Interview: George A. Romero

*Note - this interview appeared in print in Starburst magazine in October 2013. It has never appeared online before*

Not many filmmakers can claim to have helped instigate an entire subgenre of horror. George A. Romero, however, can boast such a distinction. From cult curiosity to prime-time television, one thing is for damn sure: the flesh-eating hordes have come a long way.

It all started with a humble B-movie made by a group out in Pittsburgh, PA. Night of the Living Dead (1968) is a true landmark in horror cinema. As well as blazing a trail for the walking dead, Romero has worked in a handful of other genres: from vampire movies (Martin, 1976) to biker flicks (Knightriders, 1981).

In the early 1980s, Romero teamed up with author Stephen King to make an anthology picture based on EC Comics’ output. Creepshow(1982) became one of the director’s biggest box-office hits and has been rereleased recently on Blu-ray.

Can you tell me about EC Comics and its reputation back in the 1950s?
Romero: I don’t know exactly what happened and what all the politics were, but I know there was a Comics Code that was eventually changed the … degree of, I guess, violence. It was sort of like a decency code that changed a lot of these comic books that were pretty bawdy or violent. The horror stories were tamed down.

Were these comics a lot more violent than movies at that time?
I guess they got after them for all the blood and gore and more adult scenes that were in them. I never found them in anyway offensive at that age, where I wasn’t going to be offended by much. It all changed and I stopped reading them, even Mad magazine, which used to be a comic-book format. But I wasn’t really aware at that time what all the politics were.

You teamed up with Stephen King, an author at the height of his popularity in the early 1980s. How did that come about?

Steve King and I, as long as we’d known each other, would talk about movies and the old EC comics. Steve bought me some original panels and a couple of books. I had a couple of original Jack Davis paintings and so we were sitting around and decided to do ‘Creepshow’. Steve, basically, wanted to do a homage to those EC books. He thought an anthology [format] would be perfect for it. The script came in within three weeks. And that was it.

How did you actually meet Stephen King and then form this working relationship?

I think it was after Carrie (1976). I think Carrie was still in production or hadn’t been released, I don’t know, I don’t remember when it was, but I had a film called Martin play at Utah … before Sundance it was called the USA Film Festival, I think, and a group from Warner Bros. saw my film and they had just purchased the rights to Salem’s Lot, one of Steve’s novels. They approached me and said – this is in typical Hollywood fashion – “You made a film about a vampire in a small town and Steve just wrote a book about a vampire in a small town. We should get you guys together!” That’s what happened. Warner Bros. flew me up to Maine and I hung out with Steve for three days. Ever since then, we’ve been friends.
Martin is one of your best, for sure. Your zombie movies have had a massive influence on the genre but I think Martin, too, has had an impact on indie vampire flicks. Had you ever consider it in such a regard?

I didn’t … in fact, how did it have a huge influence? I can’t imagine.

It’s that contemporary psychological-existentialist angst factor and removing it of overt fantastical trappings … but playing with the iconography. I saw a movie by Shunji Iwai, called Vampire, and that seemed a spiritual bedfellow to your film.

I don’t really watch them … so I don’t know if it’s been influential. I don’t think Martin was a vampire at all. I guess I just never thought of it before that way. It’s my favourite film of mine, but never thought of it influencing the vampire genre.
Anyway, back to Creepshow. Have you heard anything about Warner Bros. planning a reboot? I know there was Creepshow 3, but like, a proper remake.

Didn’t they do one? I thought they’d made one. Again, I don’t know. I don’t keep my ear to the track that way. I did Creepshow 2. I wrote it, I didn’t direct it. Steve wrote the stories and I wrote the screenplay. That’s the only involvement we had with it. I had heard they’d made a Creepshow remake. I never saw it. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to do it [again]. Richard [Rubinstein], my ex-partner [producer], has been going around willy-nilly, selling off the rights. Day [of the Dead] has been remade twice and I know they’re planning on doing another one.

Oh, god.
They’ve been trying desperately to get me involved but I keep saying no. I already did that [movie]. There’s talk about taking my original script for Day of the Dead. I needed more money [at the time], so I had to cut it back for budgetary reasons. And now there’s talk about making that script. I just don’t want to be involved.
Would you ever revisit any of your films and remake it yourself?
The only film I’d like to revisit is one I did called Jack’s Wife (1972). I think the title on DVD is Hungry Wives. I’d really like to redo that. We ran out of money and we had to hurry up and finish the film. It’s pretty flawed and I’d like to change to the character a little bit. That’s the only one I’ve ever thought: ‘I want to revisit this’.
Is the fact your zombie films have been remade a sign of your cultural legacy or just lazy producers chasing a buck?
As far as I can see, that’s what it is. It’s a little misguided because the originals didn’t make any money. It’s not like the Halloween franchise, you know. Dawn of the Dead, for example, I really think Dawn of the Dead – Zack Snyder’s film – started the rebirth of the zombies in cinema. It was the first one that went out and made about $35 million. I think that might have been the beginning of the new zombie trend. I didn’t see the reason for remaking it. When we made the film, we were talking about consumerism. We shot it in the first shopping mall we’d ever seen and this was a new thing. Now, there’s shopping mall everywhere.

Do you think there’s anything left for the zombie genre to tell us about our culture, society, or are they running on empty?
I think they are. Max Brooks was really disappointed with World War Z. I didn’t think very much of Z until I saw Man of Steel; then Z started to look like a work of genius.
What about yourself?
I don’t know where to go with it. People have tried humour, this and that … I don’t know. I used to be the only guy doing it and using it [the zombie figure] differently. I’d wait for something to happen politically and in the world and try to make a movie about that. My films are about the humans. The zombies in my films are the annoyance … the films are more about human foibles and misbehaviour and mistakes. I don’t know where to go. I am working on something. I’ve finished screenplay based on a novel called The Zombie Autopsies [by Steven C. Schlozman]. It’s a very smart and realistic look at … not zombies … it was written by a Harvard doctor and really explains a set of conditions that create something that looks like a zombie. That’s something I’m trying, but I don’t know if I’ll ever find the financing for it.

If you never made another zombie film again, are you happy with the ones you’ve done?
Yes, very much so. I think I’d like to reshuffle the deck. They did a version of The Godfather – the first two Godfather films – and they put them in consecutive order. I’d like to take my films and shuffle them. Take Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead and shuffle them in. Land of the Dead would be the end. I wouldn’t mind doing that, as an experiment.


REVERSE SHOT - Land of the Dead review
ROLLING STONE - Ten Best Zombie Movies