July 12, 2008

On location: DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) - picture heavy

I enjoy visiting shooting locations from my favourite films, and I also enjoy shopping more than I should. Here was a chance to do both at the same time - looking around the shopping mall where half of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead was shot thirty years ago.

When I first saw the film in 1980, shopping malls were pretty new - I'd not even seen any in the UK. The concept of having everything under one roof was interesting, but using a mall as a post-apocalyptic hideout really impressed me. It seemed more of a fantasy than a nightmare (once all the zombies had been cleared out, that is).

Today the Monroeville Mall, a few miles east of Pittsburgh, can still be explored following the action in the film. The lack of windows obviously made night shoots easy - all they had to do was avoid shooting the high skylights.

All the stores except J.C. Penney have now changed hands. But luckily, Penney's is the main store featured in the film - the escalators, the inside aisles and the main interior doors were all featured.

Despite the decorating changes to the floors and balconies, the ‘psychological’ layout of the building remains. Physical layout is often cheated in movies, with additional sets and editing that alter the spatial relationships. The story usually inhabits a space that never existed. For example, the Psycho house is a fascinating building that never existed as you see it. The layout is well-known - from Norman Bates' attic room down to the apple cellar - but it could never actually be explored the way the characters do.

The mall is still popular, there's a couple of empty units but it's still very full, and is surrounded by other stores round the perimeter of the car park.

The layout stretches east-west, with three huge department stores accessible from the west (Boscov's), east (Macy's) and south (Penney's). The central north entrance is now at the bottom of a street between two new buildings, collectively known as The District. One side is restaurants, the other is a large Barnes & Noble bookstore.

This north entrance used to lead into the ice rink, instead it now leads to the food court.

The mall has two levels, with three atriums each with two escalators. It's easy to tell the atriums apart because the escalators are laid out differently in each one.

These look like the old lights, but there aren't many left.

Macy's dominates the east end of the mall.

View from the south side.

Ths is the bus stop, at the south side of the mall.

These trucks outside the back of Macy's reminded me of the lockdown scene.

This new lift is in the food court, where the ice rink used to be.

Just inside the remodelled north entrance is the only bank.

Just keep repeating, "It's only a mall, it's only a mall..."

This reminded me of the final shot in the film.

This is looking out of the lower level at the bus stop - the view is crying out for a large zombie, dressed only in his shorts.

The Boscov atrium, where the fountain used to stand. This was also the end where the clock tower was.

The escalators were positioned over to one side to make room for where the fountain was. The trampoline rig was cleared to make space for the special screening of Dawn of the Dead inside the mall.

The passage to the hideout is on the upper level.

Along the passage today is a nursery, rest rooms, and your chance to sign up! You can see the fire exit at the end.

The view out from the passage.

The central atrium (looking south).

Central atrium (looking east), JC Penney is off to the right.

The escalator slide in Penney's.

The only elevator I could find in Penney's - on the second level...

...and on the first level.

The big fountain has gone, but this pond and bridge remain.

Looking west, towards where the clock tower stood.

A security guard who has worked here since the film was shot, told me that this unit, at the west end of the second level, was the gun store in the movie.

The Macy's atrium now has a Mr Roger's Neighbourhood!

Some of the less busy entrances are rather scary.

Even more atmospheric at night... (I was in there for the Dawn of the Dead screening, not looting)

A gallery of old publicity posters in the lower level passage included this blaster from the past...

Yes, this is my idea of a holiday.

Dusk of the Dead

I visited Monroeville Mall while at the Pittsburgh Horrorhound Convention, where I met actors from Day of the Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Zombie Flesh Eaters... my coverage of the convention is here.

At the convention I saw an early cut of Paul Davis' documentary Beware The Moon: Remembering An American Werewolf in London. My review of that event, attended by David Naughton and John Landis can be found here.


  1. Wonderful idea and pictures !
    I love this movie and will visit the mall too when I come to the
    eastcoast of the USA.
    Very good and
    best regards Olli :-)

  2. hi there. these pictures are excellent thanks for sharing them.
    I'm a member of a george romero message boar/community where we talk about dawn and the other films in the series.

    feel free to stop by and sign up

    i'm trying to compile a set of before and after pictures of the mall and was wondering if you'd give permission for me to use your pictures, full credit will of course be made to you.

    feel free to email me

    there are many fan sites which have pictures of the mall but i've found very few that compare pics of 1978 and now.



  3. Utterly fantastic, I really want to make this trip one day.

  4. Great tour! Thanks for sharing.

  5. Excellent photos, it was enjoyable to see a familiar place in a different time. Such a good movie.

  6. What a great look at the mall! I love how many locations you were able to find and show--as well as all the detail. Very thorough. I wish I had seen this before visiting back in 2010. Thank you so much for this! I wrote about my visit as well, but wasn't familiar enough with the mall to be able to find and point out as many details as you did. Here is my piece if you'd care to check it out:


  7. Monster Dad! Great day out! I loved the one of you, dead, in the car park! Wish the Zombie Experience had been there when I was there...

  8. Greetings from Braddock Pa. my place of residence and a small journey from the Mall in Monroeville. But Where I dwell, ( Braddock PA.) is the place where "Martin" and "Season of the Witch" were filmed.

  9. Hi Lonnell, thanks for dropping by.
    Maybe you should start a 'Romero tour experience'?