Dann Gire recalls talking zombies with filmmaker George Romero

Daily Herald Film Critic

dgire@dailyherald.com

Horror pioneer George Romero created the modern zombie movie with his 1968 renegade black-and-white classic “Night of the Living Dead,” a visionary, seminal work that established the set of “undead” ground rules universally adopted by filmmakers around the globe.

Romero, 77, died Sunday in Toronto of lung cancer.

I’ve interviewed Romero several times, twice hosting his appearances at the annual Flashback Weekend Horror Convention in Rosemont.

My favorite exchange with Romero took place in 2010 when illness prevented the venerable filmmaker from coming to Chicago to promote his fifth zombie sequel, “Survival of the Dead.” So, we talked by phone.

Q. What’s the best zombie movie you didn’t make?

A. Wow! I’ve never had the question before. Uh, the old, old ones. They’re the only ones I really love. “I Walked With a Zombie.” “White Zombie.” Those were the funniest things. I don’t know that anyone could do those movies again. They’ve become demystified.

Q. Should zombies be able to move like Michael Jordan in his prime, as they do in Zack Snyder’s remake of your sequel “Dawn of the Dead”?

A. Absolutely not. They’re dead! It’s as simple as that! It’s not the kind of film I would have made. I thought it was more of a video game. No politics. No sort of social criticism or whatever. But, I mean what did they (zombies) do? Wake up and join a health club?

Even in “28 Days Later” or in “Zombieland,” they’re not really dead. They’ve got some kind of virus or something. I can forgive them there, but if they’re dead, how can they run? I don’t get it.

Q. Why haven’t you put sex into your films? The 2006 second remake of “Night of the Living Dead” did.

A. It just doesn’t belong. People are too preoccupied with other things. People have told me that in a doomsday scenario, the first thing people will do is crawl into bed with each other. I don’t know. In these films, it just doesn’t seem to fit.

Q. Your “Survival of the Dead” is a glorified Hatfields vs. the McCoys conflict set against the zombie holocaust. What are we to make of that?

A. My stories have always been about the people, and how they respond to the situation, or fail to respond, or respond stupidly. (“Survival”) is about war. It’s about enemies who can’t bury the hatchet.

Even though there’s this game-changing thing that has happened to the planet, people are still shooting at each other. We have all this anger today. It’s almost allowed, you know? Rage has been legitimatized not just for terrorism, but in the streets! In the Senate! On the tennis court! People can’t disagree without being disagreeable.

Q. Why are horror films important?

A. A lot of people would argue they’re not. I think it’s a way of opening the mind a little bit. I think (horror stories) should be used more as allegory. Nursery rhymes were allegories. “Ring Around the Rosey” is about the plague.

The biggest disappointment to me is that people aren’t using it that way. Horror films today are just sort of mean-spirited and vicious. They try to gross you out as much as they can. It’s without a story that has any broader meaning. I think horror fantasy is important because it opens up your mind.

Q. What scares you?

A. Oh, man, are you kidding me? Bombs! People shooting each other. Violence! People in the streets burning cars. They don’t just do it against politicians. They do it when their team wins. It’s nuts!