3 Jun

First Time Frights! : DAWN OF THE DEAD

The first time I saw 1978’s “Dawn of the Dead,” I was 13 & I was in bed, wearing an eye patch; ordered there by my doctor for “one week of bed rest with as little eye movement as possible.” Just a few days earlier my best friend shot me in the eye during a painful (very painful) BB gun battle.  He didn’t mean to shoot me in the eye, of course.  It was just a lucky shot. Lucky/unlucky is what I call it.  Unlucky because he shot me in the most damaging and painful spot on my body, but lucky, because he also managed to miss – by one millimeter – the spot where I would’ve lost all sight in that eye. When I hit the ground screaming, I had a rush of regret.  “Oh shit,” I thought, “I’m that stupid kid from A Christmas Story.”


I went to the optometrist and he sent me home with a not-so-fun eye patch, and the order to stay in bed for one week while my eye healed. I couldn’t move around at all. No showers, no walks (except to the toilet).  I couldn’t even read a book (which was no problem for me because I was 13 and the only books I read had Batman in them).  Movies were what the doctor ordered.  I sent my Mom out to the 2 local video rentals with a long list of movies I wanted to watch.

She came back home with a bunch of Alfred Hitchcock movies, some old Gumby tapes (I was going through a big Gumby phase at the time. I was even in the Gumby fan club!) and all 3 tapes from George Romero’s Dead trilogy. At that point, I had only seen “Night of the Living Dead,” so since I was stuck in bed with a doctor-prescribed week-long order to watch as many movies as possible – I wanted to see the entire trilogy in one sitting.


My brother made me a 6 hour VHS mixtape of Gumby videos to watch while I was recovering! And I still have it! 

I think I should add a pop culture side note here.  At the time I had a long distance girlfriend.  She lived in the suburbs of Minneapolis 40 minutes away from me, and the news of my injury got to her through a game of telephone.  She believed I was in the hospital, in critical condition, shot in the eye by an AK47 (or something equally nuts).  She called the house bawling.  I had to explain to her that I was fine.  I wouldn’t be half blind, and I was lying around watching movies.  She sent me this:


The BIG HUG MUG!  There was a stuffed teddy bear attached to the mug hugging it (hence the name of the mug).  And, though, I eventually broke up with the girlfriend (we were in 8th grade), I always treasured the mug, and since its appearance on TRUE DETECTIVE (Season 1. Not that Season 2 bullshit) it’s become quite the collector’s item. Okay, back to the subject at hand…


Despite only having one working eye ball, I watched the entire Dead trilogy and I loved every minute of it.  I was this unbathed pirate looking 8th grader, and yet, these movies were able to distract me from all of the pain throbbing under my eye patch. Dawn of the Dead was by far my favorite.  I loved that it included the mundane moments in between the zombie action (something the not so awful remake forgot to include). The zombies became a part of the regular day to day life, and beyond the terror of the movie there was a whole lot of satire.  I still can’t help but think of “Dawn of the Dead” every time I go to the mall.


Here’s the video for Dawn of the Dead sitting in my personal collection of horror tapes. What comes between Dawn & Day of the Dead? Dawn of the Mummy! For alphabetical reasons.

After I watched “Dawn of the Dead” I remember feeling disappointed by “Day of the Dead.”  I was so pumped reading the back of the boxes. “One takes place in a mall and the next is in an underground bunker! Holy shit!” I was already coming up with my own zombie sequels: “One could be on a boat, or an airplane, or…” But ultimately I was let down by the final movie.  More than anything else I thought the characters didn’t hold a candle to NIGHT or DAWN.  And where DAWN felt epic, DAY felt constrained.  I know thematically zombie movies tend to do the whole “the real monsters are humans” allegory, but listening to survivors scream at each other has always been my least favorite zombie movie trope. These days terrible sequels like “Survival of the Dead” & the found footage “Diary of the Dead” certainly help make DAY stand out as one of the better Romero flicks, but it will never make a top ten list for this one eyed horror fan.*


*Actually I still have two eyes. One has a flattened lens from the scar, and now I have to wear glasses because my vision degraded. The End.

Thanks for reading!