DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)
Updated: Jun 1
Dawn of the Dead is a 1978 zombie horror film written, directed, and edited by George A. Romero, and produced by Richard P. Rubinstein. An American-Italian international co-production, it is the second film in Romero's series of zombie films, and though it contains no characters or settings from the preceding film Night of the Living Dead (1968), it shows the larger-scale effects of a zombie apocalypse on society. In the film, a phenomenon of unidentified origin has caused the reanimation of the dead, who prey on human flesh. David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger, and Gaylen Ross star as survivors of the outbreak who barricade themselves inside a suburban shopping mall amid mass hysteria.
Dawn of the Dead was followed by four official sequels, beginning with 1985's Day of the Dead, and a separate series of unofficial Italian-made sequels, beginning with 1979's Zombi 2. It also inspired a 2004 remake directed by Zack Snyder, as well as numerous parodies such as Shawn of the Dead and many pop culture references.
DATE(S) VISITED: FEB 5, 2022
LOCATION: MONROEVILLE, PA
Due to the inclement weather we had during our time in Pennsylvania, we had to miss out the airfield as the driveway leading to it had not been plowed and we really did not want to risk getting stuck in the snow. For now, all we managed to get was a photo of the sign taken from the main road.
DATE(S) VISITED: FEB 4, 2022
LOCATION: MONROEVILLE, PA
Romero deliberately held off making a sequel to Night of the Living Dead for several years to avoid being stereotyped as a horror director, but upon visiting Monroeville Mall with a friend whose company managed the complex, he decided to use the location as the basis for the film's story.
After being such a fan of this film for many, many years, it was such a surreal experience to actually be at this iconic place! Excitement levels were set to overload as we rolled up on the parking lot humming 'The Gonk'.
We decided to do a circuit of the building before going inside to see if we could spot the iconic parking lot scenes, and we were not disappointed! As you can see below, the strip mall and auto service center are still there, along with the road between them both. The road where Peter and Roger drive the trucks downhill can be seen, and it is also where the marauding biker gang also approach from. The hill looks a lot steeper in the film than it actually does in real life. Weird.
"Looks like a shopping center. One of those big indoor malls."
The rooftop where Francine covers Peter and Roger is blatantly obvious as the brick work is still the same. This can be seen next to the Loading Docks entrance, but more on that later.
After our initial drive around the building it was time to head inside. Some new extensions and store changes have been made since 1978 and Monroeville Mall has lost some of it's original layout, which is such a shame, but that's progress and the times a' changing I guess? The maps below show the original layout of the mall in it's heyday, and copies of these can also be seen in film.
"The ductwork runs all the way into the washrooms. We'll have to get in and out that way. We'll bring up any bug stuff we want before we put up the wall."
Once inside the mall our first port of call was to head to The Living Dead Museum & Gift Shop, but as you can imagine, on our way there we were spotting certain scenes and moments from the film and had to get some photo's and take in the moment. Our first moment were the upper level doors we actually walked through which is known as West Court Entrance on the original mall map.
This was the first set of doors that the intrepid survivors lock from the inside, zooming up the corridor in the VW that they hotwire from a display in the center of the mall. Romero used filming trickery to make it look like that the doors barricaded within the mall were all on one level, alas this is not the case. These doors are on the upper level, and the Loading Dock entrance is on the lower, the car would have had to been moved through the doors via the parking lot for filming on the separate floors.
"We'll get it all locked off . . . then we're going on a hunt."
When walking down the corridor from this entrance you arrive at one of the main area's of the mall which was known as Town Square back in 1978. This is the location where the clock tower once stood. The stair well that was here, and which you see in the movie, has since been replaced with escalators.
"Most of the gates are down. I don't think they can get into the stores."
The next location we stumbled across we recognized instantly. It was the corridor that leads to the survivors safe room. In real life this corridor is much longer than you see in the movie. For filming a false wall was put up, ironically right next to the false wall the survivors erect over the top of the doorway to their hideout.
"Don't open that door, baby. You'll lead 'em right up with you."
Continuing East you shortly arrive at the center of the mall. This was where Penny's Department Store used to be and where you will find the original escalators in the main hallway.
Unfortunately in 2012 the store had been completely closed and was gutted to make way for a cinema complex. It's a shame that we never got to experience the Penny's store and especially their escalators. To have been able to recreate that memorable scene where Roger slides down the center of them would have been epic! Looking into where the store once stood you could make out the support structures where the escalator once was. A small section of it was saved and it can be seen on display in The Living Dead Museum & Gift Shop.
Another iconic scene that took place in the Penny's Department Store is when Steve gets bitten by a zombie whilst trying to escape via the elevator and thus turning into the undead himself. Thankfully the elevator was saved from the developers wrecking ball and is also on display in The Living Dead Museum & Gift Shop.
"Listen, those things are all over the place. Climb up top... I'll get you out the grid on the shaft... I'm comin'."
Outside of the Penny's location the original escalators as seen in the movie are still in the same spot. This is where you see some of the comedy element of the movie with the zombies flailing about on the escalator, one of those being Sweater Zombie played by the late Clayton Hill.
"Some kind of instinct. Memory... Of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives."
To the West side of the escalators on the lower level, this is where you would have found the area with the fake plants, trees and the little bridge that crossed a small water feature (also known by fans as The Bridge of the Dead). In the movie, it is also where the VW car was on display and is subsequently hotwired by Roger. Unfortunately this area was removed back in 2015 after a multimillion dollar renovation. It seems such a shame as all that remains is a huge empty space, not really much of a renovation was it?! A petition was started by fans of the movie to try and save the bridge, luckily it was donated to the Heinz History Center, in PA.
"When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth."
As you get to the East end of the mall you arrive at what was Fountain Square, where the circular fountain was originally located. This is on the Macy's side of the mall which, at the time of filming, was home to Hornes department store. This side mirrors the West end side of the mall and the stairwell that used to be here and seen in the film has also been replaced with an escalator.
"Big place. But they're pretty spread out down there. I think we can out-run 'em."
Directly above this area, as well as the Town Square area on the West side, are those 1970's style skylights which are famously seen at the start of the film's end credits, albeit very briefly, blink and you will miss it. These would also be the windows that the survivors look down into the mall from when they land the helicopter on the roof.
"How do we get down there?"
A wonderful surprise was had in this vicinity, as whilst we were taking photo's from the balcony something caught our eye on a pedestal below. Surely that isn't what we think it is? On further investigation, it is! A commemorative bust of the Zombie Master himself, George A. Romero. It is such a wonderful thing to see that his work is celebrated so much in Pennsylvania as this was the first of many commemorative items to him that we saw in this State.
After George's death in 2017 it inspired Christian Stavrakis, whose brother played a zombie in several of Romero's films, to launch an online fundraising campaign called Monroeville or Bust to help raise $18,000 so he could sculpt a bust of the cult film director. He only raised a fraction of the goal needed but that was not going to stop him from delivering. Stavrakis ended up finishing the project on his own, despite the endless hours working on it as well as his day job and also taking on half of the cost. We think he did George proud and the sculpt is amazing, it captured George's iconic beaming smile so well. The bust was unveiled on June 8, 2018.
It wasn't until we saw the plaque underneath the bust that we realized we were actually in the mall on George's birthday, February 4th, we were so delighted that the date coincided with our trip. RIP George, and thank you for all the scares, jumps, fun and laughter with your awesome horror films!
"The prices were sky high, and that was fair, because these guys are very good sculptors. Then it sort of dawned on me, so to speak, that I should do it myself because I knew George, and it was sort of a farewell from me, personally." - Christian Stavrakis
As you walk towards the East Court entrance from Fountain Square you can see what was called the Loading Dock in the movie. This entrance is on the lower floor and where the majority of the important action takes place. It is the second entrance in which the survivors block with the trucks and whilst doing so Roger gets bitten. Also, it's the entrance that the raiders break in through and ride into the mall on their bikes, ultimately letting the zombies swarm back inside.
As you can see below, the doors are on the lower level. Francine would have been on the rooftop to the right when giving covering fire to Roger and Peter as they barricaded the door with the trucks.
"I mean it, man! Now you're not just playin' with your life, your playin' with mine! Now are you straight?"
Whilst in this area I realized some film trickery was done. Not only, as mentioned above with the West door, that the entrances are on upper and lower levels, thus the car would not have been able to run between them both, but also the shot that Peter takes at the fleeing biker through the air vent. The vent did not only have no line of sight with the door, but it is also on the upper level.
"They're in Flyboy. They opened the loading docks! With those bay doors open, there's gonna be a thousand zombies in here."
On the inside, looking through the doors, you can still see the stone wall area which is predominantly seen as the zombies shamble around outside. Pretty cool indeed!
"How many you figure are already in?"
The doors and windows still look very similar, although we are pretty sure the doors are not the original ones from 1978. Standing here you can imagine the squeal of the tires from the VW, the roar of the engines from the bikers when they break in, and the constant moaning of the zombies.
"Safety stuff. Pretty indestructible. They got no leverage under the truck I hopin' they'll just go away after they find they can't get in I'll get the alarms. You get in the car."
We still had some time to kill before The Living Dead Museum & Gift Shop opened, so we decided to grab a coffee, and what better place too than the Food Court where the Ice Palace Skating Rink once stood. The area looks tiny compared to what you see in the movie, but I suppose the new builds have encroached on the space somewhat giving a smaller illusion.
On reflection, we chatted and came to the conclusion that malls are kind of heading the same way as a zombie apocalypse. They are dying out, less people are using them due to online shopping being more of a thing. We feel that taking out the skating rink has made Monroeville Mall lose something that would bring people here more than just to go shopping. Back in the 70's and 80's social media was going to see friends and family in real life, and a mall was a great place to hang out with so much to do, with physical and mental interaction! These days people have their minds in mobile phones and computers, the new breed of zombie.
"This is just for the two of you. Enjoy."
These commemorative pictures can be seen in the corridor of the upper East entrance opposite The Living Dead Museum & Gift Shop.
After finishing coffee the time had come to go visit The Living Dead Museum & Gift Shop... Photo's and write up of this visit can be seen here.
More photo's of our Dawn of the Dead, zombie shamble, around Monroeville Mall can be seen on our Facebook page here.