If you like The Walking Dead or any of the 100 things about people fighting to survive the zombie apocalypse, from The Last of Us to the upcoming Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, thank George A. Romero. The filmmaking legend created modern zombies in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead, and has enjoyed a long and varied career in horror movies ever since. Now making his home in Toronto, Romero was given a hero’s welcome Friday afternoon at Fan Expo, as fans probed all aspects of his filmography.
The Q&A began with a question about the recent passing of horror icon Wes Craven. Romero said that the two of them had a colleague in common, Nick Mastandrea, who began his career with Romero, and became an assistant director with Craven before becoming one of the most in demand ADs in Hollywood. “I’m terribly sad obviously about his passing,” Romero said. “He was a great guy very professorial and witty.”
Revisiting Night of the Living Dead, Romero once again reiterated that he didn’t have any kind of subtext in mind when he made the movie. “It became considered a racial thing, and that was never indented by us,” Romero explained. “Duane Jones was the best actor we knew in our circle of friends, and when we wrote the script in our mind [Ben] was a white guy, so it wasn’t meant to be racial but because of the posse and the rednecks, there were racial overtones.”
“I think maybe we would have been better off if we left some sort of racial tension because if Ben felt like the minority we might have played with that,” he added.
Of course, Romero wasn’t out to redefine horror when he made Night of the Living Dead, in fact he downplays just what effect his work has had on the genre. “I think of my films as more social satires, then comedies,” Romero explained. “My tastes are more a pie in the face kind of thing.”
Back in ’68, Romero didn’t even have a name for the monsters he created. “I never called them zombies, I thought I was doing a new thing,” he said. “What I was trying to do, and [co-screenwriter] Jack [John A. Russo] and I talked about this, we needed something that would be so extraordinary, Earth-changing, that we don’t know what it is during the film.”
“There were two other explanations that got cut out,” he added. “So you weren’t supposed to know what was going on. The point was watching the protagonists argue about what to do and not paying attention to the extraordinary circumstances outside. We thought that this was a stupendous enough of a thing that the characters pay attention to it, but they don’t and that’s why they screwed up.”
Romero’s second zombie film was his real breakthrough, Dawn of the Dead, the one famously set at the mall. “The movie has outlived the setting,” Romero said noting the decline of the shopping mall as a centre of commerce.
“It was the first one I ever saw,” he said of the Monroe Hills Mall, where Dawn was shot, and is, in fact, still open for business. “I went out there and I socially knew the guys that were deveoping it. I saw the trucks bringing in everything you could possibly want all in one place. It gave me the idea, as once people started to take [Night of the Living Dead] seriously, I decided that I wasn’t going to make another one unless I had something to say.”
Romero also made sure that he had something else to say when it came time to make Day of the Dead. “Really what I was trying to say was that the military had taken up too big a position in life, the corporate ways and that there were too many crises in life that no one was doing anything about,” he said.
Although he’s made three more zombie movies since, Romero is not interested in making another now. “Brad Pitt killed zombies,” he said referencing World War Z. That’s not to say that he’s through with zombies though, his comic book Empire of the Dead has been a success, and now, it looks like it may be coming to TV. “We have a deal, but we’ll see,” Romero said. They’re negotiating right now so hopefully there will be a deal [soon].”
Romero, who turned 75 in February, shows no sign of slowing down. He’s working on a couple of web-based projects now, small things that allow him to be creative. It’s hard because more often than not people want to use his name and not his ideas, but Romero isn’t interested in taking the credit if he’s not going to do the work.
Considering how much time Romero has spent in the proverbial Land of the Dead, he must have surely wondered himself how he might fair in the event of a zombie apocalypse. “I’d go to Max Brooks’ house, he’s got the weapons,” Romero said referencing the author of The Zombie Survival Guide.
As for the definitive question, slow or fast zombies, Romero was firm in his stance. “Zombies can’t run,” he said to applause.
Given Romero’s standing that should be the end of it, but I doubt it.