“Three thousand people this year came out in Toronto for a zombie walk,” says George A Romero, speaking on the phone from his home in Canada. “Everyone got dressed up as zombies and they marched for 10 city blocks—it was like a major parade. That I don’t get. What is it? Is it some kind of punk thing? Are they saying, ‘Well, we’re all Deadheads anyway, so we might as well pretend to be dead’? I don’t know why it’s become faddish.”
It’s been over 40 years since Romero made "Night of the Living Dead," the low-budget horror flick that established the template for the modern zombie movie. And though he’s tried his hand at other genres since then — check out 1981’s "Knightriders," about motorbike jousters, or slasher flick "Bruiser" (2000) — the undead just keep coming back.
Romero’s latest film, "Survival of the Dead," is the sixth in the series, and a sequel of sorts to 2007’s documentary-style "Diary of the Dead."
“Because 'Diary' was made for so little money, even though it had a limited theatrical release, worldwide it made a ton of money on video,” he says. “So obviously everyone said, ‘Let’s go again.’”
The film catches up with a group of rogue National Guard troops who featured briefly in the previous movie, led by Sarge “Nicotine” Crockett (Alan van Sprang). When they head to a remote island to escape the apocalypse, they find themselves caught between two feuding Irish families who are at odds over whether to kill the zombies or try to cure them.
Er… Irish? “I wanted to hint at an age-old conflict,” Romero says. “I didn’t think, on an island off Delaware, that I could have an Arab and a Jew. I possibly could’ve had two senators, but… It’s one of those ideas that come to you in the shower.”
After having a relatively large budget for 2005’s "Land of the Dead," the director is back to making films on a shoestring these days — and enjoying it, apparently. “The problem is that, when you work with that kind of money, the budget on everything goes up. I can’t decide: I can’t take the decision to not spend money where the studio wants to spend it. Dennis Hopper — bless him, he’s gone now — I think his cigar budget cost more than what Night of the 'Living Dead' cost, all-in.”
Budget constraints have forced some changes in the way Romero makes his films — not least the use of digital post-production for the gory bits. But while some may miss the ingenious prosthetic effects deployed by Tom Savini and Gregory Nicotero in earlier movies, going digital has also brought its benefits. One of the funniest moments in "Survival" comes when a Guardsman jams a fire extinguisher into a zombie’s mouth and literally foams its head off.
“Tom Savini could never pull off the fire extinguisher gag,” says Romero. “I can really do Looney Tunes gags, right out of [animator] Chuck Jones’ playbook, which I could never do mechanically before.”
If the movie does as well as its predecessor, there could be a couple more to come, each involving characters from "Diary." However, Romero’s next project promises to be a change of pace — assuming it gets off the ground. The director has been attached to a 3D remake of "Deep Red," the 1975 psycho-thriller by Italian horror maestro Dario Argento.
“I’ve been speaking with Dario’s brother, Claudio, about it,” he says, sounding a little coy on the subject. “I’ve seen a script that they wrote, and I’ve given notes on it, but I’ve said all along that if Dario doesn’t want this to happen, I won’t do it.”
Having seen some of his own films remade, including "Day of the Dead" and "The Crazies," will he know what mistakes to avoid?
“You mean would I make a lousy movie?” he says, and laughs uproariously. “I would try not to make a bad film, let me put it that way. I like the idea, and I think it could be a new 'Psycho' or something. I think it could be really good.”
This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).© Japan Today