A camera pulls back from what appears to be a 1970s-style shag carpet. It's not. It's the lining in a soundproof room. A woman awakens, shaking, but she's not waking from a nightmare; she's waking into a nightmare of the walking undead stalking, killing, and consuming the living. The nightmare, of course, belongs to George A. Romero's fertile imagination and the film 'Dawn of the Dead' released unrated in 1978-1979 due to violence and gore, remains a high-water mark for the undead/zombie sub-genre Romero redefined a decade earlier with 'Night of the Living Dead.'
Taking 'Night of the Living Dead' as a given, Romero set 'Dawn of the Dead' mid-apocalypse. The well-ordered world as we know still exists, but it's quickly unraveling, leaving the voracious undead in its wake. The sleeping/awakening woman in the first scene, Francine (Gaylen Ross), is one of 'Dawn of the Dead's' central characters. A mid-level television station manager at WGON-TV in Philadelphia, Francine watches first-hand as the station's management structure breaks down, mirroring, apparently, events in the outside world.