Ever since director/writer George A. Romero
made the landmark 1968 horror film Night of the Living Dead
audiences have screamed for more from the so-called Grandfather of the Zombie. To date there are six movies in the long-running Dead
series, including his latest, Survival of the Dead
(out this week on DVD and Blu-ray), which follows a group of soldiers to an island where two warring families are too caught up fighting with each other to handle the indigenous undead population. The affable director chats candidly about his zombie oeuvre, what he thinks of remakes and why zombies just can't run.
Movies.com: Survival of the Dead is a direct continuation of Diary of the Dead, something you haven't done before. Why now?
George Romero: I haven't been able to do it before because all the films are owned and controlled by different people. I decided to go with a more universal theme: war, conflicts that don't die, and people who forget why they're enemies in the first place. I thought, What if I took three characters from Diary and developed stories around them, and then I could have them meet up and reuse characters and story points? That sounded like fun to me. Because this new one principally deals with some feuding old farts, I thought of old Westerns like The Big Country and made it look like Western.
Movies.com: You've played with CGI zombie effects like exploding heads and such in the last three Dead films. Do you prefer practical makeup effects, CGI effects or a combination of both?
Romero: You're always kind of forced to use a combination. I wish I could work with Tom Savini again and do it all practically, because that is the most fun. It's like I prefer the old King Kong to any of the remakes—there's something charming about it. The CG has enabled me to do gags that I could never do because actors won't allow you to do that to them. It also helps us move more quickly.
Movies.com: At the end of Survival of the Dead, some of the zombies are eating meat other than humans. Will you explore a world where zombies and humans learn to get along?
If there is another film, I have plans for that. I have these storylines and it depends entirely on how much money this film makes. I'm ready and I'm planting seeds with characters and story points like that. Can humans and zombies coexist? Maybe. I certainly don't want the zombies to take over. In my films, they wouldn't be any fun if there weren't some stupid humans about. The stories are more about the people than the zombies, which are somewhat predictable—they don't lie or have a hidden agenda. It's all about how people screw up or don't handle a problem.
Movies.com: Will you always stand firmly in the camp that says zombies are slow and do not run?
Romero: Oh yes, unequivocally. You can blame video games for why zombies run and leap at us. I'm not interested in that because it doesn't make sense to me. They have to be sluggish because if they tried to run, their ankles would snap. I've avoided a lot of issues in my films, like do zombies sh**? [laughs]
Movies.com: There is a lot of gallows humor in your films. Do you have any interest in making a movie with zombies left on the side?
I'd love to do a non-zombie dark comedy. My partner and I are working on a script right now that is a non-zombie scare show. After Night of the Living Dead
, I've used the usual tricks—quick movements, loud sounds—to make you jump, but I haven't made a film that gets under-your-skin scary since then. I'm finally writing one—it's currently titled Midnight Show
—that I hope might do that.
Movies.com: Your film The Crazies was recently remade and so have several other of your films over the years with varying degrees of success. How do you feel about remakes?
Romero: Oh boy. I don't mind them if there is a reason to do them. I was recently asked to do a remake of Deep Red and I was all for it, but then I found out Dario Argento wasn't involved and didn't like the idea, so I bailed on it. I thought Breck Eisner did a good job with The Crazies, but I thought the film we made was more political and at a certain time when we were talking about Vietnam. One of the points in our film was that you didn't know who was crazy, but when they have glowing red eyes and pustules on their faces, it's more like 28 Days Later.
Movies.com: You shot a lot of your earlier films in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. What made you stop shooting in your hometown, and will you ever go back?
Romero: I'd love to go back. My son just opened a tattoo parlor in Pittsburgh, so I get to go back often. Pittsburgh for a while got really hot and big films like The Silence of the Lambs were shooting there, and we were sort of the homegrown boys that were stubbornly staying. Then Pittsburgh dried up and a lot of my colleagues left and followed the money. I came up to Canada to make a little film called Bruiser and fell in love with the place, so I have a whole new family of friends that I work with.
Movies.com: Can you tell us anything about the next Dead film, if it happens?
Romero: Maybe the next one will be noir or a jungle movie with people going down the Amazon on a schooner. I'm just trying to have fun.