It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 35 years since George A. Romero released Dawn of the Dead on horror fans everywhere, which makes the recent reunion panel featuring several cast members at Flashback Weekend 2013 all the more worthy of sharing with you guys.
During the panel co-stars David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger and Gaylen Ross shared their experiences working on Romero’s sequel, discussed their own zombie favorites from on-set, gave their thoughts on Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake and much more.
Check out some of the Dawn of the Dead panel highlights below!
Question: One thing that always cracks me up when I go back and watch this movie is how blue the zombies look; did they look THAT blue when you guys were making this?
David Emge: What’s funny is that I have a good friend who swears to me that they look really green so I don’t know (laughs). I never really thought of them as anything other than grey.
Ken Foree: It really depended on who made you up (laughs); I remember, this one day I came out and I just didn’t even recognize myself. It was like I was someone completely else.
Gaylen Ross: I remember this one time, because we had the mall until 6 AM every day, that was also around the time when the mall walkers would show up to do their morning laps around the mall. And so there’d be a lot of senior citizens showing up and they’d be walking around the mall; I didn’t know if they were zombies or not from a distance (laughs) so one day, I actually went up to one of the mall walkers and told them that they could get out of make-up, we were done shooting the zombies for the night. Huge mistake (laughs).
Question: Gaylen, with your character I think it’s really interesting how you wouldn’t let her scream; that you wanted her to stand for something more. Can you talk about that more?
Gaylen Ross: Well yeah, I’ve always believed that women shouldn’t necessarily always be the ones screaming and running. I think it was around the time that Sigourney Weaver had just done Alien and there were a few others out there too- Jamie Lee (Curtis) being someone else who was playing strong female characters in the horror at that time. So because of that, I didn’t want my character to be viewed as the ‘weak female’ so no, I didn’t scream.
Ken Foree: And we would have teased the hell out of her if she had (screamed). (Laughs) She knows this though; she had to put up with us three guys, we practically all lived together when we made this over something like two months and so she had to put up with a lot. Whenever we gave it to her, she gave it right back; Gaylen can hold her own. No screaming there.
Gaylen Ross: No screaming and no crying.
Question: Scott, was it you who slid down the escalator? If so, holy crap; as a kid, that looked like so much fun. They’ve ruined it now by putting in those bumps in between but man, that was great.
Scott Reiniger: Well that happened because in the script it said that “Roger runs down the escalator” and I just looked at it and said to George, “George, what if I slide down it?” and he said, “Oh yeah, I like it.” I told him to just make sure someone was going to be there at the end to make sure I didn’t break my neck or anything but yeah, we did that in only one take.
Question: David, I read somewhere that George had said that your zombie walk was his favorite zombie walk of all time. What was your secret to a great zombie walk?
David Emge: Well, I think I’ve told this story many times to many of you. But I didn’t get to be a zombie until the end of the shoot and we had this big assembly-type room set-up where we’d all be; everything was there- costumes, craft services, extras, you name it. Out in the mall somewhere they were doing all the set-ups and we’d sit around that room just waiting.
So during those long stretches of waiting around in that room, I sat there watching hundreds of people come up with so many kinds of creative zombie crap you could ever imagine. And my heart started to sink; I thought, “What can I possibly do to be different?” So I thought about what this guy’s problems were- he’d been bitten in the neck, shot in the leg, shot in the arm, he falls out of the elevator and breaks his ankle on top of all that. It was all about the wounds.
And so I took all those traits and applied them to my walk and I just went for it; I knew I had one shot and so I just focused everything I could on that moment and made it as over-the-top as possible. George loved it.
Question: You guys worked with a ton of zombie extras during production; did you have any favorites in particular?
Scott Reiniger: Oh I can tell you that right now- it was the big, heavy-set guy who kept falling down almost naked. They must have used like a gallon of paint on him every single night. It was freezing cold but he’d still go outside like that between shots.
David Emge: I think I remember the first night he played that zombie; the shot we were doing was outside and here’s this poor guy walking around in nothing but make-up and his underpants. Well, he grew to rue that decision because he had to always shoot his scenes in just his make-up and underwear.
Scott Reiniger: And he just bounced into the fountain like a beach ball (laughs). I just sat there watching him, thinking, “Man, that looks like it hurts.”
Ken Foree: I just remember being really impressed with all the zombies because they were all really excited to be there and to be a part of it. It was like a badge of honor for all of them to be zombies in this movie.
David Emge: And George only gave them two or three rules – like don’t drag your feet – but ultimately, he gave them all total freedom to create their zombies the way they wanted to. I remember this one time where we were shooting in downtown Pittsburgh in George’s office and I remember getting into an elevator with a couple of guys we knew when I got to set on that particular night; one of them was John Amplas, who played Martin, and the other was Jay (Stoker) and they were in charge of all the extras and some other stuff. So I remember that night when the elevator opened, there was this zombie standing there and Jay started yelling at John saying, “Dammit, John! I wanted a zombie with one arm and you give me one with no legs! What am I supposed to do here?” (laughs). That’s something you’ll only hear on the set of a horror movie, that’s for sure.
Gaylen Ross: I have my own personal favorite, my sentimental favorite if you will, and that’s the Nun Zombie. There was a big moment that happened between me and George because she got caught in the (JC) Penney’s door and so I said to him, “Well, we’re going to have to shoot her.” And so George just sat there and sat there and sat there, then finally said to me, “No, you just can’t kill a nun. You’re going to have to let her go (laughs).” So that’s when I opened the door and she slipped away.
Question: Are you surprised, looking back now, at just how much critical acclaim Dawn of the Dead has received over the years since its release?
Gaylen Ross: You know, I think one of the reasons that Dawn of the Dead became a success and something more than maybe we thought it would be was because of Chicago. You really have to give the credit to Roger Ebert. He really was the first to champion Dawn and make it into what it became with audiences.
Question: I know that some of you had cameos in the recent remake; I was just wondering if you’d talk about what you liked from the remake and if there were things you didn’t.
Scott Reiniger: I can answer that one (laughs); what I really liked about this remake was that they weren’t trying to emulate George’s movie or his humor or his perspective as a filmmaker. That would be very hard to do. So they just went in a different direction and I really appreciated that.
I can tell you that the first day I was on set – Eric Newman the producer was there and Zack (Snyder) was there too – and let me just say that when I walked up to Zack and to Eric, they were acting like a bunch of teenagers; they couldn’t believe I was actually standing there. Zack even said, “You know, I’ve dreamed about remaking this movie ever since I was a kid so I hope I don’t screw this up.” I don’t really care if they (zombies) go fast or go slow, I thought they made a great film.
Ken Foree: I personally thought it was a great tribute to us, to our film and to George, of course. I don’t think the main actors were as invested as the filmmakers were – it seemed like this was just a gig for them, which is fine – but it was obvious the people really behind the film were fans. I was actually supposed to play the (Tom) Savini part, the deputy, and I had originally refused to do the film so they put Tom in.
When my manager finally convinced me that I was being stupid by not agreeing to do the remake, the part they had left for me was the preacher role, which was also great. So yeah, I think the remake is a fantastic horror film and they got a lot right on it. I was glad that I changed my mind, that’s for sure (laughs).
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