Friday, February 15, 2008

George A. Romero has created a monster.

The man who gave us “Night of the Living Dead” and, well, the whole zombie genre, routinely meets young filmmakers who press homemade DVDs into his hands.

“Every one of them is a zombie movie,” Mr. Romero says. “To that extent, I feel, ‘What have I done?’ These amateur productions feature random gore and violence … and not much else.

“They’re easy to do,” he says of the zombie movie conventions. “Get some neighbors, some ketchup. But what’s your reason for doing it?”

It’s a far cry from Mr. Romero’s films, with their embedded social criticism. “Dawn of the Dead” (1978) mocked consumerism, for example, as thousands of zombies descended on a suburban mall.

The horror auteur returns to his zombie canvas with “George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead,” a new film that reboots his own franchise.

It’s the first night when the dead begin to stir, and a troupe of film students is there to capture it all. That means a “Blair Witch” meets “Cloverfield” approach in which student cameras serve as our point of view.

Mr. Romero says his “Dead” franchise grew a little too big with the well-received “Land of the Dead” (2005).

“This was a franchise that had grown out of the simplest of seeds,” he says. “I wanted to go back to that.”

Mr. Romero opted for the video-cam format to tell a bigger story of our media-saturated age.

News outlets trivialize important themes while zooming in on fluff such as whether Britney Spears put a seat belt on her son, he says.

If Adolf Hitler were around today, he would have his own blog, he says. “It’s a dangerous time, and a dangerous medium,” he says of the Internet.

Mr. Romero touches on dark, depressing themes in his work. In conversation, he sounds like Stan Lee’s younger brother, brimming with vitality and capping sentences with ‘60s era slang like “man.” The 68-year-old says the antiwar themes that recur throughout his career stem from his childhood.

“The biggest influence of my youth was the fear of war,” he says.

That, combined with an early zeal for now-classic horror fare such as “Dracula,” set his improbable career in motion.

Nevertheless, even after the success of 1968’s “Night of the Living Dead,” he resisted going back to the zombie well.

“I always loved the genre, always felt it should be used as a metaphor,” he says.

So, after dabbling in other horror-themed projects, including “The Crazies” (1973) and “Martin” (1977), he created “Dawn of the Dead.” “Maybe I’m onto something here,” he says. “I can do what I always believed should be done, use genre as a metaphor and somehow reflect on the time when the film is being made.”

Mr. Romero, whose first directorial gig, improbably enough, was shooting “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” says he still has a blast making horror movies. Especially the gross-out scenes.

“That’s the stuff that comes from EC comics, the terrible guy on the baseball team who gets his heart ripped out and it’s used as third base,” he says, his voice alive with the memory.

He says he sometimes watches horror films with author Stephen King, and the pair giggle like children at the carnage.

“Some people like the roller-coaster ride, some people don’t,” he says. “I’ll never give up that gleefulness.”

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