There is great dispute over the film's alternate ending, where Peter shoots himself in the head and Fran commits suicide by sticking her head up into the blades of the copter. Some, such as makeup artists Tom Savini and Taso N. Stavrakis, maintain that the scene was filmed, while director George A. Romero used to be adamant that it wasn't. However, in the documentary Document of the Dead (1985) which was shot during the making of this film (and is included on some DVD copies), Romero clearly states to Frumkes, as they walk around the mall set, that they did indeed film the alternative ending, although he never filmed the effects shot. Gaylen Ross had a head mold made for the effects scene, and Savini did not want to see it go to waste, so he dressed the head up as a bearded African-American man, and that is the head that is blown off by a shotgun blast at the beginning of the film. To create the exploding head effect, Savini cleared the set and had the head shot at with an actual shotgun. Romero decided that this conclusion would be too depressing (after the horrors that have occurred) and, partially at the suggestion of his future wife, Christine Forrest, gave Peter and Fran a little bit of hope.
Gaylen Ross refused to scream during the film. She felt that Fran was a strong female character, and if she screamed, the strength would be lost. She told this to George A. Romero once, when he told her to scream. He never asked her again.
Filming at the Monroeville Mall took place during the winter of 1977-78, with a three-week reprieve during the Christmas shopping season (during which other footage, e.g. the TV studio, was shot). Filming at the mall began around 10 p.m., shortly after the mall closed, and finished at 6 a.m. The mall didn't open until 9, but at 6 the Muzak came on and no one knew how to turn it off.
The weapons store featured in the film was never a part of the Monroeville Mall. George A. Romero shot those scenes in a gun shop in downtown Pittsburgh and edited the footage in to make it look like it was a shop in the mall.
In addition to the lead biker Blades, Tom Savini plays the zombie who breaks window of the truck and is shot by Roger with a revolver. This scene leaves a bloody smear on the windshield, the effect was created by Savini throwing himself on the non-moving truck and spitting a mouthful of blood on the windshield.
The two zombie children who attack Peter in the airport chart house are played by Donna Savini and Mike Savini, the real-life niece and nephew of Tom Savini. These are the only zombies in all of George A. Romero's "Dead" films that spontaneously run and never do the trademark "Zombie shuffle".
When the film was first released, the shooting budget was reported to be $1.5 million. On his commentary track on the "Ultimate" DVD release, producer Richard P. Rubinstein admitted that amount was inflated for foreign buyers, and the actual budget was around $500,000 (including deferred lab fees and Rubenstein and director George A. Romero deferring much of their salaries).
Tom Savini, head of makeup effects, was unhappy with how the blood mix (produced by 3M) photographed; it looked fluorescent. Director George A. Romero felt it was perfect for the film's comic book style.
Tom Savini choose the gray color for the zombies' skin, since Night of the Living Dead (1968) was in B&W and the zombie skin-tone was not depicted. He later said it was a mistake, because many of them ended up looking quite blue on film.
Some of the actors playing zombies in the movie would frequently get drunk at a late-night bar called the Brown Derby, which was in the Monroeville Mall. One night they stole a golf cart and crashed into a marble pillar, causing $7,000 worth of damage.
Gaylen Ross said that the brief scene where she is skating in the ice rink was a near-disaster. She had stated on her resume that she could ice skate, but hadn't done so in nearly 20 years. She admitted in an interview that she was being shouted instructions on how to skate by the rink manager (who was out of camera shot) and stayed on her feet barely long enough to complete a single loop.
Director George A. Romero has said several times that David Emge's zombie walk is his favorite out of all the Dead movies. He has even gone on to go on to say that the performance is worthy of Lon Chaney.
EASTER EGG: On disk 4 (Document of the Dead) of Anchor Bay's "Ultimate Edition" DVD set, there is a hidden menu (shape of one of corpse on screen) item which can only be selected after seeing all items.
The alternative rock band My Chemical Romance wrote a song based on the movie called 'Early Sunsets Over Monroeville' for their first album, I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love. They decided to write the song because the movie is a favorite of singer Gerard Way and his brother, bassist Mikey Way. Mikey is often seen wearing a Dawn of The Dead shirt.
In order to save on production costs, director/editor George A. Romero had all the 35mm film stock developed into 16mm, and used that as his work reel. After choosing the scenes and takes he wanted, he had those alone developed into 35mm prints for the master reels.
Dario Argento was an admirer of George A. Romero's work, and vice-versa. When Argento heard that Romero was contemplating a sequel to Night of the Living Dead (1968) he insisted that Romero come out to Argento's native Rome to write the script without distractions. Romero knocked out the script in 3 weeks and, though Argento read the script as it came out, he left all the writing to Romero. Argento also provided most of the film's soundtrack and, in return for the rights to edit the European version of the film, assisted in raising the necessary funds.
Zombie actors took photographs of themselves dressed up in full zombie makeup inside a photo booth on the second floor. They then replaced the sample pictures on the front of the booth with the ghoulish ones.
The outdoor scene where hunters, emergency crew and soldiers are shooting at zombies was done through local volunteers. Several local hunters arrived on-scene with their own weapons, the local National Guard division showed up in full gear, and local emergency crew (police, fire and ambulance) were present, all voluntarily.
The living quarters where the four heroes shacked up in wasn't located in the mall. It was a set built at George A. Romero's then production company The Latent Image located in Pittsburgh. The elevator shaft was located there as well.
A Behind The Scenes still from the Extended Version of the Ultimate DVD boxed set indicates George A. Romero had a third cameo in the picture. The still shows the director standing to the side of the camera, his sleeve rolled up, holding a pistol upwards. Behind him a part of the mall can clearly be seen, indicating it was shot on site. Near the end of the picture, a similar shot exists: a POV from a man holding a pistol firing up past a fenced in area on the upper floor where Peter is running across.
The airstrip used in the film, the Harold W. Brown Memorial Field (aka Monroeville Municipal Airport), is still in operation as of 2013. The privately run airfield is approximately 10 miles from the Monroeville Mall, where the bulk of the film was shot.
In the Extended Edition (available on both laserdisc and Anchor Bay's "Ultimate Edition"), the music that is heard when Peter and Stephen are closing the gates of the mall in an effort to keep the bikers out is Pierre Arvay's "Ice Floe 9 (Five Deadly Venoms)", which was also the music piece used for the opening credits of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), as it was taken from the DeWolfe music library.
The MPAA had threatened to impose the X rating if George A. Romero didn't make cuts. Romero did not want to cut the film, and he was adamant against an X rating, due to its stigma of hard-core pornography. In the end, Romero was able to persuade his distributors to release the film with no rating, although on all advertising and trailers, there was a disclaimer that in effect read that while there was no explicit sex in the film, the movie was of such a violent nature that no one under 17 would be admitted.
The scenes between Stephen, Peter, Roger and Frannie in the helicopter were filmed with the helicopter never running or leaving the ground. A shell was painted blue for the day scenes and black for the night scenes and interspersed with real helicopter footage.
In the original draft of the script, the TV station's call sign was WJAS, the call sign of an actual radio station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where the film was shot. The call sign was replaced with WGON, which was not issued to any station at that time (it had been issued to an AM radio station in Munsing, Michigan, but the station had gone dark some time before). WGON has now been issued to a licensed low power FM radio station (WGON-LP, 103.7) in Slidell, Louisiana.
With such a shoestring budget, the film couldn't afford professional stunt people outside of drivers, so makeup artist Tom Savini and assistant and friend Taso N. Stavrakis volunteered for the task. They are responsible for almost every stunt seen in the film, though not all went perfectly as planned. When filming a dive over the rail of the mall, Savini almost missed his pile of cardboard boxes, with his legs and back landing on the ground. He had to work from a golf cart for several days. The shot where Stavrakis swung down from a banner was poorly planned and he wound up continuing on and slamming into the ceiling.
The beer the hunters are seen drinking is Iron City Beer, a once-popular beer brewed in Pittsburgh in which George A. Romero's film company, The Latent Image, produced and filmed a number of Iron City Beer TV commercials during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Noted rock and country music journalist Chet Flippo wrote about the making of this movie for 'Rolling Stone'. His article "When There's No More Room in Hell, the Dead Will Walk the Earth" was published in the March, 1978 #261 issue. Moreover, Flippo appears in the film in an uncredited bit role as the zombie with a nasty gash across his cheek who's wearing a cowboy hat and a leather jacket with fringe hanging off the sleeves.
Folk Singer-Musician/Songwriter Vincent Vok appears as a TV Station Employee (wearing a white collared shirt and black necktie) at WGON-TV Studio. You can see him right next to Jim Edemensen's Cameraman character at the beginning of the movie just as the credit "Written & Directed by George A. Romero" appears on the screen. He is also friends with David Crawford who plays Dr. James Foster, the government scientist in the TV Studio scene.
When Stephen idly uses the typewriter roughly 2/3 of the way through the movie, he types 'NOW IS THE TIME...'. These are the first few words of an exercise widely used in touch-typing classes when typewriters were first introduced into the workforce. The entire sentence reads, "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country."
The late Ralph Tallo, Father of Nick Tallo (who plays Jack, The Biker with Seltzer Bottle in the movie itself) appears as the Grey Suited Zombie who attacks Stephen outside the abandoned airport chart house, who Stephen ends up wrestling with, and then Stephen defeats him by hitting him on the head with a sledgehammer.
The other Bikers besides Blades and Sledge have names. Including Mousey, The Tommy-Gun Biker riding in sidecar (played by the late Larry Vaira who had also worked as the Biker wrangler and kept The Pagans Motorcycle Club in line during their scenes in the movie) (His name is mentioned by Blades during the scene when the Bikers and their girlfriends are about to break into Monroeville Mall during the scene where Pasquale Buba's Serape Biker says to Blades; "Let's go blow the God damn Lock!" then Blades responds "Hey Mousey's go the Machine Gun!"), Moonbaby (played by Marty Schiff), Blades' Sidekick (his real name is Charlie. But his name is never mentioned in the movie. And in the original script during the scene where he and Blades are about to catch Peter, Blades would say "Charlie?... Hit the gates...We gotta get that Sniper".), Jack, the Seltzer Bottle Biker who is also one of the Biker Leader's (Radio Operator wearing Helmet) Lieutenants (played by Nick Tallo) (Blades hollers his name out "Hey Jack!", and then Jack throws him the seltzer bottle during the scene when the Bikers have their Pie fight with the Zombies and spray seltzer water in their faces and mouths. And then we hear Blades holler out his name again "HEY JACK!" during the scene when Peter starts shooting at The Biker Intruders and he ends up blasting Blades' seltzer bottle. And then Blades, Jack, Sledge, and Moonbaby run upstairs to find out who the person is who is shooting at them), Butchie, the Wild Haired, Bearded Biker riding Chopper Bike with Sidecar, Mousey's rider (played by Butchie, who then then worked as one of the art department crew members for the Night of the Living Dead (1990) remake where he also appeared in a Biker cameo at the very end of the movie where the towns people celebrate the killing of Zombies at the bonfire), Mary known as Chickie, the Blonde Biker Chick (wearing long earrings) driving the Gang's Van (played by the lovely Barbara Lifsher who worked also worked as The Set Decorator for the movie) (but her name is never mentioned in the movie. But only in the original 11-Chapter Book by Suzanna Sparrow and George A. Romero), Timmy, the Biker who takes the TV Set for a minute and just as a friend of his asks him; "Hey Man, what the Hell you gonna watch on that thing?!" then he replies "I don't know man" then he throws it down and calls out to Sledge; "Hey Sledge!" then Sledge tosses him the Sledgehammer and Timmy breaks it to pieces (but his name is never mentioned in the movie), and Old Nick, The Biker in Santa Claus Suit (played by our Director, Writer, and Editor, George A. Romero himself) (but his name is never mentioned in the movie. But only in the original book).
The owner of the restaurant where actor David Emge was working introduced Emge to George Romero, who was casting at the time. Emge says Romero told him that if he could fit into the coat, he would get the part. Emge jokingly said the other actor was far too big to wear the coat, so he got the job.
In an interview, Scott H. Reiniger says his favorite moment of his in the film was the spontaneous idea to slide down the escalator. The part that made him most nervous was driving the VW Sirocco around the mall.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Real cow intestines were used in the scene where Sledge (Taso N. Stavrakis) gets his guts ripped out. Tom Savini said that he lived near a slaughterhouse and that's how he got the idea to do the effect.
Three members of the theatrical, space-themed rock band Fluid from Homestead, Pennsylvania appear as bald Zombies. Saxophonist John Paul is the plaid-shirted Zombie in the airport chart house (who also appears on the film's posters, video, DVD, and soundtrack album covers, and some of Day of the Dead (1985)'s releases), keyboardist Mike Christopher is the Hare Krishna zombie, and bassist Michael James is a red-sweatered zombie in the Monroeville Mall battle scene where Roger's arm and leg are wounded.