Elegy - Memories of George - Dread Central
Connect with us

News

Elegy – Memories of George

Published

on

George Romero
Tony Timpone

Photo: Jonathan McPhail

Did you hear the news?

Fantasia’s Mitch Davis asked me the question as I climbed over festival goers in the dark to take my seat at the premiere of the Richard Stanley-scripted Replace. “George Romero died.” Shock and sadness overcame me as the film began, as memories of the zombie auteur and my long relationship with him came flooding into my head, trumping the images on the screen and preoccupying me for the next 90 minutes and in the days that followed in Montreal.

Even if he hadn’t died, George A. Romero was on the minds of just about everyone attending the 21st edition of the Fantasia Film Festival this summer, as several of the horror movies that unspooled over those three weeks owe some kind of debt to him. The influence of the man could be felt in the subject matter of such feature films as Dead Shack and Punk Fu Zombie, as well as countless shorts, such as Paul’s Bad Day and The Plague. In addition, his independent spirit has moved generation after generation of filmmakers.

The Fantasia team worked through its collective sadness by honoring Romero at every opportunity; the Frontieres movie financing pitch market opened on July 20 with an on-screen “in memorium” acknowledgment to Romero, and the first prospective film being introduced turned out to be George A. Romero’s Road of the Dead, which the Toronto transplant was poised to produce and co-write (the movie will move forward). Later, Davis scheduled a last-minute screening of Romero’s The Crazies (in a new 4K restoration) as an honorary screening on July 28.

As you could see, there was a lot of love for George Romero at Fantasia this summer. And across Dread Central. And across the whole wide world.

Night of the Living Dead

I first came across the name of George A. Romero as an impressionable 9-year-old. Night of the Living Dead debuted on late-night TV in March 1973. WABC broadcast it uncut (!) from 16mm and, fearing an Orson Welles War of the Worlds radio show-style panic, notoriously added “Dramatization” over the news anchor scenes! Weaned on tamer ’50s movies like Invisible Invaders and The Last Man on Earth (both of which Romero’s film echoed), NOTLD traumatized me with its depiction of a world coming apart at the seams. Its social commentary elevated it above the usual Creature Features fare that I grew up with. Shortly thereafter, I tried to buy the NOTLD tie-in novel by co-writer John Russo. The store owner showed me the door! “It’s too scary, too real,” he warned. “It will give you nightmares. I won’t sell it to you.

In 1978, at the Creation Thanksgiving convention in Manhattan, I stumbled across a vendor table with fliers advertising Dawn of the Dead, the long-promised color sequel to Night. “When is the movie coming out?” I asked the thin guy behind the booth, who turned out to be the film’s producer, Richard P. Rubinstein.

Why don’t you ask the director?” the man in the suit replied. “He is standing right behind you.

I then turned and faced that towering bear of a man, who chuckled at this high school kid’s enthusiasm for his film. That was the first time I met George A. Romero, the memory still etched in my mind like it was yesterday.

Remembering Romero: Elegy

During my college days at NYU in 1984, I got wind that a press junket was being held to bus local journalists to the Pittsburgh set of Day of the Dead. Back then, I only read Fangoria (I joined the mag a year later), so I did not carry much clout when I asked the film’s publicist, Barbara Pflughaupt, if I could attend on behalf of college paper The Courier. Breaking my heart, Barbara refused me on the grounds the school rag did not have a big enough circulation. When would I ever get another chance to see George in action and maybe even play a zombie like the rest of the press corps? (To this day, Barbara regrets disappointing me. “You never turn down a legitimate journalist,” she says every time we run into each other. “Look where you wound up!”)

Five years along, I did get to see a feast of zombies when I traveled to the Pittsburgh location for the Romero-produced and written Night of the Living Dead remake. I was there to interview the cast and crew as a producer for the two-hour syndicated special “The Horror Hall of Fame,” which was inducting Romero’s original movie into its pantheon. When I arrived at the farmhouse set, Romero was nowhere in sight. Evidently, the film’s financiers at Cannon Films not only unexpectedly cut the film’s budget, but the checks had stopped coming in to pay the filmmakers. As a sign of protest, Romero stayed away from the set that evening and wouldn’t do any publicity. But to show you what a good guy he was, he made an exception and allowed my crew and me to interview him anyway. It would be the first of many on- and off-camera interviews between us over the years.

When I snagged another producing gig for Bravo’s five-part “100 Scariest Movie Moments” in 2003, I included NOTLD, Dawn of the Dead and Creepshow in the show’s roster. By then, Romero had talked these movies to death, but again, he made an exception for me. “George gets paid for these sorts of things now,” his then-wife Christine Forrest told me. But George didn’t want a cent. Instead, he opened his Pittsburgh home to the freelance crew (see here for fun anecdotes on the shoot) and provided tons of informative interview footage.

When I began producing Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors conventions in 1986, George was on the top of my wish list as a guest. Having him at the cons are some of my most cherished reminiscences. He first took the stage at one of our Los Angeles events in 1988, appearing on a panel with Tobe Hooper, Howling author Gary Brandner and old friend John Russo.

Remembering Romero: Elegy

Photo Credit: Tim Ferrante

The fans on the East Coast, however, were clamoring to see George too, but it would take 10 years before I could get him to make a return appearance. And in those less-jaded conventions times, when celebs didn’t charge for autographs or the privilege to even look at you, George agreed to come to the Big Apple for just the price of a nice hotel room. He even drove up from Pittsburgh with the whole family! When I offered him a speaking fee, he refused. “Nah, that’s OK, Tony,” he said, much to Christine’s chagrin.

George’s graciousness and charity extended to the fans all weekend long, signing and posing for free for hours. Even The Misfits lined up to meet him! George never disappointed his followers. When we had him at a winter 2006 Weekend of Horrors in Chicago, George was sick as a dog with a bladder infection. He looked terrible. But he still got on that plane to come and hobnob with the people who idolized him.

Photo Credit: Mike Manikowski

It seemed that Romero was never one to hold a grudge. For the 40th anniversary of NOTLD, he went on the Fango convention circuit tour once more, reuniting with many of his former (and some bitter) business partners. He’d also had something of a troublesome split with Dawn/Day producer Rubinstein. When Rubinstein learned that I was bringing George to NYC for that aforementioned 1996 convention, he asked for my help in putting together a party in his former director’s honor as a way of breaking the ice. No sign of animosity ever appeared amongst the revelers that special night.

In 2000, Romero had just made Bruiser, a change-of-pace revenge tale. Producer Peter Grunwald was having trouble selling the film, so he decided to hold a screening in New York for buyers. “Tony,” Grunwald asked me, “can you invite horror fans and your friends to the screening so that the buyers will see the target audience enjoying the film?” I accepted the mission, and on the night of the show, I walked over to 57th Street and Avenue of the Americas to the screening room. From at least a half a block away, I heard a familiar voice bellowing, “Tony!” It was George, greeting me like a long lost relative, then capping our reunion with a big warm hug.

Bruiser never earned much of a theatrical release, and Romero’s next film, the long-awaited Land of the Dead, turned out to be a bit of a box-office disappointment as well in 2005. To boost DVD sales, studio Universal decided to give the film another shot in theaters for a one-night-only national engagement and hired Fangoria to host and market the event. As a bonus for attendees, an exclusive interview with Romero preceded the movie. For this, I flew to George’s new home city of Toronto for a one-on-one camera interview once more.

George showed up at the hotel room having had a few drinks, which he tipsily acknowledged when I answered the door. Veering off topic, the discussion soon started getting a little emotional; George had recently left his wife of many years, and as he began talking about his breakup, both of us started tearing up with the cameras rolling. This is just one of many “human” moments I shared with this gentle soul. There were no airs or phoniness about him. George was never “business,” unlike other celebs I’ve crossed paths with in the past. He was the real deal.

For 2007’s underrated Diary of the Dead, I hosted George again, this time in Times Square and for another lively screening and Q&A. In his later years, George made himself increasingly accessible to his fans, appearing at countless conventions around the country. None of his other contemporary masters of horror ever put this kind of face time in. No more freebies, unfortunately, but look at how many kids’ dreams came true getting to meet the creator of the modern zombie film.

George Romero

The last time I interviewed George on-camera was for 2009’s Survival of the Dead (see the special feature on the disc). He was back in NY doing press for Magnolia’s marginal release of the movie. As usual, he was self-effacing, funny and revealing. He never exaggerated the “meaning” in his films, preferring for audiences to find the social relevance themselves. Most of all, Romero was a big kid. I also got the impression that, at age 69, he was kind of accepting of the fact that he could only get zombie films financed now (Survival was his third living dead film in four years!).

A week before he died, I emailed George to get a quote from him on the making of The Dark Half for an article I was writing on the best Stephen King movies. No reply ever came, but I never suspected he was sick. The amount of support and love shown George, and the outpouring of emotion, has been overwhelming in the last month, from professionals and fans alike. This humble man touched so many lives. His movies will of course stand the test of time. His influence on horror, likewise, can never be overestimated. But more than his ghouls, what I will remember most about George is his good nature, sense of humor and loyalty. That little B&W classic may have launched a thousand zombie movies, TV shows, video games, books and comics, but there was only one George A. Romero.

George Romero

Comments

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Comments

News

Watching A Quiet Place’s John Krasinski Get Scared by Freddy on Ellen Will Brighten Your Day

Published

on

I was just researching the new Platinum Dunes horror-thriller A Quiet Place and stumbled across this video. It features the film’s writer-director and star John Krasinski getting scared by a man dressed as Freddy Krueger on “Ellen.”

It’s as much fun as it sounds, and I’m sure it will make your day. It sure as hell just brightened mine.

Give it a watch below, and then let us know what you think!

John Krasinski directs the film, which will be the opening night entry at this year’s SXSW festival in Austin, TX. Emily Blunt stars alongside Krasinski, Noah Jupe, and Millicent Simmonds.

A Quiet Place will then open wide on April 6.

Synopsis:
In the modern horror thriller A Quiet Place, a family of four must navigate their lives in silence after mysterious creatures that hunt by sound threatens their survival. If they hear you, they hunt you.

Comments

Continue Reading

News

Interview: Director Jeff Burr Revisits Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III

Published

on

Director Jeff Burr was gracious enough to give us here at Dread Central a few minutes of his time to discuss the Blu-ray release of his 1990 film Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. Recently dropped on 2/13, the movie has undergone the white-glove treatment, and he was all-too-happy to bring us back to when the film was being shot…and eventually diced thanks to the MPAA – so settle in, grab a cold slice of bloody meat, read on and enjoy!

DC: First off – congrats on seeing the film get the treatment it deserves on Blu-ray – you excited about it?

JB: Yeah, I’m really happy that it’s coming out on Blu-ray, especially since so many people bitch and moan about the death of physical media, and this thing made the cut, and it’s great for people to be able to see probably the best-looking version of it since we saw it in the lab back in 1989.

DC: Take us back to when you’d first gotten the news that you were tabbed to be the man to direct the third installment in this franchise – what was your first order of business?

JB: It was fairly condensed pre-production for me, and there really wasn’t a whole lot of time to think about the import or the greatness of it – it was basically just roll up your sleeves and go. It was a bit disappointing because a lot of times in pre-production you have the opportunity to dream what could be – casting had already been done, but certain decisions hadn’t been made yet. A very condensed pre-production, but exciting as hell, for sure! (laughs)

DC: R.A. Mihailoff in the role of Leatherface – was it the decision from the get-go to have him play the lead role?

JB: No – I totally had someone else in mind, even though R.A. had done a role in my student film about 7 years earlier, and we’d kept in touch, and I’d felt strongly because I’d gotten to know him a bit that Gunnar Hansen should have come back and played Leatherface, which would have given a bit more legitimacy to this third movie. He and I talked, and he had some issues with the direction that it was going – he really wanted to be involved, and it ended up boiling down to a financial thing, and it wasn’t outrageous at all – it wasn’t like he asked for the moon, but the problem was that New Line refused to pay it, categorically. I think the line producer at the time was more adamant about it than anyone, and Mike DeLuca was one of the executives on the movie, and he was really the guy that was running this, in a creative sense. I made my case for Gunner to both he and the line producer, and they flat out refused to pay him what he was asking, so after that was a done “no deal” I decided that R.A would be the right guy to step into the role. Since New Line was the arbiter of the film, he had to come in and audition for the part, and he impressed everyone and got the part. He did an absolutely fantastic job – such a joy to work with, and he was completely enthusiastic about everything.

DC: Let’s talk about Viggo Mortenson, and with this being one of his earliest roles – did you know you had something special with this guy on your set?

JB: Here’s the thing – you knew he was talented, and I’d seen him in the movie Prison way back in the early stages of development and was very impressed with him, and he was one of those guys that I think we were really lucky to get him on board with us. I really believe that The Indian Runner with he and directed by Sean Penn was the movie that truly made people stand up and notice his work. Every person in this cast was one hundred percent into this film and jumped in no questions asked when it was time to roll around in the body pits.

DC: It’s no secret about the amount of shit that the MPAA put you through in order to get this film released – can you expound on that for a minute?

JB: At the time, I believe it was a record amount of times we had to go back to the MPAA after re-cutting the film – I think it was 11 times that we went back. What a lot of people don’t realize is after Bob Shaye (President of New Line) had come into the editing room and he thought that it was very disturbing, and cut out some stuff himself. He thought that it would have been banned in every country, and it was banned in a lot of countries but so were the previous two. It was definitely on the verge of being emasculated before even being submitted to the MPAA, and I would have thought just a few adjustments here and there – maybe a couple of times to go back…but eleven? It was front-page news in the trade papers then, and I think that the overall tone of the film was looked at as being nasty. The previous film (Chainsaw 2) had actually gone out unrated, and with the first film being so notorious, I think it was a combination of all of that, and now even the most unrated version of this would be rated R – that’s how far the pendulum has swung in the other direction.

DC: Looking back at the film after all this time – what would be one thing that you’d change about the movie?

JB: Oh god – any film director worth his salt would look back at any of their films and want to change stuff up, and with this being 28 years old, I can look back and say “oh yeah, I’d change this, this and this!” You grow and learn over the course of your time directing, and this was my third movie and my first without producers that I had known, so the main thing that I’d do today would be to make it a bit more politically savvy. I had always thought that they wanted me to put my vision on this film, and that wasn’t necessarily the case, so maybe I’d navigate those political waters a little better.

DC: Last thing, Jeff – what’s keeping you busy these days? Any projects to speak of?

JB: Oh yeah, I’ve got a couple of movies that I’m working on – I’m prepping a horror movie right now, and then I’ve got a comedy film that I’m doing after that. You haven’t heard the last of me! I’ve had a real up and down (mostly down) career, but I still love it – it’s what I love to do, and it’s still great that after 28 years people still want to talk about this movie, and are still watching it – that’s the greatest gift you can get, and I thank everyone that’s seen it and talked about it over all these years.

BUY IT NOW!

Comments

Continue Reading

News

Werewolf Short Werehouse Coming this Halloween

Published

on

Director Daniel Mark Young, whom you may remember for the horror shorts Stranger, Night Terrors, and Run, is currently raising funds on Kickstarter to complete his latest ambitious project, the werewolf short Werehouse. Like most of Young’s films, it will be penned by his frequent writing partner James Craigie.

As its name suggests, Werehouse will be a werewolf tale set inside, you’ve guessed it, a warehouse. A group of students seek refuge in the storage facility to escape from a violent protest, but they find that they may be in even greater danger after discovering that a ravenous beast may be trapped inside with them.

The short will star Amy Tyger, Harriet Rees, Oliver Roy, and Derek Nelson.

Werehouse will be shot in black and white, although the filmmakers are using a special technique to isolate the color red in order to highlight the copious amounts of blood shown onscreen. Should the funding be successful, filming is expected to commence in April, and the film will be released on Amazon Instant Video this Halloween.

Comments

Continue Reading

Exclusive Clip – Primal Rage

Go Ad Free!

Support Dread Central on Patreon!
Advertisement
Advertisement

Recent Comments

Advertisement

Join the Box of Dread Mailing List

* indicates required

Trending

Copyright © 2017 Dread Central Media LLC