Interview: Survival Of The Dead Writer-Director George A. Romero

Way back in 1968, George A. Romero got behind the lens to bring Night of the Living Dead to life. Little did he know, the living dead were about to venture way beyond the night. They’d go on to terrorize surviving humans in the Dawn (twice), the Day (three times), across the Land, via Diary and now in Romero’s latest, Survival of the Dead.

In Survival, Romero spices up the series zombie genre by creating a western feel. Plum Island is just not big enough for its two warring families, the O’Flynns and the Muldoons. When a group of soldiers seeking refuge from the zombie-infested mainland arrives on the island, not only are they greeted by even more flesh eaters, but townsfolk with a deadly grudge too.

It’s easy to forget Romero has anything but zombies on the brain. Yes, he’s hoping to add two more films to the Dead series, but there’s some non-living dead material in his future. Read all about that, Romero’s take on the horror remake obsession, and, of course, Survival of the Dead in the interview below.

You clearly have a loyal fan base eager to see more Dead films, but why continue the series on a personal level?

I’m just having fun! I’ve had a long career, including several years when my partner and I were out in Hollywood in development hell and made a lot of money but never made any movies and got really frustrated with that. I moved to Canada and started working with people that I love to work with and I’m just having a ball. I wanted to do something about emerging media and citizen journalism and that’s where [Diary of the Dead] came from and we found our financing partners who were able to fully finance the film and were willing to give me creative control if I stayed within a certain budget level and it was like going home. It was like back to the beginning of just having fun making film. Because that film cost so little, even though it had a limited release, it wound up making a lot of money and so it was obvious to do another one and that’s where this one came from and I actually said to them, ‘Well, what if this makes money? Then you’ll want another one!’ So I actually came up with three ideas based off Diary of the Dead. Each of the story ideas take a character from Diary and follows them on their own adventure and they meet each other and the plot points coalesce and there’s sort of a connective tissue to it, so I’m enamored with that idea right now and I hope that it happens. It may not. It completely depends on how this film does, but I’d love to do it. I’m having great fun. [Laughs] And at my age that’s sort of hard to find. It’s great to have the freedom and be able to really make the films that I want to make and have fun with them.

When you were making Diary of the Dead did you know you were going to do a spinoff with Survival?

No, I had absolutely no idea. We made Diary and I thought it was like the original film, Night of the Living Dead; when I made it I thought, ‘Oh, we’re making this movie’ and I never thought of it as the first one of six or anything and I didn’t bother to develop rules.

So it ended up working out well you cast someone like Alan Van Sprang in the role of Sarge because the role is so small in Diary, but so prominent in Survival.

If you really wanted to look back, that same actor plays a role in Land of the Dead, but I couldn’t use the same name because that’s owned by Universal. But people might imagine that three years later he joins up with Dennis Hopper, so we’ll see. Steve King has this town of Castle Rock where. A dozen of his novels deal with this town, you get to know everybody, you know the mayor, you know who’s who and I’ve always wanted to do that but I’ve never been able to because all the first of the four zombie films that I did are owned and controlled by different people. I have this little scheme in my head to lay this groundwork for a little a mini saga.

What’s your key to keeping the films fresh?

Oh boy! I can’t tell you! What’s fun for us as filmmakers is making them stylistically completely different. Diary of the Dead was all subjective camera, that was really fun for us to try that exercise and this time we went wide screen and didn’t mute the colors and were trying to emulate an old western, specifically the big country of William Wyler films and maybe the next one will be noir. I don’t know. We try to keep it fresh for ourselves so that we’re not just, ‘Oh, here we go. We’re going to do another of these.’ So that’s really the secret there. It’s also fun to dream up these new silly sort of Loony Toon ways of disposing of zombies, which we can do now with CG, which I was never able to do when it was all practical mechanical effects, you know?

Do you have this endless bank of ways to knock off zombies?

I keep a little notebook of things that I can do to the zombies that might be silly and fun. I grew up on the old EC comic books before the Comics Code in North American and with all sort of good-natured fun. I never had nightmares I think because all of the old horror stuff that I was exposed to was well meaning in a certain sense. It always had a moral and the gory stuff was actually part of the fun. I guess I try to keep that in mind and try to emulate that.

How do you manage CGI vs. prosthetic kills?

I would much prefer to use prosthetics all the time. There’s one big prosthetic effect in this film which was purely mechanical and done on set, when they tear Muldoon’s foreman apart, and I love doing that. I had a gag with a flare gun in this film and there’s a gag with a fire extinguisher and you just can’t do those things mechanically so the CG really helps. And also, when you’re working with a low budget, it gets you off the set quicker. If the gun doesn’t go off, you don’t have to reshoot it; you can paint in the flash. That’s a real advantage when you have to work quickly. When you’re working with a low budget, the most expensive time is the time spent on the set. The words of the day are, ‘Get off the set as quickly as possible’ and so CG enables you to do that.

Do you have a favorite zombie kill in this film?

This movie? [Laughs] I don’t know! I love the fire extinguisher gag. I think it’s got to be my favorite because it’s the most sort of cartoonish Loony Tunes. It’s the silliest.

You said you’ll continue the series with characters from the previous films, but what about the concept this one leaves us with? Will you continue with the idea of zombies eating animals?

I hope so!

Shouldn’t the horse in this film turn into a zombie?

Well, there’s that too. I have ideas and we’ll see whether there are more films. The thing is, when I first made Night of the Living Dead I never thought we’d be making others and so I wasn’t thinking in terms of rules or anything. If you look at Night of the Living Dead they’re eating insects, they’re violating all of my rules that I’ve tried to stick to since the second film. So now this is maybe something new. I hinted at it in a film called Day of the Dead, but this is something new. They actually do it, but the humans are too busy shooting at each other so nobody notices. So I have that in my hip pocket as something that will definitely play in upcoming episodes if there are upcoming episodes.

What’s your take on the whole horror reboot craze? Do you see it as a way to revisit the greats of the past or is it a cheap way to make a quick buck without coming up with new material?

Oh, I don’t know. I think it seems to come in waves and it’s all driven by commerce, isn’t it? Videogames, graphic novels, suddenly this is making money and so let’s do one. Horror will always be there, it always comes back, it’s a familiar genre that some people, not everyone - it’s sort of the cinema anchovies. You either like it or you don’t. Somehow I’ve been able to keep standing and stay in my little corner and do my little stuff and I’m not particularly effected by trends or I’m not dying to make a 3D movie or anything like that. I’m just sort of happy to still be around.

Speaking of 3D, what’s happening with that 3D Day of the Dead remake?

[Laughs] No! I don’t. I have nothing to do with any of that and so I really don’t know what’s going on. I know that my ex-partner sold the rights to somebody, Taurus I think, I don’t know, but I’m not involved and I don’t particularly care. [Laughs]

Is there a particular film from your past you’d like to see remade?

There’s only one that I would like to remake which is actually the third film that I made called; on video now, it’s called Season of the Witch and I didn’t have enough money to do it well and I think that I could really do a good job with it today. I’ve sort of been noodling on an updated script for it, but it’s the only one that I would even think about remaking. Most of my stuff was sort of of-the-time. The Crazies was basically we were angry about Vietnam and it had a reason for being. When I made Dawn of the Dead, I shot it in a shopping mall, which was the first indoor shopping mall that any of us had ever seen, so the remake sort of lost its place in time. Then that was something extraordinary, now it’s too commonplace to even make fun of.

And what about this Deep Red remake? Is there still no guarantee for that one?

There’s no deal. I mean, it actually bothers me that they’re out there selling it because there is no deal. I’ve talked to Claudio Argento about it, I haven‘t talked to Dario about it and there’s definitely no deal yet. So they’re jumping the gun a little bit.

Perri Nemiroff

Staff Writer for CinemaBlend.