Sometimes the audience just isn’t sure what they want, even when it’s the best zombie movie ever made. The George A Romero Foundation has shared some test screening results for Dawn of the Dead, and while the audience enjoyed the gore, they felt it was a little too long.
The Foundation shows a survey from a screening in 1978, with the answers collated to show the various answers by percentage. When asked if they found the violence necessary to the film’s meaning, a strong 77% said ‘Yes’. However, only 42% considered all the violence fun, where 29% found it offensive. A majority of 56% agree an R-rating is fair, but 18% reckon an X-rating is more suitable.
A strong 70% would recommend the classic horror movie to a friend, however, only 44% were considering watching it again. 74% of returned surveys came from men, and 18 to 25 was the dominant age bracket at 75%. Such insight paints a distinct picture for the time, where the younger generation was recognising the effects-driven work of Romero and understood the attraction, even if they wouldn’t necessarily sit down for it twice.
Despite length being a sticking point, Dawn of the Dead never got too substantially cut down. There are alternative cuts – most famously, Dario Argento, co-owner of the international distribution rights, made a cut that’s several minutes shorter than Romero. But beyond that, Dawn stayed mostly intact.
A sequel to the inimitable Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead was much larger in scale. Romero took the zombie hordes away from backwoods cabins to the inner-city, where police are struggling to contain the spread. A small group of survivors, let by Ken Foree’s Peter, manage to get away on a helicopter, flying to a shopping mall where they hole up for supplies and shelter.
— The George A. Romero Foundation (@theGARFofficial) February 22, 2022
Though firmly a horror film, there’s quite a lot of drama to Dawn of the Dead, with characters trying to psychologically grapple with being surrounded by the undead. We get themes of capitalistic hubris, gentrification, and nihilism, in among all the rotting flesh.
It’s endured as a cinematic great, though in 1978 only 35% saw it as excellent. No accounting for taste, eh?