Interview with George Romero



Do a search for the keyword "zombie" on the IMDB and you'll come up with 1,149 titles. Of those some 1,080 have been or will be released since 1968, which was the year George Romero unleashed on the world "Night of the Living Dead."

Romero himself has contributed his share of these films, all springing from his original, much imitated premise: a plague that reduces its victims to shambling, brain-dead corpses whose only instinct is to eat human flesh and thus create more victims. "Survival of the Dead," which comes out May 28th, is his sixth in the series. I was fortunate to get a chance to talk with the 70-year-old, very tall and friendly director about the new movie, the zombie concept, and whether there is any future beyond living death.

PK: You've been busy lately.

GR: Well we've had several screenings. The film premiered at Venice actually and then it was at TIFF and then Texas, Montreal, so it's had festival screenings and then a couple of sort of fan screenings - Vegas and Boston and Texas. And I guess that's what this is tonight and there was one in Dallas last week.PK: Is it getting a less fun?

GR: It gets a lot less fun.

PK: Well you got a lot of fans, it must be encouraging to show it to a movie of people who are excited to see a new zombie movie from George Romero?

GR: Good screenings, yeah, when it's a fan screening. The one in Venice was great. It's the first time a genre film has been in competition there since the very first year of Venice and they had "Jekyll and Hyde," I think. So it was, I think it was getting a big vote, a positive vote from the audience saying we should do more of this, and they were almost trying to convince the committee that they should do more of this. The audience was really just up and howling. I expected to go to Venice and, you know, get the blue haired ladies.

PK:You've always get a lot of support going back to "Night of the Living Dead" from the Europeans.

GR: Yeah, that's true. But not in Venice. France is much more forgiving of me. Me and Jerry Lewis, I guess. I don't know. So Cannes has always been welcoming; but Venice, never.

PK: Just yesterday we had this emergency that was like one of your movies. You heard about it? The water main broke and people weren't allowed to use the drinking water, they had to boil it first, this went on for like 2 or 3 days. I was wondering if this went on for a couple of weeks, it'd be sort of like "The Crazies" or something.

GR: It probably would. I guess so. Once we run out of Poland Spring or whatever.

PK: It doesn't take much to bring the barbarians out.

GR: Yeah

PK: I talked to you on the phone a while back about "Diary of the Dead" and you said that these movies have been snapshots of the time in society when the film came out. Is "Survival" also a snapshot of these times?

GR: Not so much this time. I mean, "Diary" was. I did it quickly because I felt it had to because it was about emerging media and all that. But this movie exists purely because "Diary" made a lot of money. So I had to sort of reach back and figure out what am I going to do here? So I decided on a much more general theme about war and then as we were working on this film all this shit started to fly about anger and uncivilized behavior. You know, how we can't disagree without being disagreeable.

PK: And how it seems to have gotten worse since the election of Obama with all the intensified partisanship?

GR: I guess it's a little bit about that. But generally when I first started it's just the whole idea of war, of hatreds that don't die no matter what's going on.And then the second part of the idea was that I said, well, if I have to do this and this film makes money, well then there's going to be another one, and so on. So I decided  to take minor characters from "Diary" and take them off on their own adventure and wind up with this little sort of snapshot of what's going on, a little collage of what the world is like three months, six months, eight months later, something like that, a whole new set of films. And then maybe hang it up forever.

PK: I know you made the film before that Arizona law about illegal immigration was passed but it seemed a weird coincidence that a major theme in the film is violent xenophobia and also that two of the characters are Hispanic. It's kind of like when you had a black actor in "Night of the Living Dead" at a time when racial turmoil was about to break out.

GR: No, I certainly was not talking about Arizona or When we did "Night," even with Duane [Jones, the African American actor who played the protagonist], I mean, it wasn't on my mind. We didn't change the script. That script was written with a white guy in mind. He was a truck driver, a redneck kind of guy and Duane wanted the character to speak more properly and he wanted to...he brought all of that. He was worried that he didn't want to look gruff and he wanted to be presentable. He was the one who was much more worried about any of that than we were. We thought, well, it's 1968! We're past all that. In the meantime, you know, rioting in the streets started again and everything else.

PK: Martin Luther King was assassinated around that time, wasn't he?

GR: The night that we finished the film and we were driving the first answer print in the trunk of a car driving to New York to see if anybody, if we could find distribution, on the car radio we heard that Dr. King was shot.

PK: You screened it for a studio on the day Bobby Kennedy was shot, too, right?

GR: I don't remember that story. That might be a Jack Russo [co-screenwriter of "Night"] story, but I don't necessarily remember that.

PK: It was a bad year.

GR: Yeah.


NEXT: Part 2: Working stiffs.


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