With NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, George Romero quite literally created zombies as we know them today. Ten years later, he locked his flesh-eating creations inside of a shopping mall in DAWN OF THE DEAD, a sequel that proved to be every bit as innovative and important as its predecessor. Gorier and laced with even more social commentary, DAWN took the art of zombie cinema to a whole new level, and if you’re asking me, it will forever go down in history as Romero’s greatest masterpiece.
But enough about the movie. Let’s talk about the toys it spawned!
When it comes to DAWN OF THE DEAD toys, nobody did them better than NECA, who released three different DAWN zombie action figures throughout their popular Cult Classics line. “Flyboy” kicked things off in Series 3, and he was subsequently joined by “Plaid Shirt Zombie” in Series 4 and “Hare Krishna Zombie” in Series 6. But it was nearly 10 years prior that the very first DAWN OF THE DEAD action figures hit the market, and they’ve mostly flown under the radar in the ensuing years.
Put out by Japanese company Reds, Inc. back in 1999, the original line of DAWN OF THE DEAD toys were presented under the alternate title ZOMBIE: DAWN OF THE DEAD, and four of them comprised the first and only wave that saw release. Each measuring 6″ tall, the “Cult Cinema Collection” figures depicted two of the same zombies that would later go on to find their way in NECA’s Cult Classics line, as well as another iconic zombie from the film and a lone human in the form of DAWN star/makeup effects artist Tom Savini.
Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
We kick things off with the zombified version of DAWN main character Stephen Andrews, who is often referred to by the nickname “Flyboy” – after all, he was the pilot of the WGON-TV station’s traffic report helicopter. As you can see, each of the figures were stylized in such a way that wonderfully conveyed the fact that they’re zombies, and they each came with a gruesome display base. It’s interesting to note that George Romero has stated that the Flyboy Zombie is his favorite zombie he’s ever brought to the screen, as actor David Emge played the undead part to perfection.
More commonly known as “Plaid Shirt Zombie,” but released by Reds, Inc. under the name “Bald Head Zombie,” here we have another DAWN zombie that would go on to be immortalized in plastic by NECA. While many of the zombies in the film were covered in simple blue-ish paint, Tom Savini went all out for “Plaid Shirt Zombie,” whose face and shirt were mangled in quite a memorable way. The imagery of this particular zombie became a large part of the film’s marketing campaign, most notably being used on the original DAWN poster art.
In DAWN OF THE DEAD, actor Leonard A. Lies portrayed “Hatchet Head” (aka “Machete Zombie”), a zombie whose brief role in the film was memorable enough to make the movie’s original toy line. As you probably recall, “Machete Zombie” got his name from a scene wherein Tom Savini’s character, well, sticks a machete into his head, and quite fittingly, the figure’s head sculpt featured a sliced out portion so that the scene could be recreated. But you had to buy the last figure in the line in order to get that little toy machete…
We wrap up our look at the original DAWN OF THE DEAD action figure line with “Motorcycle Rider,” portrayed in the film by Tom Savini – in the actual credits, the character is listed as “Motorcycle Raider.” Savini, who of course handled the makeup effects for Romero’s sequel, made only his second on-screen appearance in the movie, and the figure came complete with the machete that he stuck into the head of the aforementioned “Machete Zombie.” Many years later, in LAND OF THE DEAD, Savini reprised the role of “Motorcycle Raider” for a brief cameo as a machete-wielding zombie, and in a nod to DAWN OF THE DEAD, the character was credited as “Machete Zombie.” That appearance also spawned an action figure, released by SOTA Toys.
At the time of this writing, you can get the complete four-figure Cult Cinema Collection over on eBay for just over $100, and the individual DAWN figures are selling for around $30-$40. Definitely a must-own set for all mega fans of Romero’s second contribution to the world of zombie cinema!