History 6

Mid-April 1978
A negative of the work print is delivered to Dario Argento in Rome, who, as per the 1977 contractual agreement between him and Laurel, starts to compose his own version of the film for the European and Japanese markets. Removing many of the “quieter” character development scenes and almost completely replacing the numerous DeWolfe library cues used by Romero for his original soundtrack with Goblin’s driving rock score, the result is an overall darker, faster-paced, and more “serious” film that quite deliberately has filtered out any “satirical” or even “comical” elements to become a straightforward horror-action shocker which arguably will better suit the viewing habits of European movie audiences. Although Romero apparently is far from happy with the somewhat radical changes that have been made to his work, he obviously finds himself forced to put on a good face while promoting Dawn in Europe.

May 1978
billy-baxterAn early, 139-minute cut of Dawn of the Dead is shown at the Film Festival in Cannes, France, marking the film’s debut public screening. During his stay in Cannes, Richard Rubinstein happens to meet veteran PR man, film distributor and producer Billy “Silver Dollar” Baxter by total coincidence while playing Black Jack in a hotel casino. Rubinstein is holding aces and wants to double down, but finds himself out of cash. Baxter, sitting next to him at the same table, asks to see his cards, and spontaneously loans him the money to make his move and beat the house. After payback, the two strike up a conversation in the lobby, during which Rubinstein mentions that he is looking for investors helping to finish his current movie project. Without even knowing what the picture in question is about, Baxter requests the producer to arrange a screening for himself and his business partner, Herbert R. Steinmann, back home in New York. George A Romero and Executive Producers Herbert R Steinmann and Billy BaxterAlthough both are disliking the film, Baxter and Steinmann (who even calls it “a piece of crap”) are able to see its commercial potential and eventually end up investing $104,000 each to pay for post-production costs, earning them credits as Dawn’s “presenters” and, more importantly, a 16-percent share in box office revenues.

After Laurel have formally submitted the film to the Motion Picture Association of America, Richard Rubinstein gets a phone call from the board’s chairman at the time, Richard Heffner, who informs him that “there isn’t a list long enough” for all the cuts necessary to avoid an “X” rating. Hence, Romero and Rubinstein agree on attempting to get Dawn released completely unrated, all the while keeping a debate about the MPAA’s unjustness of slapping the “X” label onto violent horror films without sexual content going in the entertainment press. (Suffice to say that its board members remain decidedly unimpressed by any of this, and it won’t be until more than a decade later that the “X” is finally replaced by a newly-established “NC-17” rating.)

July 1978
In the midst of all the activity surrounding George Romero’s next feature, his previous work, Martin, is released in North America to little fanfare, more than one-and-a-half years after principal photography has wrapped up. Although its rather sporadic distribution will ultimately prevent the film from becoming widely seen, it is met with mostly positive reviews, and – just like Night of the Living Dead six years before – also gets exhibited in special weekend midnight showings at New York’s Waverly Theater (which has become famous for hosting the very first “audience participation” screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show) that amazingly are still going on by the time Dawn of the Dead sees its domestic release in April of the following year.

Summer 1978
Cinemas in Italy are starting to show an undubbed and very graphic theatrical trailer (based on the Dario Argento edit) that not only gives away many of the film’s key gore scenes in advance, but also is notable for containing some lines of off-camera dialogue by a radio announcer that are not included in any version of the actual film as well.