In his lifetime, George A. Romero was responsible for some of the best horror movies of all time. Whether it be with his iconic and influential Night of the Living Dead (and subsequent franchise) or multiple collaborations with Stephen King, Romero’s legacy continues to live on even years after the 2017 death. But while Romero’s work and legacy speak for themselves, there are some unrealized projects that either never saw the light of day or the final product was far different from the filmmaker’s original vision.
The list of George A. Romero movies that never got made includes everything from the horror legend’s attempt to adapt Goosebumps, an early version of Resident Evil, and a few other titles that have left longtime fans and horror hounds asking: What if? Let’s take a dive into five of those unrealized projects, discuss what they were about, how far Romero got into each respective movie, and why they ultimately didn’t work.
George A. Romero kicked off the zombie genre we know today back in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead, expanded the concept with 1978’s Dawn of the Dead, and then again in 1985 with Day of the Dead, and so it seemed only natural that the king of the undead would come out with a zombie movie in the 1990s, right? Well, that never happened but it’s not because Romero didn’t have an idea for his next contribution to the genre.
At some point in the mid 1990s, George A. Romero came up with an adaptation of R.L. Stine’s first Goosebumps book: 1992’s Welcome to the Dead House. According to the Horror Studies department at the University of Pittsburgh Library System (which was given Romero’s extensive archives), nearly 20 years before the Jack Black-led Goosebumps movie was released in 2015, the horror legend came up with an adaptation that would have seen Tim Burton sit in the director’s chair.
George A. Romero took the basic premise and characters of Welcome to the Dead House — the inhabitants of the small town of Dark Falls are secretly the living dead and invite a new family to move there each year so they can feed on their blood — but added an element in which the residents are trapped in a curse imposed by the town patriarch upon his death. In Romero’s version of the story, the residents are trapped in the cursed town and are forced to contribute to Dark Falls’ cottage industry year after year.
We previously discussed this in our rundown of the Resident Evil behind-the-scenes facts, but in the early stages of Paul W.S. Anderson’s 2002 horror-action flick, George Romero was tasked with writing multiple scripts, all of which were not used. Romero’s involvement with Resident Evil might stop with his failed attempt to get the movie off the ground, but his story actually starts several years earlier.
In a 2016 Variety profile on George A. Romero’s failed Resident Evil movie, it is revealed that the horror legend first crossed paths with the franchise when he was asked to direct a Japanese commercial for the 1998 video game Resident Evil 2 (or Biohazard 2 in Japan). This live-action commercial (which can be viewed here) was enough to impress Sony Pictures executives who asked Romero to not only write but direct a film adaptation of the original 1996 game. Romero’s version would have not only been more violent than the movie we would eventually get but was also more faithful to the source material and was primarily set in the game’s Spencer Mansion and focused on Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine.
The project, however, failed to take off after Capcom and Sony Pictures ultimately passed on Romero’s version of the story and took a more action-oriented route with Paul W.S. Anderson not long after.
War Of The Worlds
In 1986, George Romero began work on his adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. According to the Horror Studies department at the University of Pittsburgh Library System, Paramount Pictures had an interest in Romero’s vision and even had it on the 1987 release schedule at one point prior to abandoning it in favor of a television version. But before the plug was pulled, Romero had not only written a script for what would be the first of a two-part adaptation, but also designed alien machinery, ironed out the setting, and went through several draft revisions.
Similar to Night of the Living Dead with a group of human survivors at each other’s throats when trying to survive an approaching horde of zombies, George A. Romero’s War of the Worlds: The Night They Came would have seen a group of people stuck in a skyscraper work together in order to escape an alien spacecraft that had crashed into the building. The movie would have also been very much in line with Romero’s social commentary found in his zombie movies and contained elements of race, class, and other social structures.
The second part of the George A. Romero’s War of the Worlds script (which would have heavy on action and special effects) was never completed and so it’s hard to say how things would have shaken out for the project, and Romero, had Paramount not pulled the plug.
Day Of The Dead (The Original Concept)
George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead was actually released and has gone on to be one of the most underrated horror movies of all time. But the version of the 1985 horror movie with intelligent zombies is not what Romero originally had in store when he first came up with the idea. Romero’s original vision was bigger, louder, and filled with a lot more action.
In The World’s End: The Making of Day of the Dead, John Harrison, who composed the film’s score in addition to serving as first assistant director, explained that the original version was something more like Land of the Dead in the sense that it was set within a walled-off city where the inhabitants live with a false sense of safety from the hordes of the undead. Special effects legend Tom Savini described the original Day of the Dead as “Raiders of the Lost Ark with zombies.”
According to George A. Romero, executive producer Salah M. Hassanein was willing to give the production a budget of $7 million but only if Day of the Dead went for an R-rating. Romero, whose previous Dead movies had been non-rated, refused and the two settled on a $3.5 million budget that forced the director to cut out a lot of action and retool the story to predominantly take place underground. Romero felt this benefited the project as it forced him to take its essence and reduce it down to its core elements.
This final George A. Romero movie was actually produced, but it has never been viewed publicly. In the summer of 1994, Romero went to a college in Florida and created what is known as Jacaranda Joe, a nearly 20-minute found-footage film about a small town that is infested with tourists after a video of what appears to be Big Foot is shown on what was described by The University of Pittsburgh Library System as being a Geraldo Rivera-type talk show that brings everyone out of the woodworks.
When researchers at the University of Pittsburgh were going through the material donated in the George A. Romero archives, they discovered a full script, storyboards, and a VHS working print (minus titles and credits) of Jacaranda Joe. Still, the film has never been released in full and remains a mystery to fans and colleagues of Romero as none of the late director’s customary collaborators were involved in the movie in any capacity.
This is just a small sampling of the unreleased George A. Romero films and It’s possible that the list will continue to grow as the researchers at the University of Pittsburgh continue to dig through decades of screenplays, notes, and other writings from his collection. In the meantime, there are a ton of great upcoming horror movies to hold you over.
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Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop barking at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.