Exclusive Interview : George Romero


Clint Morris talks to the “Land of the Dead” helmer

To any other filmmaker, being told – right of the bat, mind you – that your movies are ‘utterly disgusting’ would be an insult. To horror icon George Romero it’s sweet music to the ears.

A thunderous cackle echoes through the phone. “Believe it or not, I haven’t even been able to go as far as I go as I might want to”, laughs Romero, in London promoting the DVD Release of “Land of the Dead”. “[My films] are a slap in the face. Its like – you’re watching a film like MASH for ninety minutes and then all of a sudden one of the operating room sequences come up and there’s blood all over the screen. It just gives you a slap in the face”.

The director of such classic monster-mashing hits as “Night of the Living Dead”, “Dawn of the Dead” and “Day of the Dead”, loves nothing more than to hear someone couldn’t ‘do dinner’ that night, because of his latest movie. And he’s back to churn your stomach with “Land of the Dead”, now hitting DVD.

Romero hasn’t made a zombie movie since 1985’s “Day of the Dead”, and for some reason, felt society was ripe for another intestine-munching effort.

“The first one was the 60’s, then we did one in the 70’s, then 80’s, and we planned to do the 90’s but my partner and I got so wrapt up in development deals in Hollywood on films that never got made – a very frustrating period – so by the end of the 90’s I went back to my roots, on a little film financed by CanalPlus, called Bruiser. It was my way of running away from Hollywood. Right after that, I sat down and wrote down my ideas for, what turned out to be, Land of the Dead”, he explains.

Unfortunately, the film hit a speed bump.

“911 Happened”, he says, “Nobody wanted to touch it. They all wanted to make bubblegum movies then”.

Ironically, it was just after the “Invasion of Iraq” that Romero pulled his script out of the drawer again. “I thought ‘What if I twist this around a bit, and try and reflect what America looks like now’. My films have always been snapshots of the times after all. It took another couple of years to make the deal happen, we were in negotiations with FOX for over a year, but it was terrific that it took that long because Mark Canton came along and stole the deal and set it up at Universal, which was really great”.

Universal let Romero “make the film I wanted to make”.

That doesn’t mean that the director suddenly had a fat budget and much more of everything he’d never had before, in essence it was still “guerrilla filmmaking”, he says.

“We weren’t that well endowed. We came in under twenty (million). We still had to really struggle. It was very gruelling. It was all nights, in very cold temperatures. It was only thanks to the efforts of a lot of people that we were able to pull it off. There were nights when I thought ‘we’re never gonna make this’”, he says.

They did do it though, and it looks a treat. Don’t thank an I-mac though; Romero says hardly anything on the film was accomplished with CG. “I much prefer practical mechanical efforts”, he explains. “We did most of them that way. There’s only real one (effect) that we couldn’t do that way – the guy’s head that flops around. We tried to do it mechanically, but it just wasn’t believable.

Australian actor Simon Baker was actually working in Pittsburgh (on TV’s “The Guardian”), where “Land of the Dead” was going to be filmed, when he met with Romero to discuss a role in the film.

“He just got it”, says Romero. “It was sort of a no-brainer. He’s a wonderful guy”.

Romero also roped in comics Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, creators of the Romero tribute spoof “Shaun of the Dead” for cameos. Romero says he adores the guys and that they’ve become “good buddies” and hopes he gets to work with them again, before their careers explode even more.

“Simon is in Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible 3, so I think he’s about to break out. But we’re talking about a project, nothing’s gelled yet, but he and Edgar are talking about a project they’re passionate about – and we’ll see, I’d love to work with them. We’re sort of idly chatting about something we can do together”.

Romero says he’s got quite a few more projects on the boil in the meantime, including a sequel to “Land of the Dead”.

This time, says Romero, they might even bring the undead to Australia.

“Simon Baker says that’s where we should shoot it”, he says, adding “But yeah, there’s some rumbling about doing a sequel. Most of my zombie movies have been ten years apart, at least, in this case it was twenty, I’ve never had to do one right behind the other. If that happens I think I will probably just continue the same story – follow the truck, in which case, those characters (including Baker) would be back”.

Romero isn’t fazed Baker has now relocated back to his native Australia either. “You tell him we need him on the truck”, he laughs.

Contrary to recent rumours on the Internet, Romero says the sequel definitely won’t be going straight to video.

“People have been asking me about that, I don’t know where that came from”, says Romero. “My partner and I are trying to promote a direct to video series of zombie films, but it has nothing to do with Land of the Dead. I don’t think Universal would want to go the direct to video route for Land of the Dead 2. It’d be theatrical”.

In addition, he’s also bringing a couple of Stephen King yarns to the big screen, as well as something original.

“The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, and a novel called From a Buick 8. I’ve also got an original I’m out there trying to promote but we’ll see. There’s no ink on paper yet. It depends on who writes the first cheque”.

One film you probably won’t see is his long-planned “Diamond Dead”, says Romero, but it’s anything but his doing.

“I would love to do Diamond Dead. It’s from an Australian Producer, a guy named Andrew Gaty. It’s my favourite, but nobody seems to get it. I love the project. It’s one of those things that everybody says ‘What’s this?’ It’s very hard to explain. It’s sort of like Phantom of the Paradise; it’s a rock and roll spoof about a dead rock band. Everybody that reads it says ‘I don’t quite get it’. I would give my teeth…I would love to do it. I would love to do it while I can still move my bones a little”.

Finally, Romero is ecstatic that “Land of the Dead” is hitting DVD. He just loves the format. In fact, he loves all home-entertainment formats – because they’re mainly the formats that people see his movies. “My stuff is still there. Stuff that I did 30 years ago. I go to one of these conventions and my fans are 65 and 12, thanks to video!” he says.
Live in Australia? Love Zombies/Are a Zombie? Have a DVD Player? Didn’t just read this page to score a freebie?
Then you’re ripe to enter the “Land of the Dead” DVD Giveaway thanks to Universal Home Entertainment. We have 3 copies of the monster-mash to give away on shiny lil’ discs – complete with a swarm of extras, including featurettes, commentary, deleted scenes, goofs, trivia, and more – and all you have to do to win one is email Clint and tell the spunky and talented man-beast your name, address and the answer to this question : What is ‘Dead Reckoning’?

LAND OF THE DEAD is on DVD December 7th