June 24th marks the debut of George Romero's latest Zombie opus Land of the Dead. This fourth installment of the Living Dead franchise not only brings back the slow-walking zombies of old, it also resurrects Romero's workplace status. Everyone from here to China is calling it his Ultimate Masterpiece, and its getting more buzz than any other film this summer.
Last Thursday, Romero, with actors Simon Baker and John Leguizamo, gathered to discuss his horror triumph. Here, for the first time, is the audio from that joint venture…
Did you feel any pressure returning to this genre of film, and if so, how did you deal with that pressure?
Romero: Oh, Boy! I don't know. This is the pressure right here. There wasn't a whole lot of pressure. I mean, I've done these few and far between. I actually started the idea of this before 9/11. I had this conceit that I'd done one of these in the 60s, and the 70s, and the 80s. I missed the 90s, because my partner and I wound up in development Hell. There was eight years where nothing happened. I couldn't get a movie made. I wound up making more money during that time period, because I worked on all of these high profile projects. But none of them ever happened. So I fled, and we raised five million bucks, and I made a little movie called Bruiser that nobody has seen. So, I missed the 90s. After licking my wounds from Bruiser, I wrote this. And I wound up having something presentable. And it centered on right before 911. Literally, a few days before 911. Then everybody just wanted to make soft fuzzy movies. I had to put this on the shelf for a year and a half. Then I came back to it, reflecting the idea of the new normal, and the war. IN a way, I think it's a much more interesting film. Initially, it was about ignoring the problem. There was the Kaufman character, and there was always Fiddler's Green, but it was more about ignoring the social ills, like AIDS and homelessness. Just telling people, "Don't worry about it. That's their problem." I think this is more impactful. I don't try to put it right in your face. I just try to slide it in there. It might be a little too on the nose when he says, "We don't negotiate with terrorists." But I have to say, somebody noticed. A reporter that I talked to earlier today said, "Boy, that truck, when it comes down that little street in the city, you can't help but think of Iraq," I guess this stuff does gets noticed. But I try not to put it right up in there.
How are you going to follow this up, and can you talk about Masters of Horror?
Romero: Masters of Horror is something I'm hoping to do. Mick's an old friend. I'm hoping to do it. That's sort of related to this. If this opens strong, I might be in a situation where we will be asked to do another one of these right away. In which case, I've left the characters. I'd almost want to make it chapter two of the same movie. If that happens. I've just finished the story. I know which way I want to go with it. In my mind, I think of it as one film. We'll probably do it next year, unless we get nuked or something. Then there's something else to talk about. If that happens, I won't be able to do Maters of Horror. I'm hoping I can get a few weeks to do that. I have a few other things I'm working on, but that will get trumped if they want me working on this.
How did you update your version of the zombies to fit modern audience expectations?
Romero: I don't know. As far as them fitting into the group, I haven't really changed my attitude towards the zombies. They don't run. I always say somewhat facetiously that my guys will take out library cards before they join a health club. I'm more interested in their mental evolution. I also don't find them threatening when they're running at you. It's almost like a first person shooter game, or something. I don't find that as threatening. I grew up on Frankenstein and the Mummy, these things that sort of move at you slowly, but they're hard to stop. You have to find the Achilles heel. That's just my personal take.