George A. Romero is back on the zombie track with George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead. The New York City -born, Pittsburgh-raised and now Toronto-based director has brought us gore and lots more in his shockers about the living dead for decades. Of course, it was Romero who practically invented the entire subgenre of horror movies with 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, the classic low-budget saga of a group of people holed up in a Pennsylvania farmhouse battling flesh-eating creatures. But there was more to the black-and-white effort other than scares for the sake of scares. Whether the midnight movie and drive-in audiences flocking to the film realized the subtext is debatable, but Romero, 70, has gone on record to talk about how anger about the Vietnam War and his views on the country’s racial prejudices played integral parts in the story. And, he has said, there have been political and social ingredients to all of his other skin-devouring scareathons as well.
Survival of the Dead, his latest, takes place on “an island off the coast of Delaware,” in which two Irish families—the O’Flynns and the Muldoons– are locked in a bitter and deadly feud. When zombies get in the middle of the mix, it drives the stakes even higher, as the O’Flynns want the undead killed and the Muldoons believe the zombies can be rehabilitated. Of course, blood and guts fly from living and dead protagonists alike. Adding further complications to the situation is the arrival of a group of soldiers from Philadelphia. As far as the political and social agendas of the film, Romero addressed those along with some other pertinent questions about his film and his career in this exclusive interview for http://www.moviefanfare.com.
Q: There are now zombies all over in popular culture, in movie, literature, graphic novels. Do you pay attention to it? Do you feel good about that?
A: I don’t know. I’ve been through a couple of waves. My guys are shambling in the corner and I’m doing my own thing. I can’t get excited. I don’t quite know what all the fuss is about. I think the real reasons zombies are popular is because of video games and graphic novels rather than films. Video games made the zombies move fast, so filmmakers decided they can’t move slow if they are dead. The new zombies are not my zombies. I don’t particularly care for them. I don’t rush out to see them; I’m not excited. I don’t see it as an allegory of any kind. The most amazing thing to me is not the film and literature but the zombie walks—3000 people in Toronto came out to do a zombie walk. They’re all dead anyway, so what’s the point? There’s more to be looked at with this trend.
Q: It seems like the ongoing feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys has something do with this film. But could the subtext here be the United States and the division of the country as red state/blue state?
A: That definitely was what we were shooting for, but it could relate to Ireland, the Middle East or the Senate. (laughs) That’s there. There’s always a broader concept except for the first one (NOTLD). That was a bunch of angry sixties guys pissed off that peace and love didn’t work. My other stuff was about things I was pissed off about.
Q: You shot Diary of the Dead using high definition video. How about Survival?
A: Yes, we used the RED One camera here, too, and I love it. The blacks are great and I get to put shadows where there are no shadows. In some ways, it reminds me of having my dark room back from the old days.
Q: Some of your films have been remade, like Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead and The Crazies. How do you feel about the remakes?
A: Well, on The Crazies I was executive producer. I didn’t have much to do, although I thought I would, but I did get paid (laughs). They did a great job, but it’s not my film. I met with Breck (director Eisner), but I didn’t understand why he wanted to remake that—they were just trying to do …28 Days Later. They lost the anger that we had—the same with Dawn. To be honest, the remake trend drives me nuts.
Q: I know people who loved your original Dawn when it came out in 1978 and now aren’t big fans of it. They prefer Zack Snyder’s remake. They point to the bikers’ section of the original film in which a motorcycle gang infiltrates the shopping mall and say it’s too comical and broadly played.
A: This film is the first time that hardcore fans proved to me that my films have a shelf life and this was the first time they said: “You’re probably coming back around, we’ll watch your next movie.” Maybe I got too serious with some other stuff like Diary? There is a TV mentality where people will run to see CSI a bunch of times in the same week. I always tried to make the zombie films completely different. It was, “Hey let’s do this as a western, let’s do this as a noir.” My fans say I got to have them all. I’m finally being forgiven (for this type of thing), it seems.
Q: Why is new film set off the coast of Delaware?
A: I have a tradition of starting my films in Philly. So I wondered where they would go this time. I looked at an atlas—I had no idea that there was a Plum Island off the coast of Delaware. I just set it there. Of course, the entire movie was shot in Canada.
Q: You’re obviously working on a limited budget these days. Is that why you are working out of Canada?
A: I was stuck in development hell for ten years. I was well-paid working on different projects (including Goosebumps and Resident Evil). So I raised the money for a little film called Bruiser from Canal Plus, a French company. In Canada, you can turn $5 million into $6 ½ million. I met people in Canada who were talented and had an amazing work ethic. Prior to that, my stuff was done in Pittsburgh, but the industry practically disappeared. All my buddies left and followed the money.
Q: After Bruiser in 2000 you did Land of the Dead in 2005, which was a bigger film and released by Universal, a major studio. Did you find less control working on a bigger budget for a big studio?
A: I wish I could say yes. (laughs) But it was a great personal pleasure to work with Dennis Hopper, Leguizamo, Simon Baker. I had a strong independent producer named Mark Canton (300, Piranha 3-D). Universal made their comments right up front, before production. They were very respectful, they were fine and they left me alone.
I guess along the way, I lost the reins (to the Dead films). We made the first one for $170,000 and a big part of me wanted to get back to that. We met our new financing partners who were willing to finance the film as long as we stuck to the budget. You can’t call your own shots on where to spend money and not to spend it. You can’t change the script you agreed on, so it’s wonderful to have the film you want in the end.
Q: The last two films interconnect. Do you plan to do more that relate to Diary and Survival?
A: Diary of the Dead, my last film, was something I wanted to do, something about media and citizen journalism. And I found financing partners who gave me creative control and I jumped at the opportunity. Even though the release was limited in the States, it made a lot of money. So this time I took on a broader theme. I told them it would make three films, take different characters from Diary and have them meet in other films. And that’s where it came from. If they happen, I would love to do more mix and match movies. My first four films are owned and controlled by different people so I’d like to have my own little saga, eventually presenting them in a boxed (DVD) set.
Q: Would you ever go back and do something lighter, like Creepshow?
A: I grew up on EC Comics before the (comics) code and it was all bad jokes and bad puns. I’d like to get back to lighter stuff and I will if I get to make these two films. Working like this, it’s great to know what I am making for the next two years. I’m actually employed! One is non-horror and one is non-zombie.
I do have ideas for other zombie movies, but we’ll see how this one does. If it does as well as I believe it will, it may be another zombie film next.