May 24, 2010

Slow, Romero! Slow!

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While I've been engrossed in helping produce SCREAMWAVE, a weekly podcast from Horror in the Hammer, several news stories about George A. Romero hit the web that I neglected to comment on.

First, we learned that Romero is planning to continue making films in the continuity established by Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead (review) by shooting at least two more Dead projects, perhaps even filming them back-to-back. Second, it was also revealed that Romero is in talks to direct a 3D remake of Deep Red, a 1975 film by Romero's friend and previous collaborator Dario Argento.

So, it seems like Romero certainly has a lot of projects on his plate. Is this a good thing?

I'm not one of those people who seem compelled to rag on Romero because he's an old filmmaker. A lot of fans on message boards are quick to charge that Romero has jumped the shark and is no longer relevant. I get the impression that most of these criticisms come from the fact that Romero has never repeated his critical and cultural success in the fandom that he achieved with Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. This, I feel, is completely unfair. Who but the most genius and rare artists create nothing but classic works? I love Romero for creating the zombie genre and making some of the most seminal works in zombie film, but I'd never call him a genius. Yet, for every mediocre or bad film he's made, Romero also made something entertaining or insightful. His track record is better than most, yet he can't seem to catch a break with horror fans -- especially some zombie fans -- who seem to love him for the past but dismiss him for the future. Many of these fans, I suspect, want every one of Romero's zombie pictures to be another Dawn of the Dead.

At the same time, I'm not Romero apologist. When I see problems in his films, I don't shy away from noting them. Although I have not yet reviewed it for The Zed Word zombie blog, I hated Diary of the Dead. I think that film is fundamentally indefensible from a story-telling perspective. Of his modern output -- Bruiser (2000), Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2007), and Survival of the Dead (2009)-- only one of those films would I consider a "bad" film. Diary is indefensible whereas Land of the Dead and Survival of the Dead are well-made movies if lacking in the character department. Bruiser is a film that I wrestle with, but I would probably call it one of Romero's missteps.

So, I'm not worried that Romero has been reduced to making failed films. I am, however, worried that if he continues to turn out films at such a quick pace then the films will suffer (the time between each new film is growing shorter and shorter). Let's face it; Romero's strength is not in his writing but in his directing and editing. The script is the major fault with parts of Survival and all of Diary. Whether this is from too few revisions or simply the absence of a co-writer and collaborator, Romero's films will continue to suffer into the future, I fear. I know that Romero is finally in a position where he is in creative and financial control of his Dead series. Although many people know that Night of the Living Dead went public domain upon its release, casual fans do not realize Romero doesn't own the rights to his previous zombie films either; thus, he does not profit greatly from them. Now he can. I just think that if he doesn't slow down the pace of production, his films will continue to meet with critical dismissal and diminishing returns.

Oddly enough, however, I'm quite excited for a Romero remake of Deep Red. If you've read some of my other editorial posts, you know I am very skeptical of horror remakes, yet in this case I can't help but be interested. Out of fifteen of Romero's directorial feature films, four have been remade by Hollywood. Maybe I'm being naive, but I like to think that Romero will approach this project with greater care since he has experienced what it's like to lose creative control of a project and also have his works remade to turn a higher profit than the originals. In addition, he and Dario Argento are friends and prior collaborators. Argento helped make Dawn of the Dead a success in Europe, and both Argento and Romero worked together on Two Evil Eyes.

When I was at the Festival of Fear as part of FanExpo 2007, I remember being in the line to meet Romero. Argento had a both nearby. When Argento arrived, Romero told everyone in his line that he was very sorry and would be right back, but he had to go over to meet his friend Dario who he had not seen in many years. It was a really neat experience to see what, to me, looked like genuine friendship among horror creators at a convention. At conventions, in my experience, you don't really see the guests mingle with one another when they're not there promoting the same project. Sometimes they don't look happy to be there at all. When I think about Romero remaking Deep Red, I think about him going over to Argento at FanExpo and giving him a hug.

Perhaps their past work together and friendship will help produce a remake that's not as soulless as the majority of horror remakes being offered by Hollywood today.

Then again, like most horror plots that start off with the best intentions, it could turn into a nightmare.

 Festival of Fear-- FanExpo 2007 (L-R): Dario Argento, 
Stuart 'Feedback' Andrews, George A. Romero.