The Monroeville Mall
written from the zombie-filled parking lot
by Phil Fasso
Some locations are so intrinsic to the plot of a horror film that they become a character as much as a setting. Think of fellow Hell of Famer King Kong’s Skull Island, and the wonderment it presents. Or the Marsten House, a structure so evil and brooding that it looms over the town in SALEM’S LOT. I submit the Monroeville Mall in DAWN OF THE DEAD as another example.
Upon seeing it from the sky, the four protagonists think it might make a great place for a supply run. Once they decide to stay, they make the mall an iconic part of the horror landscape in the Romero-verse. When the four protagonists chase out the zombies, the mall becomes a welcome safe haven from them, and in turn becomes a character. The ridiculously cheesy sound of “The Gonk” gives the place some personality, and the slat between the escalators offers a fun ride, even if Roger may run into a zombie or two at the bottom. The Monroeville Mall has character, from the Piercing Pagoda to the ample roof space on which Peter plays a one-man game of racquetball. There’s plenty of acreage for our heroes to fight both the undead and pie-throwing bikers.
Where Romero improves on the idea of setting-as-character is that unlike Skull Island or the Marsten House, the Monroeville Mall is a real place. As I’ve heard him tell it, a friend of his owned it, and brought him and Christine Romero for a tour. Romero started thinking to himself something along the lines, “Wow, I bet people could hole up in here for a while if the world went zombie.” The whole story of DAWN OF THE DEAD is tied into the mall not because Romero created it in his script, but because he created his script to fit the mall. He carries this over into his allegory, that Americans are consumers, and zombies make the best Americans.
If only the Monroeville Mall had zombies overrunning it now. I was jazzed to visit it during my trip to HorrorHound back in 2008, a trip that got wrecked when X’s uncle’s car got wrecked as we hit a deer. The car somehow persevered, right into the parking lot where Ken Foree and company once played out their fight against the undead. What I found was an indistinct mall that looked pretty squarely like any other in America. Instead of touting up the movie connection, the place downplayed it to the point that if one toy store weren’t selling zombie figures, I would never have known this was the site. I know plenty of fans still travel far distances to come to the Mecca of horror malls, but the experience left me unimpressed.
Its current state aside, I can proudly say that I’ve visited the main site from DAWN OF THE DEAD. It’s a truly iconic location in the subgenre of zombie films, and a beloved locale to fans of George Romero. As the setting for his most popular film, and probably the most popular zombie film of all time, it’s worthy of its induction into the Hell of Fame. You’ll find it in the western corner, right outside of Death Ensemble’s Pittsburgh PA. Take a tour, just remember to keep the helicopter fueled on the roof. Those pie throwing bikers will certainly cause you some problems.