June 4, 2013

Sarah's Strength: An Interview with DAY OF THE DEAD's Lori Cardille

One June 8th and 9th, Lori Cardille, star of George A. Romero's Day of the Dead, will be be appearing at the Niagara Falls Horror Fest in Niagara Falls, Canada. 

As I discovered last year at Horror Hound Weekend in Columbus, OH, Lori is one of the sweetest and most open horror actors I've had the chance to sit down with and interview. First working on stage and in on television, Lori Cardille landed the starring role in George A. Romero's 1985 classic Day of the Dead as Sarah, a no-nonsense scientist trying to unlock the mysteries of the zombie epidemic that has driven humanity underground. For Lori Cardille, horror is in her pedigree. Lori's father, the renowned horror host Bill "Chilly Billy" Cardille, also appeared as the reporter in George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead.

Although criminally under-appreciated at the time, Day of the Dead's dark and bleak tone, graphic gore, and frank depictions of racial tensions and ideological pigheadedness has developed a growing cult following. Day of the Dead has withstood the test of time and horror fandom fickleness in no small part due to
Lori Cardille's rock-solid performance at a time when women were more likely to be victims than heroes.

In the following interview, I talk with Lori about the strength of her character Sarah, the rediscovery of Day of the Dead, and the legacy of her father.

ZED WORD: Lori, I've been waiting so long to meet you.

LORI CARDILLE: That's sweet. It's a treat to met you too.

ZW: Your character, Sarah, in Day of the Dead reminded me so much of the women I grew up with in my life -- my grandmother, my mother -- who were strong women but also vulnerable, but you never saw that in other horror movies. When Day of the Dead came out, it was an eye-opener and a reminder of what was lacking in other horror films. When you got the script for Day of the Dead, did you at all feel the same way?

LC: I come from the theater and tended to play strong female characters. It's my voice, and I'm tall, although you'd never know it from how I look on film. So I think it was natural for me to play that, and I was so excited to play that because I knew it had never been done before. The women were always sort of victims. I've been behind a lot of women's causes, and it really is amazing to look back and see I was part of a history, at least in the genre of horror films. Sigourney Weaver came out around [that time] with Aliens, but that was such a much more expensive and different kind of film, and we were like the poor people....

ZW: Literally working underground.
Lori Cardille as Sarah
LC: Yeah, literally working underground, but it was such a great opportunity. I knew [Day of the Dead] was special then, but it wasn't as accepted as -- they didn't like it as much as Dawn of the Dead at the time, but now people are finding it and looking back on it. It's a great honour to have done it.

ZW: What do you think is behind the improvement in popularity and esteem that Day of the Dead has received, which it didn't get on its initial release?

LC: I was so sad about that, really, because I had done a lot of work, and I thought [Day of the Dead] was such a good, dark, appropriate film. What do I attribute it to? I think because of the dialogue you really have to sit and think while you watch it, and think about George's vision. I think people are coming back into the zombie genre through what's out now. People who are interested sort of backtrack and look at the history of the zombie movement, and they find Day of the Dead and stumble upon it and realize, 'Wow. That's a really good film.'

Lori Cardille and Aaron Allen of The Zed Word
ZW: Especially coming after Dawn of the Dead, which was such a comic book kind of film, Day of the Dead has very little levity or breaks of humour. I've watched the film with other women, and in your scenes with Joe Pilato as Captain Rhodes menacing you, I've seen women flinch in their seats. It's very disturbing to watch. I assume you did multiple takes where the intensity of Joe Pilato is coming at you full force. What was that like to film?

LC: I thought it was really important. There are a couple scenes where [Captain Rhodes] begins to cross that line into the whole sexuality and wanting to rape me, maybe. He could if he wanted, and all that. I do believe that because that happened before [Sarah's] final break after she cuts the arm off that it was part of her vulnerability. She had to be pseudo-strong in front of him, in a way, because she knew that she was really dead meat and ultimately could be. I think it was part of the character arch to start to let loose a little bit on that aspect of it. Especially when he grabs my belt in that whole scene. You know, it was creepy to do, but as an actor it was interesting to find that part that made her vulnerable and find a change in the character.

ZW: What was it like working around so many other cast members in zombie makeup? I've talked to some of the other featured zombies and they've said that when they were in their makeup they felt kind of segregated from everybody else because of the way they looked and because when they ate lunch they were drooling over themselves because of the tooth appliances. Do you remember that kind of segregation on set?

LC: That's funny. I was talking to Debra Gordon about that, who was the great zombie in the corral in the choker. I said, 'You know it's funny, Debra, I bet that it was more that I was absolutely exhausted eating lunch more than anything.' But I think there is an element, though, when someone puts a mask on -- I don't care if they put on like a crappy little mask -- you feel a separation from that person, so it makes sense that Debra would have felt that. As far as Howard [Sherman] being Bub, that was a different story. I knew him well, and we were working and talking a lot, but it was funny. Chris Romero's daughter Christina Romero and my daughter Kate Rogal were little children at the time. My daughter started walking on the set of Day of the Dead. It was so funny to see these little babies walking around this professional, really great makeup. I wish I had taken more pictures back then.

Tom Savini transforms Howard Sherman into Bub
ZW: Is Day of the Dead a film that you've grown more fond of as time has gone on?

LC: Oh, definitely! As far as a spectator looking at it as a film, I kind of put it away for awhile in my consciousness because it was a great experience and then I was very disappointed that people didn't recognize it, so I kind of put it away in my head. Siskel and Ebert hated it, you know. Blah blah blah. So I started to rediscover it when the fans were rediscovering it. It was such a gift to get that because it was so dark. People were able to look back at it objectively and new generations found it, and it just became the classic that it is now.

ZW: Do you have any favorite fan moments relating to Day of the Dead?

LC: I'm very moved especially by film students and young women and men who come to me and say it changed their lives literally because of this strong female. You were talking about your grandma and your mom, and some people did not have that. [Day of the Dead] gives young women a certain courage and a thought that women can be strong and vulnerable at the same time even though you don't see it in Sarah until the very end. In fact, I think she's the strongest when she finally breaks down and starts to become integrated into herself. The other facade is not necessarily strength although it is.....
Watch out Ripley, Sarah's packing heat
ZW: It's a situational, functional strength to cope with the dysfunction in the mine.

LC: And that's strong unto itself. I'm most moved by people that it really touches the psychological part of their life and what it meant to them as children and brought them through hard times.

ZW: Would you ever like to return in any future zombie projects? Is it a genre you'd like to dip your toe back into?

LC: Well, actually, I came back to Pittsburgh to raise my children, and now I live between New York and Pittsburgh with my husband, and we go back and forth. And now I have time. I am writing some things now. I wrote a book and I'm writing a script right now, but as far as going back to the business, I'd like to work. It would have to be a really good zombie or horror director and creative person because I've worked with George and I don't want to dumb down the process...not that everyone's dumbing it down. But there's lot of people ripping things off like the new Day of the Dead. I am an idealist and I am a person that follows my heart and tries to live an authentic life that has meaning.

Cardille opposite co-star Terry Alexander
ZW: Your father, who's famous among horror fans, recently won an award here at Horror Hound, didn't he?

LC: I was so proud of him. I started to cry when I accepted for him. It's called the Horror Host Hall of Fame. My father was inducted. He was one of the first horror hosts in the industry, and they're going to have a hall in Ripley's Believe It or Not. My father was in early, early television and the first to sign NBC on in Pittsburgh. He was a very talented and creative man, and he still is. He always has been. He's a great dad, a great man, and a wonderful talent.

ZW: It's great that both you and he could appear in Romero's zombie saga. It's a real nice capper on the original trilogy.

LC: Honest to God. I look back and it all worked out miraculously well.

Meet Lori Cardille for yourself June 8 and 9 at the Falls Horror Fest. Cardille will be appearing alongside such horror guests as Kane Hodder (Jason Voorhees) and Tom Savini.