Why George A. Romero Believes He Hasn’t Made a Scary Film Since “Night of the Living Dead”By U.J. Lessing and Dan Lybarger
Posted 10/11/06 11:17:53
He stands about 6’ 5” and sports a flack jacket with a button for “Shaun of the Dead.” But he also has a long, grey ponytail. If someone were to dub him a 60s relic, he'd probably wear the term like a badge of honor. George A. Romero is visiting Kansas City in September for the Kansas International Film Festival, and we are both decidedly nervous upon meeting such an important and curious figure in the horror movie genre.
You would be too. George A. Romero has made movie theaters a little less sedate for almost 40 years. Since his 1968 debut Night of the Living Dead, Romero has made horror films that are as political as they are unsettling.
“We thought we were being way hip, but I think we missed the real point, though. I think that a member of the minority sees certain things a lot more clearly.”
When we ask Romero about the future of the Living Dead movies, he offers us some good news: a new zombie film titled Diary of the Dead that’s unlike it’s predecessors, “I’m going back to the roots. I’m doing this way under the radar, low-budget thing. We lost our copyright on Night of the Living Dead, so partly I’m trying to reestablish the copyright, reestablish the franchise.
“Even though I made the four different films, they were all for different people. There are owned by different people. None of the originators have anything to do with any of it. It’s pretty frustrating.
“So we’re trying. We’re doing a new thing going back to the first night and with a whole new cast of characters. There’s a series of two books of short stories by a number of writers including Steve (Stephen King) called Book of The Dead and Book of The Dead II. They are zombie stories happening around the same time, and so that’s what we’re doing. We’re doing this way low budget.”
“It’s the movie of mine that I’d really like to remake because we ran out of money.”
Romero is particularly enthusiastic when we bring up Season of the Witch. This was Romero’s second horror film and follows a bored suburban housewife who attempts to escape from her unsatisfying life through witchcraft.
Romero reflects, “I guess it reflects an unhappy or unsatisfied me. I don’t know. I think since the 60s, my friends and I, we all thought we had effected some sort of change. There was no change. Things just seemed to keep spiraling downward. So, I think there’s a fair amount of anger and cynicism…
“It’s the movie of mine that I’d really like to remake because we ran out of money. There was a brokerage that was supposed to raise $100,000, and they bailed out at about 80. And we had to struggle just to finish the film.”
“I’d really like to re-shoot it and contemporize it. I think it could still work. I think there are a lot of women who are still in that situation. The world theoretically has been changing. The glass ceiling may have a couple of cracks in it, but it ain’t broke.”
“You know, I get together with guys like Steve (King) and (Tom) Savini, and we giggle at all the scare stuff.”
Later this evening, Romero is going to introduce his tribute to the EC Comics, Creepshow at the Kansas International Film Festival. The film is broken into five segments that contain exaggerated frights and thrills. One of us confesses that it was the first horror film they ever saw, and that it still scares him.
Romero explains, “That has to be old reflections, because I don’t think that I’ve made a scary film since Night of the Living Dead…To me, they’re more funny than they are scary, particularly that one.
“You know, I get together with guys like Steve (King) and (Tom) Savini, and we giggle at all the scare stuff. So it’s hard for me to take it really seriously. It’s old EC comics. The old stuff that’s scary, by definition, was not really scary. At least it doesn’t get me in the gut.”
So what makes Creepshow stand out in Romero’s mind? “The big difference for me was that I got to work with name actors. So that was a big difference.
“There were no brats in that cast. I ran into a few brats later on in life, but no man, everybody there came to play. Everybody was mature, was secure and mature. So there weren’t any explosions or conflicts. It was great. They made it easy for me. …I dipped my toe for the first time in that Hollywood scene. And all those people really made it easy for me.”
“I think that actors like to do something just a little bit outside the box, to get a chance to overact and have it work.”
“I got my ass kicked all over the Bronx.”
George Romero’s Catholic upbringing may have contributed to his cynicism towards systems, “I was raised Catholic and gave up on the church at age seven or something. I had just been taught that you could be a wonderful person all your life, and steal a baseball and get hit by a bus… and you’re going to Hell anyway.
“My grandmother had died right when I had been taught that. I went to the funeral home, and the whole family was there. And everybody was saying, ‘Well, at least, she’s in heaven now.’
“And I went, ‘Not necessarily. We don’t know what she did in those last moments.’ I got my ass kicked all over the Bronx!”
Our time is quickly running out. We ask Romero doubtfully if he truly believes that Night of the Living Dead is only scary film he ever made.
Romero smiles and replies, “I think so, and I can even see that and appreciate why people think it’s so scary. It’s their neighbors.”
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