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Why George Romero Rejected The Walking Dead To Make The Zombie Autopsies

We scored a few minutes with the Zombiefather George A. Romero at the kick-off to AMC’s Fear Fest celebration. He shared his thoughts on undead sensation Walking Dead — and his plans for his next project, adapting The Zombie Autopsies.

What do you think of Walking Dead?

I love the books, I haven’t seen any of the episodes. Listen I love Frank [Darabont] , I know he’s done a good job. I love the books, I never watched any of the episodes because… my zombies are sort of my own. I didn’t want to be part of it. Producers called and said, “do you want to direct some of these,” and I said no. Because I just didn’t think it was me. I’ve been waiting to see the whole first season, which I missed because I’ve been travelling. I’ve been waiting to look at it, but I haven’t seen any of it.

You said they’re not not “my zombies.” So what’s a Romero zombie?

My zombies are purely a disaster. They are a natural disaster. God has changed the rules, and somehow this thing is happening. My stories are about the humans who deal with it stupidly, and that’s what I use them for. I use them to sort of make fun of what’s going on in a number of societal events. And that’s it, I don’t use them to just create gore. Even though I use gore, that’s not what my films are about, they’re much more political. That’s it. This whole zombie revolution, it’s unbelievable. We were in France last week, and 3,000 zombies came out for the zombie walk. We’re going to Mexico City next week and there are 5,000 zombies expected to show up. I don’t know what that’s about. I contributed to video games more than movies. If you want to look at it in a purely economic term, no zombie film has ever broken 100 million dollars [at the box office] , except for Zombieland. That’s the only one. But video games, they’ve sold hundreds and thousands of copies, so I think really this whole zombie craze is about video games more than film.

You mention that your zombies were more political, how has the political message in the first Dead films changed over the years, do you think their anti-consumerism, anti-miltary messages are still applicable?

I think it changes. I did one about citizen journalism, did one that was basically about Iraq, the war. If I have something to say, if I want to write, for example, about citizen journalism, if I tried to write a serious piece about that — first of all, I don’t have the skill to write for Lapham’s Quarterly and I can have much more fun writing about it and including zombies and making it a bit silly, a bit slap stick and a bit irreverent. And it’s easier for me to do it that way. So yeah, I think that if they nuke Philadelphia, I will probably — as long as I survive the carnage — I’ll probably sit down and try to write a zombie thing about the nuking of Philadelphia. It’s my way of being sort of relevant or being able to comment on current situations, without being pretentious. And it’s my way of making a career out of it. I guess I’m maybe the Michael Moore of horror.

Are there any other societal issues floating around like now that you would like to attack for another film?

I would love to do something about the economy. But zombies are not good mathematicians — I don’t think they’re going to be out selling cheesy mortgages or anything like that. So it’s tough for me to see that. A friend of mine recently wrote a novel called The Zombie Autopsies, and it’s about an isolated group of people doing autopsies on zombies during the zombie apocalypse and trying to figure out what the hell caused this. They come upon this discovery.

[Edit Note: SPOILERS Ahead]

The scientists discover that this is not a naturally occurring virus, they deduce that it must have been created by somebody. And they later discover that it was created by people who were trying to topple the economy. So that’s a unique way in to talk about the economy, but it’s not my story. Steven C. Schlozman is the guys name, he’s a Havard Psychologist who has somehow been swept into the zombie craze and is writing zombie novels.

How have the meaning of zombies changed, are we all just zombies walking through a mall?

Oh man, 68 was my first film, I believe that maybe it was the first film that had the new order of zombies, they were the namers. Instead of exotic creatures conjured by high priests in the Caribbean, you know The Serpent and the Rainbow, doing the wet work for Lugosi. When I grew up, zombies were just those wide eyed boys in the Caribbean who were basically slaves to some master. When I made my first film, I didn’t call them zombies because I didn’t think I could, I though those were what zombies were. I just wanted some sort of extreme event to be happening, and I called them Ghouls. That was it. I didn’t presume to call them zombies. And now, they’ve become zombies. All I did was make them neighbours.

How have the zombies changed today?

Now zombies have their own rules — they’re not all uniform, but they’re popular enough that I half expect a zombie to show up on Sesame Street and hang out with The Count. Vampires became The Count on Sesame Street, a zombie might be the next guy. I don’t know, it’s crazy.

What are the chances you’ll do a sequel to Dawn of the Dead, and bring back the original characters, like a where are they now sort of thing?

I don’t think I’ll ever do that. The last zombie film I made used characters from an earlier film, it was purposeful. I made Diary of the Dead and I had this dream that my next three films would be based on the characters from Diary. I don’t think I ever want to go back to that, to Dawn of the Dead. First of all Dawn of the Dead has been remade. Sort of, I don’t know, irreverently I would say, remade. Zack Snyder is a great filmmaker, but I think his remake of Dawn really lost its reason for being, because it was of a time. You can’t remake that. When I made Dawn of The Dead, I was responding basically. I socially knew the people who developed the first indoor shopping mall in Pennsylvania. I went out to see it and I was just struck by it. I said OK, finally I might be able to make a sequel to Night of the Living Dead using this concept of the shopping mall, instead of an old farmhouse. That was it, and that was when I decided that i could do political satire in the form of a horror film. But that has no power anymore, there are shopping malls on every street corner. So that has no power, so I don’t think you can remake that film.

In Diary of the Dead you were experimenting with the found footage, the victim POV and found footage filming. Is there any sort of filming technique that you want to experiment with next?

Oh I’d love to, Survival of the Dead was a Western. I love John Ford, I love William Wyler I modelled Survival of the Dead off of a Wyler Western called The Big Country. Unabashedly I said we’re going to steal from this movie’s imagery and themes all of that. I would love to do the next one, I had planned I don’t know if it’s ever going to get made, I was planning to do something Noir. It’s just me, it’s me in addition to wanting to say something about what’s going on today. It’s fun for me to try and do a little something different stylistically as well. I hesitate to call it an homage, it’s just envy. I wish that I was John Ford. [laughs]

So an economic collapse zombie Noir film?

How do you do that, man? The Noir part might be OK — zombies all hunkered around not being able to find any food anywhere. But see their food is not our food… I don’t know how to do it. The closest I could come is the Zombie Autopsies — just the way Wall Street engineered mortgages someone has engineered a great big collapse of society. Someone said, “The world is way too populated. We’re going to kill off half the population of the world and as a result we’re going to get richer!” It’s the only way I can see doing it.

You should option that book.

We have. We have done it, and I’m working on the screenplay right now.

So are you going to do it Noir style?

I may decide to do it that way, I don’t know. This is Steve’s story, not mine. It’s more like The Andromeda Strain. It’s very tense and very medically correct. This guy’s a doctor, it’s all about being medically correct. I think about it like the first Hammer Frankenstein film, which was all about very graphic scenes of brains floating in blood and things like that. I want it to be perfectly accurate, almost shockingly so.

George Romero is part of AMC’s Fear Fest, which is a 17-day salute to all things horror. Check out their bad-ass scheduled here!

Image from The Zombie Autopsies: Secret Notebooks from the Apocalypse by Steven C. Schlozman. Illustration by Andrea Sparacio.