral Female: Gaylen Ross famously refused to play Francine as 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.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: TV host Sidney Berman seems to mean well, but his bullying, and skeptical treatment of Dr. Foster when he was providing information that could have helped stem the panic and slow the spread of the undead... increases the sense of panic and doesn't slow the spread of the undead.
  • No Name Given: The character Richard France plays (the TV scientist with the eye patch) is never addressed by name, and is referred to in the credits only as "Scientist." Curiously, he is often identified in reference to the film as "Dr. Milliard Rausch," a name that once used to be on the Internet Movie Database, but has since been changed back to "Scientist." Although some cuts do credit him as Dr. Milliard Rausch, Scientist and the European Cut even has his name said aloud.
  • Non-Residential Residence: Much of the movie has the main characters living in a shopping mall, until a biker gang breaks down their defenses, letting in the zombies.
  • Not Using the "Z" Word: Averted. In fact, this movie is actually the first to use the word "zombie" to mean flesh-eating undead.
  • Pie in the Face: The scene where the bikers pelt the zombies with pies and seltzer water.
  • Police Brutality: The scene in the apartment project carries heavy shades of this, with one cop simply using it as an excuse to shoot minorities. It's strongly implied that a legacy of this is why the building's residents are so bitterly resisting orders to turn over their dead; even though logic dictates that they shouldn't be keeping zombies locked up in their building, the trust between them and law enforcement was badly frayed even before the zombies arrived.
  • Precision F-Strike: Peter and Stephen are on the roof watching the bikers come down from the hill and into the parking lot. Stephen lets out a long, slow "Holy Shit!"
  • Product Placement: A given, as the bulk of the film takes place inside a mall.
  • Re-Cut: Clocked in at 139 minutes for its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival; this was subsequently trimmed by Romero to 126 minutes for general U.S. release, and there was a 119-minute cut supervised by Dario Argento for the film's European release (as Zombi). In 2004, Anchor Bay released an "Ultimate" DVD box set containing all three cuts.
  • The Remnant:
    • During the scene with the rednecks in the country, the local National Guard unit remains intact and confident, supporting them against the zombies.
    • Dr. Rausch provides a form of this, apparently representing some lingering central governmental authority that's trying to educate people on how to deal with the zombies over the TV (albeit ineffectively).
  • Room Full of Zombies: The film has a SWAT team and the National Guard raid a housing complex that has their basement filled with zombies. One of the apartments also contains three zombies.
  • Rule of Scary: A lot of contrived situations still lead to genuine tension, like struggling to reload a gun or suddenly stumbling into something.
  • Sanity Slippage: Humanity is collectively losing its mind as society crumbles beneath the pressure of the undead apocalypse, even the alleged "expert" Dr. Rausch is unravelling by the time he makes his last appearance on TV. He's sweaty and disheveled, in contrast to the neat and tidy appearance of Dr. Foster earlier in the film, and has begun to advise that the survivors should feed their dead to the zombies and use nukes on urban centers, and calls everyone who protests "irrational."
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: After realizing that Gibs is broadcasting outdated information on rescue stations, Francine immediately orders them to be shut down and calls him out on it.
    "Are you willing to murder people by sending them to out to stations that have closed down!?"
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: The film kicks off with Francine quitting the WGON crew and Roger and Peter deserting the SWAT team. In fact, this trope applies to large numbers of people in general, with many WGON crew members and even one of their police guards shown quitting the TV station, as well as the deserting policemen at the police dock. It is heavily implied that desertion is becoming rampant, which is one more reason for the deteriorating situation.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: There are numerous scenes of the zombies in the mall stumbling about to shopping muzak, notably the end credits.
  • Spoiler Cover: The VHS cover of George Romero's original film has a picture on the spine of one of the main characters dead and zombified, an event that occurs about ten minutes from the end.
    • Another VHS cover has the other zombified character on it.
    • The special edition DVD set had two main characters in their zombie state shown on the foldouts. Presumably under the assumption anybody that would buy a special edition re-release would have already seen the film.
  • Stalker Shot: Stephen is teaching Fran how to fly the helicopter atop the roof of the mall, when a Binocular Shot reveals that two bikers are watching them in secret. They make their presence known later that evening right before their gang executes a raid.
  • Strawman News Media: In the opening scenes, we see that Francine's bosses at WGON clearly don't give a shit about anything other than continuing to draw as many remaining viewers as they can, by any means necessary. Such as, for instance, deliberately listing rescue stations that are no longer operational. When the staff begin to walk off the job, the station manager tries to bribe them with triple pay and yells at a police officer to arrest them.
  • Straw Vulcan: The government experts that appear on the two TV station segments - one during the opening credits and one later on, who labels anybody who tries to be humane in any fashion during this situation a fool (the former expert might be excused due to how much the crowd has been ignoring his attempts at intelligent information but the latter expert spends some time repeatedly screaming "dummies!" at the interviewer who tries to say that it's understandable to be upset when it happens to a loved one) - and advise that people just start killing zombies, destroying any dead bodies that have not turned yet, follow any instructions given by the government unhesitatingly, and overall stop being human.
  • Taught by Experience: Francine isn't a hunter, combat-trained or a pilot. By the end of the film, she has the most versalite set of skills of the entire group, solely by living long enough for that to happen.
  • 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 while barricading the mall leaves him getting biten, which unsurprisingly ends with him turning into a zombie.
      "We got this, man! We got this by the ass!"
    • 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. He takes the only handgun and runs off to find Peter and Roger in the mall, leaving Fran defenseless when a zombie wanders up. He shoots at the biker 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 remembers the hidden nest where Peter and Fran are, and brings an army of flesh-eaters right behind him. In fact, him dying and forcing Peter and Fran to flee can all be traced back to the fact that, instead of retreating like Peter told him to, he had to actively go after the bikers.
    • 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 bikers casually smashing their way in and leaving a huge opening for zombies to pour through — and even then most of the bikers 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.
    • The zombies themselves aren't alive, but they also act with little regard to staying undead, walking right at heavily armed people who can take them down easily. The famous "Helicopter Zombie" climbs some boxes to get to Roger, completely ignoring the whirring blades...
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Wooley is initially introduced as an Angry White Man, who refers to minorities by using various racial slurs, but still seems sane at least. Once inside the apartment complex, he goes full Ax-Crazy who clearly enjoys shooting unarmed civilians more than his mission objectives.
  • Undead Child: Two (running) zombie kids who attack Peter at the airport.
  • Unbuilt Trope: So, you think a Zombie Apocalypse or some other doomsday disaster would be cool, huh? According to Romero, that means you probably hold a grudge against some part of society, fantasize about being a badass, or want an excuse to run wild in the streets. Also, even if you do manage to find safety, be prepared to spend a good portion of your actual time bored out of your mind, when you're not defending your refuge from other survivors, that is. Oh, and good luck to any public authorities trying to enforce orders to execute all Zombie Infectees; those orders just started a riot in the inner city, whose residents are adding "literally putting our loved ones down like rabid dogs" to their list of reasons not to trust the police.
  • We Have Forgotten the Phlebotinum: Roger forgets his bag in the truck.
  • What Have I Become?: To prepare for the biker invasion, Peter ditches the fancy clothes for his SWAT uniform. He removes the expensive rings he stole and disgustedly throws them onto a pile of money and jewelry, signifying his return to form and cessation of being a "thief" and a "bad guy."
  • While Rome Burns:
    • The survivors are shown prancing about in the mall as the zombie numbers outside grow bigger.
    • Even before that, when the main characters are fleeing Philadelphia and pass over the countryside in the helicopter, they see hundreds of gun-toting rednecks drinking and shooting zombies, treating the apocalypse as a game.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: Played with. A vault is raided for cash because "you never know." Meaning, yeah, money is worthless now, but that may change after all of this is dealt with. Also, gold and jewels might still be useful for bartering even after a social collapse.
  • Your Head A-Splode: 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. It carries on from where Night left off, i.e. the start of the zombie apocalypse.

"Where is Flyboy?"

Video Example(s):


Dawn of the Dead

The dead have long since risen from the grave and now humanity is trying to survive them.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / OurZombiesAreDifferent

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Main / OurZombiesAreDifferent