Our next Halloween Horrors contributor is Brett Wainer, yet another long-time friend of mine. Knowing Brett as well as I do, it comes as absolutely no surprise that he choose George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead as the topic for his Halloween Horrors debut.
For his piece, Brett discusses his life-long obsession with this undeniable horror classic, starting with his beginnings as a young horror fan discovering this film for the first time, and leading up to his adult days when he finally met the man responsible for all those childhood nightmares.
The minute that I saw Horror And Sons post that they were looking for submissions for their Halloween Horrors series, I thought, “Well, you know… I should do something on Dawn of the Dead…. a film that has stuck with me since the very first time I put it in my VCR. I might add that it was the first film to ever be placed in my family’s VCR, when I was too young to be watching it. It’s the film that truly got me hooked on horror. Not the first one I had seen, and not the first to scare me half to death either. It’s a film that once I had a dubbed copy, I’d watch it almost every Halloween as a kid. Who needed Haddonfield? I had Monroeville! I mean, really… you can outrun 1 guy, right? But how can you run from a world overrun by zombies? You can only do one thing….. HIDE!!
In 1968, George Romero changed American cinema with Night of the Living Dead. It was the first independent film of its kind to hit it “big” in the mainstream world. Sometime during the early 80’s, i had caught NotLD on either Chiller on WPIX or Creature Feature on WNEW in NYC. It scared me half to death. Sometime during (I would say) 1983, my family got our first VCR. My dad took me to the one video rental store at the time, and I asked the clerk, “What’s the scariest movie you’ve got?”. He asked, “What’s the scariest you’ve seen?”. Of course, I let him know how NotLD had terrified me. So, he shows me the box for a little film called Dawn of the Dead, and he says that it was made by the same director and that I will love it. Little did I know at the time how right he would be and how the film has stayed with me as its predecessor and following sequel, Day of the Dead have.
While Dawn of the Dead isn’t quite as dark as either Night or as bleak as Day, it is equally as powerful a film as either. Released 10 years after the original Night, the film starts in a TV news room with the world around it in total disarray. The zombies of Pittsburgh have spread. One of the crew, with her boyfriend and 2 police offices in tow, decides to make a run for it and they take a chopper to find safety elsewhere. They find a new-at-the-time mall in Monroeville, PA, where they set up shop. Eventually clearing the mall of zombies, they have an oasis of sorts while the world outside crumbles.
When they are eventually discovered by a group of bikers, who in turn bust into the mall that had since been secured of zombies, carnage ensues. As a kid, it was jaw dropping. When a group of zombies tear one of the bikers apart, I can remember being amazed and frightened at the same time. I had never seen anything like it.
Over the years, where it became ritual for most people to watch Jason, Michael, or Freddy on Halloween, for me it was a dubbed copy of Dawn of the Dead on VHS. As an adult, I have traveled around Florida and even gone as far as New Jersey for my favorite horror film, meeting the cast and having them sign my precious Dawn of the Dead poster. Unfortunately, in my travels, I had yet to meet the master himself, George Romero. My poster had when a friend brought it with him for me to a convention that i wasn’t able to attend. The poster now hangs proudly on my wall, signed by all of the main cast and many minor cast members as well.
In 2013, I finally had the opportunity to do what I hadn’t been able to before. A local art-house theater was having a Halloween movie screening. A horror movie nonetheless! What could it be? Halloween? Which of the countless sequels would it be? to my surprise and excitement, it wasn’t any of them. It was my beloved Dawn of the Dead! I hit paydirt! All those Halloweens watching a grainy copy on VHS, and now I’d get to see it on the big screen! I was positive that this was the best possible way for me to be spending my Halloween.
Little did I know that 2 years later I’d have one better! George Romero was going to be in Florida…. on Halloween weekend!!! Finally, a dream come true for me, getting to meet the man who had brought me so many nightmares as a kid… whose movies I’ve sworn by (and with Tales from the Darkside, TV shows as well) …. on Halloween nonetheless.
So, for many, Halloween may mean candy. For others it may mean costumes. Others still, it’s Michael, Freddy, or one of those other guys. For me, Halloween means George Romero and Dawn of the Dead!