For four decades, George A. Romero has made a living off the dead. The 68-year-old writer and director is celebrating two milestones in 2008 – the 40th anniversary of his debut film, 1968’s original Night of the Living Dead, and the release of his newest film, Diary of the Dead, which premieres in the Triangle this week. Romero’s films helped make zombies icons of modern horror, even though the word “zombie” is never uttered in the original film. After doing a large-scale production for his last film, 2005’s Land of the Dead, Romero went back to basics for Diary, shooting it on a low budget with digital cameras in Pittsburgh. “The last zombie film I did just got too big,” Romero says in a phone interview. “It lost touch with its roots, which was a little film made in 1968 by a bunch of young filmmakers in Pittsburgh. While Universal let me make the film I wanted with Land of the Dead, it was a grueling experience. It just got too big, and I didn’t know where I could go next.”
So, Romero literally went back to the beginning, showing the start of the zombie plague from the perspective of film students shooting a low-budget horror movie. “I wanted to get back and see if I had the chops to really get down and do a guerrilla film with friends again,” Romero says, calling the experience both “great” and “nostalgic.”
Like his other films, including the original Dawn of the Dead, Diaryoffers its share of social commentary, in this case the rise of “new media.” He hasn’t seen Cloverfield, which was shot after his film, though he attributes the similarities as “part of a collective unconscious.” “I think everyone’s aware of the fact that everyone in the world has cameras these days,” Romero says.
He enjoys several of the current zombie films, including Shaun of the Dead and Fido, though Diary does take swipes at the running zombies from 28 Days Later and the Dawn remake: “It’s as if first thing they did when they stood up and walked was go get a membership a gym.” Why are zombies these days? “I really think video games, especially first-person shooters, have kept them out there,” Romero says. “They’re everywhere now. I keep expecting a zombie to show up with the Count on Sesame Street.”
Romero says he feels like “a painter experimenting with new brushes” with his new film, and that he has “a hell of a lot more to say” about new media. “I’m still learning,” says Romero. “The thing that really keeps me going is just trying to improve my handicraft.”
The proceeding interview was expanded from another version published in The Independent Weekly