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INTERVIEW WITH GEORGE ROMERO
AND DIARY OF THE DEAD REVIEW
by Robert Berry
Though he's too
humble to admit it, George Romero's Living Dead movies
deserve hallowed status alongside the greatest works
of fiction. Maybe it was all just a beautiful accident, but 40 years
after Night of the Living Dead's 1968 debut, zombies are
bigger than ever. Romero's work has been able to make us look at
ourselves and the way we live, though those that no longer do. The
paranoia of locking yourself in an old house to keep yourself safe
from the evils of the world still rings true on so many levels. The
zombies shambling through the mall of Dawn of the Dead are a
reflection of the sometimes equally meaningless way we spend our
While Day of the Dead and
Land of the Dead delivered some memorable scenes and characters
(Bub!), they fell a bit short from the huge bar raised by the
original two installments. I'll admit, I was a bit concerned that
his latest zombie flick, Diary of the Dead, with it's "Film
Students Videotape A Zombie Outbreak" plot would be a bit too close
to the similarly themed Cloverfield to stick out, the finished
product blew me away.
Diary of the Dead is a zombie
film I've been waiting to see for a long time. It's wonderfully
directed, and full of tense action, splashes of humor, some great
supporting characters, and some of the sickest gore effects I've
The setup is simple with a quick
payoff. The world is introduced to zombies and a documentary is made
by a woman who survives that includes a brilliant mix of footage
from TV news, security camera footage, the internet, and of course
all new footage shot by her film school classmates, who just
happened to be out in the Pittsburgh forest making their own monster
movie when the shit comes down.
First and foremost, though it's shot
"handheld camera style", the gimmick of it being done by film
students who know their stuff makes it a lot easier on the eyes (and
stomach) to watch. Simply put, Romero is a competent filmmaker who
knows how to pull this sort of thing off without making the audience
nauseous. He knows the puking should come from the acid dissolving a
brain onscreen, not shitty camerawork.
The cast is a pretty fun, too, with a
standout being this drunken English college professor guy played by
Scott Wentworth that's along for the ride that is beautifully
ridiculous. He has a ton of over the top corny dialogue that
accentuate his scenes that make him just a total kick to watch. He's
a great mixture of Peter Cushing meets Donald Pleasance meets Peter
In all, it's a great fun zombie movie
from the master. Some of the narrative gets a bit corny/preachy at
times about how awful things have become, but it's appropriate from
the perspective of a jaded 20 year old. It delivers. It's got a
fairly limited release, however, so do some looking around to find
out if it's playing somewhere close by.
THE INTERVIEW: FEB
What better way to spend
Valentine's Day then to have a quick phone conversation with George
Romero? Well, sure, there are better ways involving butter, a slip
and slide, and the cast of The Golden Girls, but beggars can't be
there's some really just sickeningly brilliant scenes in this movie,
like the Amish guy with the scythe and the overpass suicide zombie,
I just love those. Has there ever been a scene that you wanted to
film but for one reason or another it was just too extreme for even
you to consider?
what? Extreme? No...I never stopped myself because something was too
extreme. I almost didn't shoot the whole Amish farmer sequence
because I thought it was too silly. I don't know, some of my friends
talked to me about it and then I realized I actually threw a pie
fight into Dawn of the Dead, so in the end I came down on the
side of shooting it and if people think it's too slapstick, maybe it
is. But I wanted to throw it in. In the end I think it winds up
being a really strong sequence, so I'm happy it's there. And
everybody seems to really get off on it, so...I'm glad we did it.
Yeah, you gotta show those
Shaun of the Dead guys that they're not the only ones that can
mix the humor in there, huh?
(laughs) Those boys are great. Wait a minute! Simon (Pegg)
is the new Scotty! I can't believe it.
That's gonna be great, I can't wait
to see it.
I just hope it's
good, you know?
That's a lot of big shoes to fill
there, that's for sure.
I'm telling you.
What were the biggest challenges
in shooting a film like this in only 23 days?
Uh...the biggest challenge is that all you have is 23
Well, that'll be the stupidest
question you'll get from me today.
Well, you know that you have to get it all in the
can. It's daunting. I've had several people say to me, "Well it must
have been great to have just be able to turn the camera on and shoot
this subjective stuff without caring." But I'm telling you it
required more discipline than anything I've ever done that was
objective, because the camera was basically seeing everything 360.
There was nowhere to hide the lights, we had to stage everything.
Not only the actors, but the crew guys, ducking under lens, moving a
light here and there. It required a lot of discipline on everybody's
part. It's not as free and easy as it looks. The great thing was
that this cast was terrific. We never blew a take because an actor
forgot his lines. It was always us blowing it. "Whoops I saw
that light, or I saw that guy!" Or a stunt guy ducking under the
lens. But that was the toughest thing.
a lot of hard work, but that's the price, the cost of doing business
in a way. The only way that I could have complete control of the
film was to do it within a certain budget range. Which we could only
afford to do within so many days. That's the trade off, and luckily
we got a crew and cast that tried to pull it off. There were no
prima donnas. Everyone was there to hold the cannon. It was a great
experience, it really was a good time.
Zombies obviously existed in some
form before Night of the Living Dead, but you clearly created the
modern zombie as we know it. What sort of pride do you have to just
sit back and reflect on all the movies, games, and books that were
inspired by your work, looking back on all these decades of those
Well, you know, I can't think of it
that way. I can't think of it as inspirational in that sense. I
never knew that these guys were zombies. In the first film I didn't
call them zombies. So I don't know what I did exactly. I created the
living dead, the modern living dead. The guys with Nikes and a
t-shirt who happens to be dead. So is that enough? Is that ... it
ain't Frankenstein and it ain't Dracula. It won't go down in the
annals that way. And I don't think it's movies that have popularized
this creature, it's the videogames, and comic books, and all the
sort of alternative culture things.
The remake of Dawn made a lot
of money. Shaun of the Dead was very popular. 28 Days
Later, in my mind, is not a zombie movie, because they're not
dead. They're infected. I mean, name another zombie movie that's
been influential or has made a lot of money. Nothing has made more
money than the remake of Dawn. It's videogames! Resident Evil, Dead
Rising, that's the stuff that is popular that I see. Zombies are
very easy to stick into a first person shooter.
good stuff, as you say, but particularly "Night" and "Dawn" that's
great filmmaking of all time there. Don't sell yourself short there.
Those are all time legendary movies that will forever be important
in that regard. You know?
Listen, thank you very much for saying that, and I appreciate it,
but like I say, it's not Now Voyager, it ain't Casablanca (laughs)
you know what I mean. Anyway, thanks!
We've asked this of a few people and
I'd sure love you opinion. What's the scariest movie scene of any
movie you've ever watched that just really sticks out as the one
scary scene that just gets you every time in a film?
Well, nothing really gets me every time. When you
work in the medium...I'm immune to it. I can't see it as
frightening. I don't think my films, with the exception of Night
of the Living Dead, are creepy in any way. They're more comic
book and not particularly scary. When I try to think back at what
scared me, I have to go back to my youth, because...I don't know.
The moment I started to work professionally I became immune to it. I
remember The Thing, and I just happened to be the right age,
the Howard Hawkes' production, was the movie that as a young guy,
really scared the shit out of me. And that movie to me is about
doors. They keep on opening doors, and walking through doors, and
all of the sudden they open one, and there's The Thing! It just
scared the shit out of me. So that was the scariest thing.
In later years it was The Exorcist, maybe
because of my Catholic upbringing, I could sort of get it but it
really didn't scare me. Alien, maybe in the modern era. What
is it, 20 years? I thought it was a nerve-wracking movie, but it's
really hard to scare me, to get to me that way.
Well, those are all great movies.
Hey, we're almost out of time, we got a tight schedule here, but
thank you for talking to me and I was really surprised at how great
this movie was. We really enjoyed it and the crowd I saw it with
liked it a lot and I think you have a good hit on your hands with
this. It's a lot of fun and it's kind of nice to see a reboot of the
whole zombie thing with a new angle on it.
It was great to sort of go back and
do something small again. Thank you very much, man, and thanks for
saying all of those great things. Tell you what, call me up every
two days and say the same thing.
Yeah, I'll be your
pick me up guy. Thanks so much, George, and have a great day.