Film legend George Romero took to the stage at Wizard World Comic Con at the America’s Center in St. Louis on Saturday to discuss his career. An icon in the horror genre, Romero pioneered the modern zombie movie with his groundbreaking directorial feature debut, 1968’s “Night of the Living Dead”, as well as such classics as “Dawn of the Dead” and “Day of the Dead”.
During the interactive Q&A session, Romero talked about the underlying satire and social commentary in his zombie films, from the commentary on war in “Night of the Living Dead” to the message about consumerism in “Dawn of the Dead”, particularly in comparison to the zombie genre nowadays, which is populated by the likes of “The Walking Dead” and “World War Z”. “Not too many people use it that way,” Romero said. “I was able to express my opinions, political opinions, and pretty much the way I thought by using the zombie genre to get the thoughts out.”
“It was very hard to pitch”, he went on. “The satire came first, the social criticism came first. But I could never have got money for ‘Dawn of the Dead’ if I pitched it as a movie about consumerism.”
Romero, however, never really considered his movies as “zombie movies”. When asked about the inspiration for his movies, he said, “I never realized I was making a zombie film when I made ‘Night of the Living Dead’. I never called them zombies. I didn’t think they were zombies. What I wanted to do was have some sort of a crisis situation where the people should be concerned about it. The world was changing and they should be worried about that but they’re more worried about themselves and issues that don’t matter. That’s all I wanted to do. So I said, what would be a bad enough crisis? People are not staying dead. They’re coming back to life and eating people.”
“My guys are too weak to dig themselves out of a grave,” Romero added regarding the zombies in his films. “In my days zombies were creatures in the Caribbean that were created by voodoo. When people started writing about the film they started called them zombies and I went with it.”
Romero also talked about how it doesn’t find most of his movies to be all that creepy. “I don’t think they’re scary, I thin they’re funny,” he said. “There are some gags in there that are right out of Chuck Jones.” Particularly with his 1982 movie “Creepshow”, the screenplay for which was written by Stephen King, Romero said, “Even the grossest aspects of it…there’s just something light about it because it’s not real.”
With regards to remakes and reboots of his movies, Romero had this say: “Well sometimes it doesn’t seem to make sense to me. When we made the original ‘Dawn of the Dead’ it was about consumerism. [In the remake] they don’t even recognize it. I think that’s at the core of that film. To remake that without that element makes no sense. Its reason for existence wasn’t there.” He does, however, love Edgar Wright’s “Shaun of the Dead”, a comedy that pays homage to Romero’s classics.
Romero also talked about how many of his movies seem to come back around popularity-wise every few years. With 1985’s “Day of the Dead” celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, there seems to be a bit of nostalgia out there for it. But according to Romero, it wasn’t all that popular when it was first released because it was different from “Dawn of the Dead” and “Night of the Living Dead”. “’Day of the Dead’ was a little darker,” he said. “I guess my stuff needs to grow on people. Too bad! Bu that seems to happen with all of them, with ‘Survival of the Dead’ [which was released in 2009] now all of a sudden people are saying, ‘Now I get what you were trying to do.’ There’s something about sameness that I think people like. What I’ve tried to do with all the zombie films is purposely try to make them a little different.”
When asked what his favorite film of all time was, Romero’s answer was a bit of a surprise: the 1951 opera “The Tales of Hoffman”, directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. “It’s the film that made me want to make movies,” Romero said. He went on, “I would say Michael Powell was my hero. And Orson Welles was probably the guy I stole from the most.”
Despite having been working in the industry from almost fifty years, Romero says he’s still learning. “I don’t think I ever really designed a really good shot—camera move shot- until ‘Bruiser’. I used to just shoot everybody in the room as a single shot so I could cut it together any way I wanted it. It was really only when I made ‘Bruiser’ that I had enough confidence to choreograph.”
As for what’s on the horizon for Romero, an adaptation of his comic series “Empire of the Dead” is coming to television, while he also has an idea for an anthology series he’s trying to get off the ground. In an era where the zombie genre has reached new heights of popular thanks to “The Walking Dead”, Romero continues to break new ground with his work, which features zombie characters that he describes as “sympathetic”. For all the strong female characters he’s written, though, including in “Empire of the Dead”, he wants to apologize to women everywhere for Barbara in “Night of the Living Dead”. “Totally ineffective character,” he said, to laughs from the audience.
For more information on Wizard World Comic Con events, visit their website.
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