George A Romeo’s first horror film, Night of the Living Dead, premiered in 1968, shocking its audience with its explicit violence, but also amusing them with a satirical view of American society. In 1979, Dawn of the Dead was released, which featured a band of survivors trapped in a shopping mall beset by zombies, which was followed by Day of the Dead in 1985. In 2005, his movie Land of the Dead opened to critical acclaim and strong box office receipts.
Survival of the Dead is the sixth movie of Romero’s in which zombie’s rule. It immediately follows the events that occurred in Diary of the Dead (2006), and spotlights two families who are locked in a struggle for power, the O’Flynn’s and the Muldoons, who live on Plum Island and have differing views over whether the zombies should be quarantined or killed.
I spoke with George Romero about his career and new movie, which opens on May 28th.
What is the inspiration for Survival of the Dead?
There’s a great western, The Big Country, made in 1958, about a bitter feud between two old codgers that spins out of control. I’ve always loved that movie, and it became a point of departure for me when I began working on (this) movie.
What is the theme of the movie?
The movie is about war. I intend it to be an echo of what’s happening in the world today. From neighbors to nations – people don’t seem to be able to get along. The minute there’s a problem, everyone starts screaming at each other. Next thing you know, they’re reaching for their guns.
You’ve made so many zombie movies, is it hard to make the zombies look different, or die differently?
Not at all (he laughs). No, I just love it. I could do this forever. I’d like to do two (sequels to Survival of the Dead) and I have a little stockpile of ideas that I’ve never been able to do over the years, but now can do with CG. So that part of it is fun. I grew up on DC comic books, and those were always full of gags, bad puns and humor. I love doing this; it’s not stale for me.
What we try to do, my collaborators and I, is to keep them different stylistically and try to give it as much of a different character as we possibly can each time. That makes it more fun for us.
I’ve killed off a lot of zombies in my time, and I always try to have some fun with them. You’ll see some new ways of disposing of the dead in this film. I hope that they scare you and, sometimes, make you smile.
Do you see this film as completely separate from the other ones you’ve made, or is there a sense that they fit into different points of a timeline?
Yes, this is sort of a parallel timeline with the first four (movies). The first four seem to progress along a certain line and now these would be the first night, and then what’s the world like a few months later. So I do see these as a different parallel chapter.
In the movie the zombies start eating animals, and I have to say I was a little upset when they tore a horse apart, more upset than when they ate the humans. Do you think other audience members will have that reaction?
There is a little bit of a knee jerk there. How dare you hurt an animal?
If a zombie bites a horse, would the horse turn into a zombie?
Have you ever been pressured to do CG zombies?
Yes, I did it in Land of the Dead, but we had the budget on Land to do it, to multiply them. But I also needed a bigger mob when they’re coming across the river at the end of the film. It’s not pressure. I didn’t need to do that, there are hundreds of volunteers in Canada. You can use volunteers as long as you have reached the quota of hiring the minimum number of union people. Every time I go off to shoot one of these things, I get hundreds of e mails going, ‘Please let me come (and be a zombie).’
Is it hard to find new zombie storylines?
The stories are really people stories. They’ve all been about the humans and how they respond or fail to respond or respond stupidly (to the zombies). I can leave the zombies in the closet until I’m ready for them. I have the storyline and I go, ‘Okay, boys, let’s go.’
You’ve been so successful making zombie movies, does that limit you from exploring other ideas that you might have wanted to do?
It certainly does. My partner and I were out here (in Los Angeles) 6 ½ years and we made (a lot) of money in development hell, and never made a movie. (They were) big (films), The Mummy, Goosebumps, big projects, but for one reason or another, all of them blew up. I just got fed up and said, ‘Forget it. I’ll go back to the $2 betting window.’ So that’s what I did.
My partner and I have one non-horror project and we have one horror project that’s non-zombie and they’re both reasonably (budgeted). I can do them on pretty low bucks. At my age I don’t have time to come out and pitch something for a year and a half and then have it blow up, and have somebody else own it.