24 Feb 2016

ZOMBIE FILM RULES - Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Every genre has cliches, but how well do Romero's Living Dead films follow the Zombie film rules?

Dawn of the Dead (1978) is George Romero's semi-official follow-up to Night of the Living Dead.

The following analysis may contain spoilers for


An TV producer, her helicopter pilot boyfriend and two members of a police swat team end up in a shopping mall to wait out the zombie apocalypse.


There will be no warning...

"Something my granddad used to tell us. You know Macumba? Vodou. My granddad was a priest in Trinidad. He used to tell us, 'When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth.'"
 ~ Peter

The film starts in medias res in a TV studio after the outbreak, so after the warning, if there was any.

1a.  Eerie - The film starts with Francine starting awake in a chaotic TV studio - a normally quiet and controlled environment, giving an eerie feeling.
1b.  News - Francine works for the news.  It's talking about the outbreak - but it's giving old information about rescue stations and features an argument between a scientist and presenter about whether the dead are even coming back to life.
1c.  Sudden - See previous film:  Night of the Living Dead.


There may be sex and nudity.

"He your man now?" ~ Peter.
"Most of the time, yeah." ~ Stephen.

2a.  Nudity - Francine appears topless in bed with Stephen.
2b.  Sex - Francine and Stephen have had a relationship resulting in her being pregnant.  Once later in the film they are shown in a bed together, presumably post-sex (but neither seems ro have enjoyed it).


Unknown cause.

"What have we done to ourselves?" ~ Francine.

3a.  Unknown origin - Some speculation of a virus, a comment about voodoo and hell being full.  No mention of the radiation from the previous film.
3b.  Vague hints - As above.
3c.  The originators - Nothing on the originators.


The Living 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.

4a.  Dead - Dr Foster claims they are.
4b.  Rising from the grave - Again, it's the recent dead, no references to rising from the grave.
4c.  Instant decay - Every one of the Dead is green-blue-grey, including Stephen immediately after he died  As Roger died he got paler and ashen faced, when he rose he was unnaturally white/grey looking (not the blue/grey of the other Dead, but certainly decayed or mummified looking.)  Some time later one dead person outside seems well decayed, while the Dead are still the same blue'grey.
4d.  Origin - Despite the radiation claims of the previous film, the television presenter says that it is being looked at as a viral problem and they were trying to work up a vaccine.  Peter also talks about a voodoo superstition about the dead walking when there's no more room in hell.
4e.  Spread - Once again it's stated that all freshly dead come back to life, including (but not limited to) those killed by the dead.  When Roger is bitten, Peter tells Francine that he's seen plenty of people bitten and none lasted more than 3 days.  That, however, only shows that the bite kills, but doesn't confirm "spread by bite."
4f.  Rudimentary IQ - Dr. Millard Rausch said they had little or no reasoning power, but points out basic skills or remembered behaviours remained, including the misuse of tools.  Dead-Stephen remembered enough to find the false wall.
4g.  Rudimentary speech - No sound.
4h.  Lost memory - Stephen suggests that the Dead come to the mall out of instinct or some kind of memory.  If he is correct (and as noted Dr. Millard Rausch has the same opinion) they retain some residual memory, as is shown in a lot of the random and repeated actions of some of the Dead.
4i.  Slow/Shambling - All seem to be, except a pair of child-Dead who run at Peter.  Some even collapse if they turn on hearing a noise.
4j.  Swarms - The zombies begin to gather attracted by noise of movement (but not a helicopter, it seems).  They also seem intimidated by the bikie gang playing the raiders.
4k.  Stealth zombies - A cop was snuck up on by one while watching another cop not shoot another.  There's a stealth zombie in the plant room of the mall that hassles Stephen and soon after one in the department store that trips Roger.
4l.  Feeding - Dr. Millard Rausch talks about them feeding on human flesh.  No mention of brains.
4m.  Destroy the brains - Dr Foster says that the brain must be destroyed - or removed from the body.
4n.  Exploding heads - A random citizen, shot by police (this was not, however, a zombie).
4o.  The Z Word - Peter (who mentioned earlier he had a voodoo priest grandfather) using the word zombie when the raiders are entering the mall.  Other than that it's mostly "those things" again, with "dead" and "dead bodies" used a couple of times, with even "dead corpses" thrown it.  "Cannibals" which was used in Night of the Living Dead is specifically stated to be a mis-naming.


The Living.

"People aren't willing to accept your solutions, doctor, and I for one don't blame them!" ~ TV Presenter.

5a.  Individuals - It starts with two groups of two who, get together.
5b.  Group of survivors - Obviously the 2 become 4, then 3 rhen 2.
5c.  Characters - The main group will include:
  • The hero - Stephen, perhaps but mostly through his connection to Francine.  Roger and Peter also have a valid claim.
  • The heroine - Francine.
  • The bossy guy - None get particularly boss.  All have moments where they get angry or present ideas but no real long term fighting occurs.  Stephen has the bad choices and  incompetence that would mark him out as the bossy guy but he doesn't expect people to follow what he says enough.
  • Bossy guy's female companion - N/A.
  • The secondary hero - Roger would seem to be as a friend of Stephen and Francine, but Peter lasts longer and has a valid claim for hero.  Stephen, possibly because he never rises to be the hero.
  • The weepy girl - Francine, barely.
  • Child - Unless you count Francine's unborn baby, no.
  • The crazy guy - A few in the beginning: Wooley the racist cop, the old priest.  Roger crosses the line and back just before he's killed and Stephen a little before he's killed.  Of those only the old priest has anywhere near anything like information.  Maybe the ravings of the scientist and Peter quoting his father.
  • Unbeliever - Seemingly the various TV presenter, but in a muted way.
  • The gang leader - The eaiders have a couple of prominent characters.
5d.  Man is the real monster - On screen around of the living 8 were killed by the Dead, with one suicide and 9 or more killed by other humans.  About 5 or so of those killed by the Dead had previous been shot by other humans.
5e.  Steep learning curve - Stephen is shown to be a poor shot, that changes.  Roger and Peter are trained police officers.  Francine is taught to fly a helicopter pretty quickly.
5f.  Final Girl and Final Guy - Francine and Peter.



"Why did these people keep them here?" ~  Roger.
"Cause they still believe there's respect in dying." ~ Peter.

6a.  Standing around talking for no reason when endangered - Pretty much everyone did this at least once.
6b.  Grieving - The citizens at the beginning who refused to give up their dead.
6c.  Making accidental noises - Stephen in the plant room.
6d.  Being unable to smell decaying flesh - Seemingly Stephen and Roger's stealth zombies.
6e.  Engaging hand-to-hand combat with zombies - A few accidental times.
6f.  Hiding secret bite - Roger and Stephen were the ones bitten.  It wasn't hidden.
6g. Unwilling to kill the bitten - Roger wasn't killed, in fact they tried to keep him alive.  It wasn't really a mistake, though.
6h.  Unwilling to kill the undead - A rookie cop points his gun at a zombie but doesn't fire.
6i.  In-fighting - Doesn't really endanger any of them.
6j.  Fighting at all - Only with the raiders.
6k.  Having sex - Stephen and Francine had sex.  No danger or enjoyment.
6l.  Being cowardly - May people "run" early in the film, especally from the TV station.  It is unclear what happens to them.  Peter assumes Stephen was killed and doesn't go back for him.  He hates himself for it.
6m.  Betraying the group - No one does.
6n.  Going anywhere they shouldn't go in a slasher film
  • Down to the Basement - Perhaps the plant room.
  • Upstairs - Upstairs was safe - and had a helicopter.
  • For a Shower - N/A.
  • Into old sheds or out buildings - The airport, I guess.  Some danger.
  • Running off to the “safety” of the forest - No forests.  In fact, the rednecks seemed to be keeping them safe.
  • Anywhere alone - Peter was trying to get back to Stephen who was by himself when Stephen was killed.
  • Anywhere Remote, Isolated or Confined - Everywhere counts as this.  And the big cities are considered more dangerous.
  • Any Old, Abandoned or Presumably Haunted Buildings - See old sheds.
6o.  Relying on anything they shouldn't in rely on a slasher film
  • Communications devices - Radios and TVs work for a while.  No phones.
  • Lighting - Seems fine.  The power stations still seem to work.
  • Vehicular Transport - The helicopter uses a lot of fuel.
  • Their Own Legs - Roger falls a few times.
  • The Authorities – There are none really.  Well, Peter and Roger are AWOL cops.
  • Weapons – Weapons are given up to the Dead on a number of occations.
  • Escape Routes - The escape route (helicopter) seemed to work fine.  For now.
6p.  Being over-confident - Roger.  Peter at times, but mostly Roger.
6q.  Making a plan that is too complex - The plan to block the doors with semi-trailers isn't complex, but it's long term and had lots of exposure for Roger - who does get bitten.
6r.  Making a plan - Even simple plans when bad quickly.
6s.  Assume they're safe - They were for a while.  Then the raiders came.
6t.  Be happy - Although Roger is bitten and presumably dying, they clear the Dead out of the mall and have fun looting the stores and playing with toys and video games.
6u.  Just one last thing - Peter and Roger get a bit gung-ho and go on an unnecessary supply run.  Roger was killed going back for his tools, but that was necessary.  Stephen was killed for trying to protect stuff they didn't need protecting
6v.  Never assume anyone or anything is dead - Mostly fine after the beginning.


Standard Plot

"Jesus, Frannie, this set up is sensational.  We got everything we need.  We seal off that stairway... nobody'll ever know we're up here. We'd never find anything like this..." ~ Stephen.

7a.  Normal life - The abnormal version of the normal life of the characters (working at a TV station and working as a cop) is shown in a collapsing world.
7b.  Sudden outbreak - Unclear.  The previous film it was sudden.  In this film, it is probably a week later (the old priest refers to the collected bodies of those who died on the street last week and Peter mentions having seen people bitten by the Dead last three days.  Dr Foster says it could have been contained if they'd acted less emotionally sooner.
7c.  Meetings - Peter and Roger meet for the first time and get alone well enough for Roger to invite him along with the others.  Peter and Roger join with Francine and Stephen, but it was pre-planned.
7d.  Civilisation will collapse - Dr Foster notes that Martial Law has been declared in Philadelphia and most other major US cities.  There's a war between armed citizens and the police who have been sent to clear them out of the cities and collect the bodies.  By a point some months later (judging by the stage of Francine's pregnancy) the television station finally went off air.
7e.  Looting becomes scavenging - While casually stealing gasoline for the helicopter, they come across people stealing a boat.  Stephen mentions scavengers and looter, but Peter points out that the heroes are thieves and bad guys.
7f.  Gangs/bandits/cannibals - There was a rival gang of thieves in the begining, but they didn't fight.  Later once they were set up in the mall, a gang of "raiders" attacked.
7g.  Finding a place to hole up - They end up landing on a shopping mall and the men decide to stay.
7h.  Avoiding contecting to people - Stephen and Francine are in a sort of relationship with Francine being three and a half to four months pregnant.  Francine is pulling away from Stephen, though.
7i.  Suicidal - A young cop does so early in the film.  Peter is about to, but changes his mind.  Roger goes a little bit self-destructive towards his end.  
7j.  Undead loved-ones - Doesn't really happen.  Peter and Stephen are both killed by Roger.
7k.  Mindless sacrifice - None, really.
7l.  Limited food/water/bullets - The main issue was helicopter fuel.  Food, water and bullets were in good supply in the mall.  They did need them before they got there, though.
7m.  Escape from a place - Only at the very end.
7n.  Armoured vehicle - N/A.  They did use semi-trailers at one point.
7o.  Don't let me turn/save a bullet - As he is dying, Roger tells Peter he doesn't want to turn.
7p.  Injury - Roger.
7q.  Heroic sacrifice - Doesn't happen.
7r.  Death of the last survivor - Seems to be heading that way, but Roger and Francine survive.


There will be social commentary.

"What are they doing? Why do they come here?" ~ Francine.
"Some kind of instinct. Memory of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives." ~ Stephen.

8a.  We are already zombies - The claim that the Dead return to the mall because it's important in their lives suggests this.  Peter specifically says "they're us."
8c.  Racism - There's the racist cop who goes insane.  
8d.  Working together - Seems to mostly happen naturally, so no real commentary.  I guess the war with the raiders counts.
8e.  Man is the real monster - Certainly the case early in the film, with the war between cops and civilians and late in the film with the raiders.  But subverted near the beginning when the two groups of looters, initially wary of each other let each other go.
8f.  Zombies are people, too - The beginning hangs on the fact that the living are unable to get rid of dead bodies:  Dr Foster argues the point with the TV presenter, and the apartment block is full of the Dead for that reason.
8g.  Other - Logic vs emotion: Two different scientist appear on television to say that logic will save humans, emotion will destroy them.  Journalism vs ratings: Francine wants correct information - or none - about the rescue stations on the air to stop people being killed while her boss wants to keep the information on (right or wrong) or people will stop watching.  Feminism: Actress Gaylen Ross (who played Francine) refused to scream and demanded to be able to fight back, because she saw her character as a strong female, combatting the weak female roles of the period and especially of The Night of the Living Dead.  Francine demands to be treated equally at one point.  While it's accepted, it's mostly ignored.  Consumerism:  The Dead returning to the mall because it's important to them which is a comment of consumerism.  This is coupled with the fact that the heroes find happiness in all the free stuff, the raiders take stuff (mainly money and jewels, not food and important stuff) and that Stephen loses it when he sees them stealing "our" stuff continues the commentary.


There is no happily ending

"How much fuel do we have?" ~ Peter.
"Not much." ~ Francine.
"All right." ~ Peter.

9a.  Downer ending - It seems to be heading for one, with Peter giving up, but he snaps out of it and escapes to the helicopter.
9b.  Sudden end - Francine and Peter take off in the helicopter with nowhere to go and not much fuel.  The end. 
9c.  Disaster porn - The closing credits have the mall once again filled with zombies.
9d.  No cure - There is talk of a vaccine, but that appears to go nowhere.

RULE #10

"Go ahead and leave. We'll be off the air by midnight; the emergency networks are taking over. Our responsibility is finished." ~ Replacement cameraman.


10a.  Sequels - The film is a semi-official sequel to "Night of the Living dead" and has two semi-official sequel series, Romero's "Dead" series (with the follow-up "Day of the Dead") and the Italian "Zombi" series (starting with "Zombi 2" aka "Zombie" and other titles)   Due to international releases of various films, it is the where of a complex series of over 50 related films splits off.
10b.  Remakes - The film was directly remade in 2004.
10c.  Adaptations - Not an adaptation of anything.

Extra.  Versions - [Films from most genres have multiple versions, releases and cuts.  This is particularly the case with horror films, and especially zombie films.  As such, I've decided that I'm keeping track of that, too.]  The film has two main versions:  Romero's English language cut, and agreement with Dario Argento meant that he got to make his own cut (the European version, called "Zombi" in Italy.)


  • Rules that are followed in this film:  1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 10.
  • Rules that are partially followed, or not clear, in this film:  5, 6, 7, 9.

    ~ DUG.

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