Zombies, zombies, zombies. We’ve been in the midst of a filmic zombie invasion for quite some time now, and with “The Walking Dead” tickling fans’ fancies across the nation, it doesn’t look like the undead will be trying to find more room in Hell any time soon.
As such, it seemed like a good time to catch up with (drumroll) Mr. GEORGE! A.! ROMERO! (APPLAUSE!)
A fan of DC’s own Uncle Creepy, Romero and I broke the ice by chatting about his joint commentary track with my favorite Uncle for the Blu-Ray Survival of the Dead disc. “Oh, it was great fun. I mean, he’s very well-informed, but we couldn’t help but goof around a little bit! He’s a funny guy,” laughs Romero. “I just saw him in Boston or wherever we were there, and we always have a good time together. He’s a good guy.” Awww… I bet it’s fun hanging out with good ol’ Uncle George and Uncle Creepy.
Delving deeper into Survival, Romero shared his thoughts on the film’s reception. “Well, the fans seem to like it a lot. I mean, it took some serious hits from critics, but the fans seem to dig it. Every time I go to these conventions, the fans are buyin’ it and liking it. My films seem to take a while to catch on – they’re different. I think some people want sort of the same thing over and over again, and it’s just no fun for me to do that. I’d much rather try to mix it up a little bit and do something different with each one. So I think sometimes there’s an initial reaction to the films, which is ‘we came to see what we saw last time.’ But that’s just not my style.” ”
This writer brings up the fact that Day of the Dead took quite a while to become the treasure among fans that it is today. “Yeah, it seems to take a while! I guess people just say, ‘Well, I’ll give it a try’ finally, and they wind up diggin’ it. It’s interesting because you’d think that real sort of hardcore horror fans wouldn’t pay a lot of attention to mainstream critics but it happens, and there’s an initial knee-jerk sort of reaction. If people read a couple of bad reviews on something, then they stay away from it for a while. So I think part of it is that – finally people try it on for size and decide for themselves whether they like it or not. I’ve also been extremely lucky in that [my fans] in particular want to have the whole collection of films! So my stuff seems to have a really long shelf life. I think probably some people buy ‘em and don’t even look at ‘em for a while [laughs]! It’s actually great – I have no complaints about that. My stuff has had such a long life… When I go to these conventions, I have a line-up of fans – they’re 16 years old and younger, and then there are 70-year-olds who were around when the first film came out, so I sort of stand the decades not only in my life but also in my films! ”
Romero next shares his thoughts on the aforementioned zombie invasion, on the big and small screen, and potential plans for his own cannibalistic creations. “Zombies seem to be, for some reason…they’re still very popular. Now we still have books coming out and [Frank] Darabont’s doing the Walking Dead thing. Actually that in itself amazes me – I wish [zombies] would go away for a while so I could go back into the woodwork and just do my own little thing. I don’t know if there’s gonna be another one. I have two storylines that I’d really like to do. Survival of the Dead uses a character from Diary and it’s sort of a spin-off in that regard. And I have two more storylines that I’d really like to do that use characters from Diary. I’d love to interweave them and have them meet each other and be able to sort of make a little box set of these four films that would all sort of go together and wind up with some kind of conclusion. I’ll never have the zombies rule the world because I don’t think zombie films are any fun unless there are some stupid humans running around.”
Like other fans, I’m curious if he’ll ever return to the darker territory of Day. “I’d love to do a dark one, a sort of brooding one. I don’t know if that is in any way commercial anymore. I mean, after Zombieland, we may be at the point where people are already starting to laugh at ‘em and they’re gonna be harder and harder to take seriously.” That doesn’t mean Romero is bummed about injecting more humor into his Dead tales. “I love the Looney Tunes stuff, man. I’ll do that till I step into, or stumble into, or fall into my own grave! It’s just, I guess, my nature to have fun. I think you can be dark enough – you can have [a lot] of humor in something and still the overall, over-arching message can be pretty dark. I mean, Christ, I had a pie fight in Dawn of the Dead – I can’t resist that stuff. They were squirting seltzer bottles! ”
Some fans have been curious about Romero’s sudden interest in continuity. Well, there’s an answer for that, too.
“The first four films are all owned and controlled by different companies and so I’ve never been able to repeat characters or reuse story themes to carry them over from one film to another because there were copyright issues. So now that I’m able to do that because my partner and I have ownership positions in the last two films, we’re able to [revisit themes and characters], so I’m sort of enamored by that idea and I’d really like to do it.” Any ideas for hero zombies, a la Bub or Big Daddy? “I have an idea for a character that I’d like to maybe develop as a hero that might appear actually in the next two films. Ya just don’t know – it’s all economically driven in the end. So I’m working on a script now that is a non-zombie thing – I can go either way [laughs] .”
A non-zombie project? That Romero promises to be pure fright? Do tell, Mr. Romero, do tell…
“The only thing I can really say about it is…I don’t think of my films as scary. People say to me, ‘Aw, man, that scared the hell out of me,’ and I don’t think of my stuff as particularly scary. I’m not trying to be scary – they’re a little more comic-booky. It’s not the kind of scares that get under your skin. I never really have tried [to be scary] except maybe with the original [Night of the Living Dead] which I think has some creepy moments. I’ve never really tried to do balls-out scares and the [non-zombie] project I’m working on now is strictly a scare show. It’s something that I hope will scare the crap outta you.”
When we return to zombie talk, I bring up the fact that the tension between the humans builds the dread towards the next zombie attack, which is where I feel actual fear comes from in his Dead films. Romero has an intriguing response:
“That’s interesting – I never sort of related it that way. I guess my view going in is that, well, it’s inevitable that the [humans] are gonna screw themselves up. And so I’m just waiting for the fatal screw-up that causes the zombies to get the access, finally break through and have their lunch [laughs]! So it’s hard for me to gain appreciation for the tension in it, the stuff you’re talking about. It’s really hard when you’re up close to even fully appreciate what’s going on there or how that’s working on an audience. I fully expect the problems to come in the end so it’s no big surprise to me! ”
Lastly, Romero’s rumored Deep Red remake project is totally squashed as far as the director is concerned. Seems Dario Argento’s brother, Claudio, contacted Romero about doing the film without approval from Dario himself, who was definitely not into it. When Romero found out about Claudio’s little stunt, he immediately called it quits. “It’s terrible how these things happen, actually,” Romero sighs.
On a brighter note, however, Romero fans can be expecting more from the rejuvenated director soon, whether it’s zombies or otherwise. “I’m having fun doing these things! It’s like going back to the old days – it’s great to have creative control over these projects. It’s almost like a vacation.”
Got news? Click here to submit it!
Get personal in the comments section below.