George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978) is celebrated both as a ‘splatter’ movie and as a satire of 1970s consumerism. One of the most financially successful independent films ever produced, Dawn of the Dead presented a strong vision to audiences of the time in terms of its excessive, often shocking violence. It challenged censorship internationally and caused controversy in the United States and the UK. The film created problems with distributors because of its length and its graphic content; with the MPAA who awarded it an ‘X’ in America (a rating usually reserved for pornography); with the BBFC in the UK who completely recut it; and in various European territories where it was released in several versions.
Arguably, excess is at the heart of Dawn of the Dead, integral to its meaning: not only in its scenes of gore, its in-your-face social satire and its gaudy pop-kitsch style but in the production history of the film itself. This Devil’s Advocate explores the various ways in which Romero took Dawn of the Dead into areas of extremity during its scripting, production and distribution; and the responses of industry, censorship bodies, reviewers and audiences of the time to the film’s excesses. Taking the approach of a micro-historical study, Jon Towlson offers a close analysis of the film’s production context to explore the cultural significance of Dawn of the Dead as a ‘rebel text’ and an example of oppositional cinema.