Through Halloween to the fourth of November, Toronto cinephiles were extremely fortunate this year, as the Lightbox was screening the filmography of the great George A. Romero.
Best of all, now that Romero is a resident (and has been for sometime now) of Toronto, he showed up to intro several of his films. This began on Halloween night with an In Conversation session with the man himself, moderated by Midnight Madness programmer Colin Geddes.
Over the course of the evening, Colin ran through the gamut of Romero's genre films and did a very good job staying away from the oft-trodden subjects that have been covered previously in fourty-odd years of interviews. Here is a sampling of what was discussed that night.
Q: Why do refrain from using the word “zombie” in your films?
George: In later years, I just kept looking for something else to call them. I never thought they were zombies, when I made the first film, I didn't think of them as zombies. I didn't know they were zombies, I thought they were some new creature. At that time, zombies weren't dead as far as I knew. If you read Serpent and the Rainbow they were just given this cocktail and they're not dead, they are put in a state of suspended animation and become slaves to Lugosi or whoever. So I never thought of them as zombies at all.
Q: When did you first meet Tom Savini?
George: Before we made Night of the Living Dead, I had written a very high minded script, a coming-of-age story about teenagers in the Middle Ages. I guess I'd been watching too much Bergman (chuckles) So, Tom auditioned for the role of one of these kids. He was I don't know, 14. We went to see him in a high school play. He was the lead in this high school production I can’t remember the name of, and he was great. So, we talked to him and he was all set to star in our high minded movie. And, of course, the high minded movie never got financed and it all blew apart. Years later, we announced production on Martin and this guy walks off the elevator at our office and says “watch this!” and slashed his wrists, so he's bleeding all over the place and then he does a somersault and falls flat on his back on the floor. Then he stood up and said “Remember me!” And I said, “No. But that was impressive.” It was Tom. He re-introduced himself and said he'd done some films (Deranged & Deathdream) and asked if he could do the effects on Martin. I said, “forget effects, you're a pretty good actor if I remember, so why don't you be in the movie, as well.” And that's what started the relationship.
Q: What was it like to work with Stephen King, first directing him in Creepshow and then adapting his novel The Dark Half?
George: (On Creepshow) He was so compliant, he basically did everything I told him and then only at the end, did he say “ahhh, you're makin’ me look like a jerk!” Fortunately, my direction to him was “Steve, think of this as a coyote and roadrunner cartoon. And play it that big.” And that's what he did. He did it all the way and he went for it. And he has never forgiven me. (laughs) (On The Dark Half) It was great, Stephen basically left me alone. I've never had problems with him that way. He always kept his opinions to himself, and basically said “George take it, run with it, go” He didn't like the film in the end and I don't exactly know why. He could never really articulate exactly why he didn't like it. He's just crazy about certain things. He hates Kubrick. He'll go to his grave hating Kubrick. And he hated Creepshow simply because of the way Viveca Lindfors portrayed that character (Bedelia in Father's Day) She was smoking a cigar, she wearing a big hat, and Stephen was like, “that's not what I wanted her to be”. So he'll hate a movie for some detail like that. All he'd say about Dark Half was “well it could've been better.” Oh well, I did my best. He loves Mick Garris, that's all I know.
|Director George A. Romero (left) with Colin Geddes.|
Q: What happened with your rumoured involvement with the Resident Evil movie?
George: I was excited about to get the chance to do it. What happened was the rights to Resident Evil were bought by a German company called New Constantine. They had offices in LA, and assigned a production executive to supervise the script writing. So I started to write the script and guys from Capcom gave me clues as to what was going to be in the next game and we came up with a script that I loved. I thought it was great. Tom loved it and the executives from New Constantine loved it. But New Constantine is a company that is run by one guy. And he came in one day and said “this is not what I was thinking” and that was it. Then they brought in Paul Anderson, and I didn’t think it was that great.
Q: What do you think about your countless imitators, as well as the zombie genre’s growing popularity due to stuff like World War Z & The Walking Dead?
George: In four words: It pisses me off. (laughs) I don't know, man. The Walking Dead, I thought the books were great, but… The thing is, I used to be the only guy doing zombies, and now all of a sudden everybody's doing zombies. I guess I'm not really pissed off, but I'm bothered by the fact that there's now a lot of people in my playground. I have always tried to do something satirical or political, something going on underneath. The Walking Dead is a soap opera that happens to have zombies in it. I guess that's what I have to say.
Then, on the following weekend, there was back-to-back-to-back screenings of his Dead Trilogy, for which Romero once again took to the stage for an intro. Here it is below.
It was great week indeed.