When it comes to zombie movies, filmmaker George Romero is a legend. The man who transported the walking dead from countless jungle voodoo movies to main street America is essentially the king of the form. His 1968 film Night of the Living Dead is enshrined at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The sequel, Dawn of the Dead remains one of the most harrowing pieces of social commentary horror cinema has ever produced. In the annals of horror cinema, Romero will go down as one of the all-time greats. When the man speaks, people listen -- and he's talking this week about the state of zombie cinema. Perhaps needless to say, he's not impressed.
Romero shared his thoughts in a recent interview with The Montreal Gazette. The filmmaker resides in Canada these days, and is in town to be the guest of honor at Montreal Comic Con this weekend. Mr. Romero covers all sorts of topics in his lengthy chat with the newspaper – including his thoughts on the modern zombie movie, his relationship with Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood creator Fred Rogers, and his own personal taste in films. Reading it is a great way to get reacquainted with the director and his body of work. What’s sure to be most interesting to horror fans, though, are Romero’s thoughts on the current state of the genre.
"There are very few horror films that I think are worth their salt. The horror films that I've made have been satirical in one way or another or political and I really think that's the purpose of horror. I don't see that happening very often."
Likewise, the director isn’t particularly fond of the new breed of fast moving zombies that have turned up in films like World War Z and 28 Days Later. He’s not a big fan of AMC’s The Walking Dead, either. Romero was asked to direct an episode, but passed because while he likes the show, he thinks it’s too much of a "soap opera".
The 74-year old director became an icon based on his work in 1968's Night of the Living Dead, but what you may not know is that he got his start working in a rather unlikely place -- at WQED in Pittsburgh, where he made a short film about tonsillectomies for Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. This was the start of a great relationship between the future horror maverick and one of children’s television’s most enduring icons. In the interview, Romero reflects on the legendary children's television host as "a wonderful guy, just a great guy" who supported all of his employees. The mild-mannered Rogers was even a fan of Night of the Living Dead, though he wouldn’t allow Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood performer Betty Aberlin to take the role of Barbra in the feature. "Fred put his foot down and said no," Romero recalls.
Zombies are all the rage in pop culture, but the king of the genre seems content to turn his attention towards other things for entertainment these days. The walking dead seem to always be shambling along behind him, though. Romero’s latest project is Empire of the Dead, a 15-issue comic book miniseries for Marvel. I’m willing to bet the story is filled with satire and social commentary – and that none of the zombies run.