Dead Director Rises Again

George Romero on zombies, politics and his own second coming


Michael Moore notwithstanding, it still seems risky to make a movie this political in what is effectively a risk-averse Hollywood climate. I'm thinking particularly of those scenes where we see captive zombies turned by their human captors into Abu Ghraib–style sideshow freaks.
I'm not sure if you showed this movie at the White House that anybody would get it, except when the money burns at the end—then they might feel a little pang of sadness.


You were making short films from a very early age.
But I never thought I could have a career in it. I went to Carnegie-Mellon to study painting and design. My dad was a commercial artist, and I realized I wasn't very good. They happened to have a theater school, so it was just on impulse that I decided to transfer there. But then I had to take, you know, movement and speech and all of that shit. Pass! So I walked. Back then, cities the size of Pittsburgh at that time had film labs. I had an uncle who supported me, got me an apartment for a year. So I just went and spent a year hanging out at this film lab, back when the news was on film—journeymen guys with cigarettes hanging over the flammable glue pots gluing together the shots.


One of the most distinctive aspects of your films, the early ones in particular, is the way they achieve movement through the cutting of what are mostly static shots. How did you develop that technique?
It's a little bit of a throwback to Michael Powell's stuff, the war movies that he did, which were very much staged that way. It was also a little bit of ass-covering, in the early days, when I couldn't afford dolly track or a dolly. So I would just shoot a lot of coverage, and I developed more of an editing style than even a shooting style. It was really only with TheDarkHalfthat I started to feel more confident, to shoot longer dialogue scenes and do things more efficiently. You know, you start learning some tricks. John Ford, after 150 films, probably had a bag full of tricks. I'm still learning them.


Land of the Dead is the first of your films to be shot in the 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio.
I've always loved the frame. I grew up on all of those movies too: Ben-Hurand all of that stuff. It's always been either a little too expensive or a little hard to achieve. But now with the digital intermediate process, we shot film and did all the finishing digitally. That enables you to change the frame, do whatever. It's really like a darkroom; you don't have to time the whole shot—you can go in and touch things up. That was fun, and we had a wonderful d.p. who got it and I think did a beautiful job with it.


Even with the comeback they've made in recent years at the box office, horror films still tend to be looked down upon by many so-called serious film aficionados.
It's a shame, but I have to say that there aren't a lot of people out there who are doing stuff with real heart. John Carpenter did a few things that I thought were wonderful. I loved TheyLiveand TheThing.But there's not a lot of people doing Caligarithese days.


How do you personally view the zombies?
I think of them as a primitive society. It's the quest for fire, putting two and two together. I always tell the actors, "Just think of yourselves as infants discovering things for the first time," like when Big Daddy is looking at the real building and its reflection in the water. But they're almost an external force. It's this incredible sea change in the world.


LAND OF THE DEAD WAS WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY GEORGE A. ROMERO; PRODUCED BY MARK CANTON, BERNIE GOLDMAN AND PETER GRUNWALD. NOW PLAYING COUNTYWIDE.

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