Land of the Dead: At a recent HorrorFind Weekend in Maryland, Greg Nicotero, part of the KNB EFX Group, answered some looming questions about George Romero's follow-up to his, often imitated, never duplicated zombie serial, The Land of the Dead
The number-one question regarding the project has to be: Considering that LAND, unlike its unrated predecessors, will undoubtedly have to be an R-rated theatrical release, will Romero’s signature graphic visuals have to be toned down? Will fans get to see the extreme sights they’re accustomed to? “Without a doubt,” Nicotero answers the latter question. “George has already expressed to me that, whether it means that there will be an unrated DVD edition vs. a regular [theatrical] cut—and I’m sure ratings will come into it—he wants to pull out all the stops. There will be an unrated version; whether it’ll play theatrically or just be released on DVD, I don’t know. But we’ve already been doing zombie feasting tests, and it’s like, ‘OK, how do we do this in one take?’ The whole goal is to push the envelope, because I’m not only working on this film, I’m excited to be the first guy in the audience to see it.”
With that excitement comes the challenge of living up to an FX legacy that has served as a benchmark for the presentation of ghouls and gore. “We have a big task ahead of us,” he says, “because there have been a lot of movies, and everyone’s gonna expect these zombies to be something we haven’t seen before. People still come up to me and tell me that DAY OF THE DEAD [on which Nicotero assisted Tom Savini] is the pinnacle of zombie makeup effects, so we have to look at what I helped create with Tom and improve on that. It’s about changing the color palette, and the idea of what the zombies look like; the joke was always that when you become one, your eyebrows disappear, because on DAY we’d put the foam appliances on them and that was it! So we’re trying to get away from the deep, dark-socketed eyes of the standard ghoul, and build up other aspects.
“There are also going to be a lot of puppet heads, similar to things we did on ARMY OF DARKNESS, where we built full-body, articulated creatures,” he continues. “We’re going to use CGI to erase the puppeteers so that every zombie you see is a practical effect. We don’t want to do CGI zombies; I don’t want to remove people’s faces digitally. I want to do it for real, and George has basically said, as we’ve gone through the screenplay, ‘Greg, I’d like 10 or 12 zombie gags that people are going to look at and say, “How did they do that?” ’ My goal is to create characters that, 20 years from now, people will come to a convention with a photo of that zombie and want me to sign it.”
Yes, he said “characters,” revealing that in LAND, the undead won’t just be mindless hordes. Instead, Romero’s new scenario incorporates “four or five featured zombies” who will be brought to life as much through performance as via makeup. “That’s part of George’s storytelling arc,” Nicotero says, “that these zombies become—not superintelligent, but they aren’t just walking around chomping on people. It’s taking the groundwork that Howard Sherman laid [as experimental ghoul Bub in DAY] and building on that. They’re casting for those now, and of course there’ll be mass cattle calls for zombies; in Toronto, we already have a lot of people with experience being zombies, ’cause they shot the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake there."