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A visit with zombie-film king Romero
The great-granddaddy of zombie cinema, George Romero, has had a 40-year-plus love affair with his undead creatures.
The famed director and writer of “Night of the Living Dead” and other zombie movies such as “Dawn of the Dead” and, most recently, “Survival of the Dead” has built a career scaring and grossing out audiences with his post-apocalyptic visions.
The septuagenarian recently talked to Zadzooks about his life, his work and the pop-culture evolution of those lumbering, human-stalking, flesh-eating creatures.
So how sick are you of zombies? I never get sick of them, just like taking a vacation. It’s very liberating working with them in film. I can write political and social satire and not get berated on my dialogue or thematically, so I have been getting away with murder over the years.
Although, I was sort of sick of them when we made “Land of the Dead,” it was a bigger production under Universal, and I was sort of disappointed in the way it was released.
Why do you think folks have been so fascinated with zombies over the years? I think it has not been the movies or me. It’s video games that have popularized this creature. They are perfect for a first-person shooter, and also, video games make them move fast like spitballs.
What is the impact of the creatures in entertainment? It is amazing to me how deeply into the popular culture the creature has become. There are zombie walks in every major city. I live in Toronto, and last year 3,000 people came out dressed as zombies. I could not believe it. I even do telephone introductions. I did one last Halloween for Budapest. I had to call in and say, “Hey all of you Hungarian zombies, how are you?”
I do not get it. Maybe it’s an easy costume: Splash some ketchup on and rip up your jeans — although most people already have torn jeans — and you’re done.
I half expect a zombie to show up on “Sesame Street” and hang out with the Count.
Do you have a limit to the level of grotesque images you are willing to put in a film? I don’t think I have a limit; at least I have not reached it yet. I grew up on the old EC horror comic books. They had all sort of moral tales and you waited for the bad guys to get their comeuppance, and you chuckled when the guy’s heart was torn out and the baseball team used it for third base.
The grotesque has never really affected or frightened me. I guess it’s real-life stuff that frightens me much more. But I have never had an idea to make the grossest movie I can make. I don’t think that way.
I think of the thematic — what the movie will be about — and glue the other stuff onto it. I try to temper the grotesque with humor and try to make it silly or outrageous so you don’t think people can be that cruel.
Who are your zombies? They are almost like the coyote in the Road Runner cartoons. Zombies are there to be damaged, and whatever you do to them is OK. Just like you can blow the coyote’s legs off and people chuckle. I have sort of avoided that level of realism and whatever the trend is. I also don’t get it. It’s no fun for me. I see no allegory, and is not the way my mind runs.
Are the zombies the bad guys? I sympathize with the zombies and am not even sure they are villains. To me they are this earth-changing thing. God or the devil changed the rules, and dead people are not staying dead. My stories are much more about the living people. I will never make a film where zombies are threatening to take over the planet. A zombie film is not fun without a bunch of stupid people running around and observing how they fail to handle the situation.
I read where [zombies] started as being the silent majority, but that is missing the point. The rules change, this amazing thing happened, and people can’t adjust to it. They keep on with their own stubborn agendas. That’s what my stories are about. Zombies could be a hurricane or any disaster that people fail to address.
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About the Author
A graduate of Northwestern University with a degree in communications, Joseph Szadkowski has written about popular culture for The Washington Times for the past 17 years. He covers video games, comic books, new media and technology.
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