Thursday, February 14, 2008

George Romero: Still indie after all these years


The world is a nicer place to live with Night of the Living Dead established as a classic horror film, just as the world spins smoother with works like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or Bram Stoker’s Dracula as literary anecdotes to ward off the onset of ennui in its various forms. All the imitators can come and go, and maybe some of them leave a mark, but George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead has never been surpassed as a zombie flick unless it was Romero doing the overtaking.
Night of the Living Dead was not the first zombie movie. In the 1940s there were titles like Zombies Over Broadway and I Walked With A Zombie. “Don’t forget White Zombie,” reminds Romero about the 1932 Bela Lugosi movie. “Classic films are the ones that hold up.” Speaking exclusively to Free Press Houston by phone Romero provided insight into his latest film Diary of the Dead.
“It’s a parallel story happening at the same time,” offers Romero, calling the storyline “a new beginning.” Actually Diary of the Dead plays like a spot-on re-imagining of Night only in the internet age. When the dead start to eat the living it’s captured on TV. In a matter of hours amateurs are downloading their own sightings on MySpace and YouTube. “Today all the world is a camera,” says Romero.
A group of students from the University of Pittsburgh are making a horror film when they catch wind of the zombie phenomenon. With their teacher the sole oldster, the group embarks in an RV for a house in the wilderness hoping to avoid the carnage going on around them. Through the night various obstacles challenge the group.
Romero’s films have always excelled in horrific effects. Likewise his direction has a flair that shines in all his films. Diary of the Dead continues in that mode with a tight pacing that allows for laughs (the Amish scene) in the midst of danger. The film unwinds as a film within a film called The Death of Death. And as the story has adapted the precedents of Blair Witch first person style narrative so has CGI been added to compliment the stunt work. “We had to use CGI for the acid gag,” states Romero about a scene where hydrochloric acid dissolves a zombies face. But another action piece combines both old school effects with digitally enhanced props. The sequence involves a sophomore turned zombie who gets taken out by a high velocity bow and arrow. The actor was the son of the stunt coordinator and was hooked up to a harness that slung him backward against a wall. At the same moment a CGI arrow slams through his head and impales him on said wall.
Romero has previously made four other zombie films in addition to other genres including the action drama of Knightriders, a 1981 film that starred Ed Harris. Hollywood has no use for Romero’s genius yet they continue to remake his films. A Day of the Dead remake opens in April and The Crazies is listed on imdb for 2009. “The Crazies has been on the books for years, Paramount was going to do it at one point, you never know,” warns Romero. This is the guy who practically created the current horror atmosphere and yet Zach Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead busts a new record while the same studio (Universal) can’t sell Romero’s Land of the Dead (fourth in the series) to save their soul. If you want Romero’s opinion Land of the Dead was perhaps a tad too Hollywood. And in 28 Days Later a film clearly influenced by American zombie epics “they’re not zombies, they’re not dead, they’re infected.”
Romero made the Hitchcock type cameo in his films up to Dawn of the Dead, but stayed completely behind the camera in the 80s and 90s. Dairy of the Dead finds him backin front of the lens with a one-liner as a police chief. Fans know that Romero turned up in a crucial scene in Silence of the Lambs, shot in his then hometown. “There were always films being shot in the Burgh. I had known Demme for years and he called me up when he got into town.”
Local residents have the chance to see Romero in person at the Texas Frightmare Weekend, taking place in Dallas February 21-24. The convention refers to Romero as the Father of Modern Horror and every one of his zombie films will be getting the royal retrospective treatment. “I love my fans,” Romero states. “I meet people from 17 to 70 at these events.”



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