Q: You have become the Godfather of Gore, so why was it zombie movies that attracted you?
A: Initially I started out by ripping off Richard Mathesons story, I Am Legend. That was about zombies, so I decided to use flesh eaters. His story started with the last man on Earth, the rest of the world had already converted. So I wanted to go from the beginning. It was the late sixties, man, so all of us that were involved in that project were thinking constantly that it was a metaphor for revolution. There were all kinds of treatises written about the zombies representing the silent majority and all that. But thats not exactly it at all. At least, not in my mind. Its really revolution. Ive been saying that...if the real living dead in America would come back to life then maybe this administration and its policies wouldnt have a chance. So that is what it has always been about in my mind. And its just right for that. It is something that I have been able to come back to, decade after decade. In this case a couple of decades. And it still holds true. People will still let themselves be herded.
Q: You have said that the DVD of Land Of The Dead will be even more gory than the theatrical version. How much is too much?
A: Its never too much for me, I grew up on EC Comic books - which were sort of morality tales - and fans of this stuff just giggle at that. It comes down to execution. I dont think this film is gorier than Day Of The Dead. Maybe its a little better executed. In some cases a little more vivid. There are a couple of scenes that are consciously stylised...one is in smoke and one in shadow. So that you know what is going on but it is not in your face. I did some of that consciously because of the FDAA and I didnt want to have to leave it out.
Q: How did you feel about getting a standing ovation in Cannes after screening a 20 minute teaser for Land Of The Dead?
A: It was amazing to me. It was very flattering. To be in Cannes on that red carpet was something that I never thought that my films would ever get for me. It was wonderful.
Q: Is this because the audience now needs this kind of movie?
A: I dont think there is any kind of zeitgeist. I dont think it is anything like that. Somebody said that my zombie films are almost like westerns. They are, they are sort of penny dreadfuls, and even the other ones that came before. Right now they are popular and who knows how long that will last? The zombie is an accessible, idiomatic creature. You dont have to suspend disbelief, everybody knows what it is. Its like a vampire, you dont have to define it. You just sort of jump right in. I think all that makes it easy and accessible.
Q: Is it a coincidence that Land Of The Dead is coming out when zombie movies are back in fashion?
A: I worked on it for a while. I sent the first script for Land Of The Dead round before 9/11. That script was very different because it wasnt about terrorism or the Bush administration. But after 9/11 nobody wanted to touch it. So it sat on the shelf for a while and so I rewrote it and tried to adapt it to whatever the new normal was. It was purely coincidence that the other zombie films happened around the same time. I originally sent the script out before any of them. Then right around the time that Fox acquired 28 Days they started to negotiate with us on this. It was just that the negotiations dragged and dragged.
Q: Have you seen 28 Days and the Dawn Of The Dead remake?
A: I saw the Dawn Of The Dead remake, I havent seen 28 Days. But I love Shaun Of The Dead. I cast Simon and Edgar from Shaun as zombies in Land Of The Dead. We had been talking because of Shaun Of The Dead and I had done some endorsements for them. So we were talking about this and they said...Gee wed like to come and be zombies.
Q: Why are horror movies so popular?
A: I dont know...escapism? The world is horrible so maybe its a little bit safer to go get your horror in a theatre.
Q: Do we like to be scared within the safe confines of the movie theatre?
A: Yeah! Possibly.
Q: How has it been working with a studio?
A: Its been fabulous. There has basically been no difference. These guys have been great. It started as an independent film but Universal did an early deal and were involved in an advisory capacity right from the start. They have been tremendously supportive. I had another experience with them. I wrote a version of The Mummy for Universal - the one that got away. They actually green lit it. It was very different from the one that eventually made all that money. Mine owed more to the original Boris Karlof movie.
Q: This film experience must be so different from your first movie when you had no money and even washed in a river?
A: Yeah. The big difference today is we have indoor plumbing. Thats about it. This was still pretty guerilla filming. We were not rich on this film.
Q: The zombie make-up must have changed greatly?
A: In the early days we were using modelling clay. Now there are wonderful materials that we can use to make such thin masks. They can now do elaborate make-up that lets them maintain facial expressions. Its terrific. But as far as you can do prosthetically without CG, there are only so many ways that you can kill zombies.
Q: What about the remake of another of your films, The Crazies?
A: I am not involved so that is somebody elses problem. Theoretically I am an executive producer, which means that maybe they will call me up when its finished and invite me to the screening.
Q: You say you are still doing guerilla film making, do you still use Tom Savini as your daring stunt man?
A: No but we are still good friends and he is a zombie in this film. He is a cameo zombie.
Q: In Dawn Of The Dead, you borrowed a car and then gave it back wrecked to the car company. Do you still do stuff like that?
A: No we cant do that. The insurance company wont let us. We did that with a Volkswagen in Dawn Of the Dead and in Night Of The Living Dead the car that rolls down the hill actually belonged to the mother of one of the producers. She hit a tree, so one day the car suddenly had a dent in it. So I wrote the scene when the car rolls into a tree.
Q: When it was announced that you were doing Land Of The Dead, did you find lots of people were keen to be in your film?
A: Oh yeah, everybody wanted to be zombies. But unfortunately because of the actors union you cant just bring buddies in...only on days when you have 75 union members, then you can pepper in a few people in the background.
Q: In the old days was it not the case that non union zombies were cheaper than union zombies?
A: Cheaper! Are you kidding! I think they got a buck and a signed newspaper...The Dead Walk!
Q: How did your cast come together for Land Of The Dead?
A: Asia I wanted immediately, just because Ive known her since she was a child. I had never met Dennis but we had shared this camaraderie from the 60s and were disappointed that the 60s didnt work. We thought we were reforming the world and it didnt work out. He had read the script and we met. He said he loved the script and wanted to do it. I was thrilled. Simon had shot a TV series in Pittsburgh for several years so we had a connection. We knew the same joints and taverns in Pittsburgh so we were able to hit it off straight away. And John I wanted right from the top. I never thought we could get him but we spoke on the phone and he said he would love to do it. It all came together that way. It wasnt a cast that was forced on me, everybody wanted to do it.
Q: There is a great quote from Dawn Of The Dead...when there is no room left in Hell, the dead shall walk the Earth...how did you get that?
A: I probably got it in the shower. I wanted to explain that there was no real explanation. In the original Night Of The Living Dead there were a couple of scenes cut out where there were alternate explanations. The only one left in was this thing about the Venus Probe. But I didnt want there to be a reason.
Q: Given your liking for I Am Legend which was filmed as Last Man On earth and The Omega Man, dont you want to do your version of that story?
A: Not really. I ripped it off so I have a little bit of an embarrassment there. But Richard Matheson the author of I Am Legend knows, we have talked about it. All my stuff has been self generated. I see a lot of scripts and Im usually not that interested, except for a couple of Stephen King things. I always say I am still learning and now I feel a little more comfortable as a crafts person so I can maybe design a better shot than I used to be able to do.
Q: Your wife has always been involved in your movies, do you bounce ideas off her? Shes said to have been against the pie fight scene in Dawn Of The Dead?
A: She thinks a lot of my ideas are dreadful. We of course are very close and talk about everything. I dont listen very often.
Q: Your films are allegories?
A: I try to paint a little metaphor for what America is today. There is an administration in an ivory tower, insulated and that is directly depicted...Dennis Hopper and his people live in a high rise, the rest of the downtown area is a no mans area and the service personnel live in the suburbs, which amounts to a ghetto. Nobody is allowed to speak against company policy and the protagonists are paramilitary types that have to go out, force the policy and bring back supplies. So that is my little allegorical portrait of what America is like today. It is about ignoring the problem and it is in a city which is protected by rivers...which is a metaphor for America thinking that it was protected by water.
Q: What do the zombies stand for?
A: The zombies in my mind have always stood for power to the people. They are not the bad guys. In this one they are clearly not. People have always found meaning in the films but probably 90 per cent of the audience dont bother with that. They just go to ride the ride. Dawn Of The Dead was clearly about consumerism - it was very comic book and splashy with a dark underbelly - and Day Of The Dead was the beginning of what seemed to be a collapse of the high times.
Q: Is there another zombie film in the making?
A: There is a possibility. If this movie opens big it might be the first time that Im asked to do one quickly. Instead of waiting 10 years. I have left it open. I can continue this story.
Q: You have a reputation for wanting people on your films to offer ideas?
Q: Is that why you have succeeded outside the Hollywood system?
A: I dont know, even inside it. I just think it is the best way to run a circus. The best way to have collaboration is to offer incentive. The best incentive for creative people is to accept their contribution. We could never have made this film without the dedication of a tremendous number of people.
Q: What was the budget?
A: I can safely say it was under $20 million.
GEORGE A. ROMERO
Land of the Dead - Cannes, May 2005
By John Millar