Dawn of the Dead and the mall full of zombies has become a platitude now, but the 1979 film made a significant impact on our cultural consciousness. That spring, as we entered the last years of a long Cold War, sixteen hundred fake dead bodies began to mutate the way we saw our world.
The plotline of the movie is pretty familiar now; it has been recast into sequels, remakes, short stories, festivals, T-shirts, and video games for over 30 years. Audiences recognized something astonishingly relevant about colorful corpses decomposing in a brightly lit shopping mall. Dead bodies staggering about, covered in flash burns and exotic decay. Parades of fantastic corpses, wearing familiar fashions, slowly drifting past Radio Shack. Walking sculptures of decay discoloring Musicland.
Beyond attracting large audiences, it spawned a new international film genre (“zombie movies”), a new form of folk art (homemade “special effects makeup”), and a common vision of our modern plastic world abandoned and bloodied. “Zombie Movies” are really movies about the end of our world now, and we are slowly forgetting the old stereotypes of Haitian Voodoo in favor of George Romero’s resurrected American consumers.
The origins and impact of Dawn of the Dead have become the subject of film studies, conventions, anniversaries, and recollections. There are plenty of zombies around now, but the manner in which the mall corpses lurched into the 1980s has not been repeated.