I’ve heard George Romero say that he doesn’t like to give large groups of extras explicit directions on how to walk like zombies because they’ll all do the same thing. Makes sense, choreographed zombies would probably look like the Thriller music video. Part of the fun of watching his Dead movies is watching out for all the distinctive ghouls on display. This is never more apparent in Dawn, where the make up for most was just mild discoloration. It was really the costumes or the body language that made the zombies memorable. It’s pretty hard to forget the fat shirtless guy bumping his belly against the glass doors or the hare krishna busting into the store room.
With large groups of extras though, it’s inevitable that you’re going to get some weird takes or general nonsense going on. Remarkably, for as much time as I’ve spent watching the original trilogy, this has rarely taken me out of the movie. One instance where it did though has become one of those moments that I get a good laugh about every time it pops up.
Right before the boys are about to hotwire the car in the mall, they are surrounded by some ghouls. With Roger in a wheelbarrow and Peter being such a badass that he’ll punch out almost as many zombies as he shoots, they are able to navigate this pretty easily. It’s sort of like level one of a video game. Just a tutorial on how to navigate the environment
Appropriately, it’s during this time that they encounter the least menacing zombie in history. He marches straight after them with his arms extended like he landed the esteemed role of “Zombie” in an elementary school haunted house.
In fact, he’s such a dumbass that Stephen, who’s still pretty much a complete boob at this point, knocks him down as he runs by with his blowtorch turned off and his gun pointing straight up at the ceiling. Stephen, the guy who couldn’t even get his keys off his belt a minute before, shows this zombie zero respect. It takes a lot to be a complete failure as a zombie, but this guy manages it in spades. The fact that you will eat people’s flesh without a second thought is usually enough to inspire just a little fear. This zombie has no such luck. It wouldn’t even have surprised me if they left him wandering around when they hunted down all the other zombies.
What does surprise me is that this guy gets to be the focal point of one shot. Like I said earlier, if you look hard enough, you’re bound to find some tomfoolery in the background. This guy is front and center though. What did Romero think of this when he was cutting the movie together? Did he check the other take? Was this guy in every shot of Peter and Roger fleeing Baker’s Shoes? Is it possible that he liked the guy? I picture him doing a little kid’s lion roar as he chases after the wheelbarrow.
What I really want to know is whether or not Romero really wanted to feature this guy so prominently. He’s in more than one shot, so I have to figure his presence was intentional. Was it because he thought he was funny? Scary?
Initially, I thought that this was the result of having to cut the movie together quickly for Cannes, but this zombie is in all 3 popular cuts of the movie. I think what I love the most about him is the ambiguity. He’s so absurd looking that he’s hard to miss, but Romero doesn’t flinch. If it’s a joke, he’s not letting us in on it.
I’m not much of a 3-D aficionado, but I’d check out Dawn in 3-D just to have this guy marching into my living room. Just when I thought I had experienced everything…