Reel Toronto: Toronto the Undead
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Reel Toronto: Toronto the Undead

Toronto’s extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.
Ving Rhames = cool. Ving Rhames + shotgun + zombies = super duper cool.
Some people think you need an Olympics or a fancy transit system to be a “World Class City.” We think the answer is more straightforward: zombie movies. And those, my friends, we have.
We admit we were skeptical when some no-name guy was hired to remake George Romero’s classic, Dawn of the Dead. Our interest was piqued, however, by the presence of local thesp/activist Sarah Polley in a zombie movie filmed in the suburban GTA. We gave it a shot, we were pleasantly surprised, and now the no-name dude has directed 300 and Watchmen, so he kinda showed us.
The great Romero himself came here a bit later to shoot the less-than-classic Diary of the Dead, sealing our status as a world class city, at least to the unholy walking dead.

This is not the film that earned Sarah Polley an Oscar nomination.
Dawn of the Dead has a kick-ass beginning. Sarah Polley basically comes home from work, gets attacked by her zombie daughter, gets attacked by her now-zombie husband, and runs the hell away from all her zombie neighbours.
“There goes the neighbourhood.” (Rim shot!)
Her home could be in any ol’ subdivision—and the filmmakers want you to believe it’s Milwaukee (?!), but it was actually shot in Brampton and Caledon. This street is Garden Wood Avenue.
Burn, 905. Burn.
As she flees down this highway we see exploding helicopters and a city burning in the distance. That’s all CGI, but the road is actually Highway 50, south of Bolton.
It’s not hard to make the happy suburbs seem creepy.
Ms. Polley ends up in a park where she runs into security dude/hero Ving Rhames. Now we’re in Thornhill, in the park adjacent to the Landmark of Thornhill condos. One intrepid soul actually went there and shot his own nearly creepy footage of the swings and tunnel in the park.
Rule 1: You need zombie fodder before inevitable zombie attacks.
Then they go through a tunnel and then run into a few more people under this bridge, which is actually at Bayview Avenue, north of Green Lane.
Even when it dreams, Thornhill Square does not look this pretty.
As you surely know, the premise of the film is that a group of survivors gets trapped in an abandoned mall. Well, Thornhill had one of those primed and ready to go. Thornhill Square, mere blocks from those previous locations, was about as dead a mall as you can get, having lost its mojo when its 80s-era multiplex flooded.
The owners decided to preserve the central area and office tower and demolish the east wing to make room for (now-finished) town homes. The filmmakers moved in and built their own interior and shops before the destruction.
In the above shot, basically everything except the atrium is CGI.
This scene really speaks to man’s inhumanity to (undead) man. Especially in the unrated director’s cut.
One icky zombie dies by a gruesome headshot in the mall fountain. This was built in the atrium area, located beside what was once a Winners.
They used every bit of the mall they could, including the loading docks…
….and the roof. No doubt several suburbanites wondered who had painted “HELP!” on the utility shed. Could have been one of the food court retailers, the way things were going.
Not footage from the Great Toronto Yacht Club War.
Some of the end boat sequence was actually done in California, but they did grab shots at Ashbridge’s Bay first.
Zombie? Mummy? Whatever.
Of course there could be no Dawn of the Dead without a George Romero, so props to the master for coming here for Diary of the Dead, even if it isn’t the strongest work in his oeuvre.
Props for the projects.
The film’s opening scene, and opening shot, were done at Regent Park North.
Anti-zombie medicine has come a long way, but there is much research yet to be done.
The hospital scene was filmed at Humber River Regional Hospital.
The signs say “Please Walk on the Grass,” not “Please Dig Up the Grass to Bury Dead Zombies.”
There’s a lot of running around in forests (from zombies, natch) and while it’s hard to identify the trees, we know that scenes were shot at Sunnybrook Park, High Park, and Woodlands Park.

UPDATE: OCTOBER 4, 2013: Thanks to a commenter we’ve added the additional detail of the street in Caledon used for the opening of Dawn of the Dead. The text is updated above.