The ZRS blog broke the story on Tuesday, and now Kotaku has a neat interview with George Romero regarding his upcoming adaptation of The Zombie Autopsies by Steven Schlozman. It’s clear the project is in the earliest stages, but it’s still exciting news for zombie fans! (I had a very positive reaction to The Zombie Autopsies, and you can read my review here.)
Released in 1951, Tales of Hoffman is an operatic re-telling of three romantic misadventures (along with a framing story) of the eighteenth-century poet E.T.A. Hoffman.
Whenever he is interviewed, Romero makes a point to talk about Hoffman and the impression it made on him as a young director. I was curious to see if I could detect how it might have influenced his zombie films (if at all).
Hoffman is a fantasy, not a horror movie. I knew that going in. (But many masters of horror are influenced by fantasy. H.P. Lovecraft’s favorite writer was Lord Dunsany, for example.)
And it is easy to see where certain elements of the stories in Hoffman may have influenced Romero’s work. There are cascades of grotesque masks covering everything from walls to beer steins. There are inanimate bodies (corpses?) decorating many scenes. (In one memorable sequence, a ballerina dances over the faces of twisted dead bodies.) One tale is the story of a clockwork dancer who meets her end when she is ripped apart, piece by piece, whilst still “alive.” (The image of a servant lovingly stroking her disembodied hand is strange and haunting.)
The Criterion Collection edition of Hoffman also includes an interview with Romero in which he expounds upon the influence of the film in his work, and tells several amusing anecdotes.
Yet, ineluctably, I must report that I found many parts of Hoffman very tedious. Other parts seemed unintentionally silly. For example, the actor playing Hoffman looks a lot like Liberace, and never more so than in the below clip at about 1:34:
To be completely honest, I found my mind wandering during much of the film. (In this and other respects, the experience was rather like attending a religious service. I felt as though I had been in the presence of something important and ultimately salutary, yes, but was nonetheless deeply relieved when it was over.)
Would a typical zombie fan enjoy this film? I do not even dare to conjecture!
When Leslie Nielsen passed away over the weekend, most obituaries (rightly) emphasized his work with the Police Squad and Airplane! films. But he was also really good at being terrified of zombies, as evinced by his performance in the 1982 horror film Creepshow (which was directed by George Romero and includes a cameo by Tom Savini!!!).
Here’s a salient clip of Nielsen reacting awesomely to zombies:
Creepshow also features a criminally-underappreciated cake-seeking zombie, who is probably one of my favorite zombies ever:
As I hope is clear, my point, here, is that you should totally watch Creepshow tonight because it’s awesome.
This weekend, I was lucky enough to receive an advance screener of George Romero’s Survival of the Dead which will begin a limited theatrical release later this month, and is available now through a variety of digital channels via Magnet releasing.
Survival of the Dead is one of Romero’s greatest films, and a vast improvement over Diary of the Dead (which I thought was his weakest). Romero is at his best when he uses zombies to address ancient, timeless themes– and that’s exactly what he does in Survival. Having already covered race, authoritarianism, and plutocracy, Romero now wades into the morass of ancient blood-feuds, sexual orientation, and the nature of human hatred itself.
And thank goodness he does, because the results are awesome!
Romero proves once again that, while many can film a zombie apocalypse, he is the master of populating it with interesting characters in thought-provoking situations. Survival is the story of (fictional?) Plum Island– a small island off the New England coast, exclusively inhabited by two clans of Irish ancestry who have always hated the other. (As if to emphasize their isolation, the residents of Plum Island have retained their Irish brogues.)
A few days into the zombie apocalypse, a team of tough-but-ultimately-kindhearted mercenaries (with a mysterious teenager in tow) see a YouTube video inviting refugees to seek shelter on Plum Island. When mercenaries meet warring Irish clans, good things* start to happen…
There are many memorable and satisfying zombie killings in Survival. However, I must admit that I am still growing accustomed to seeing CGI blood in a Romero film. (Sometimes it works seamlessly, and other times it takes me out of the moment.)
When a forbidden romance between members of the warring clans becomes extra-forbidden (when one of the couple is zombified), Romero seems to invoke the 1944 film noir Laura. (A detective investigating the death of the titular character “falls in love” with Laura, even though she is dead. But then she reappears, alive. So which Laura does the detective love?)
Romero also explores themes of sexual orientation for the first time through an aggressively-sexual lesbian mercenary named “Tomboy.” (Tomboy must constantly rebuff a male suitor– who reminds her how easy it would be for the two of them to get together– because she just “can’t change” who she’s attracted to. Later, a character takes a lesson from Tomboy’s resolve and accepts that he “can’t change” the fact that he’s been bitten and will become a zombie.)
Survival also features great villains that you love to hate, a great musical score, and a strong, unerring message delivered in Romero’s inimitable style. There are many haunting images. The final shot in Survival is the best final shot I have ever seen in a film. (Or, okay, maybe it ties with the final shot in This is England, which was also awesome.)
Yes, there are a couple of hiccups in Survival (the pacing of the climax seems strained, and I already mentioned the awkward CGI blood), but overall, this film is very, very strong.
So what’re you waiting for? Go see it!
*(murder, mayhem, zombie killing, etc.)
Active nonracists note the presence of race (and sex, and class, and ethnicity) when they’re dealing with people, but make a point to be respectful of cultural differences. These people marinate in diversity-seminars, sensitivity trainings, and ethnic history months. These people, it sometimes seems to me, are nonracists by drawing attention to race.
Passive nonracists, on the other hand, don’t even notice race. When they learn that someone is white, or black, or Asian, or Hispanic, they assume nothing about the person. They don’t even see race as an issue. (After all, why should it be?)
George Romero, the most famous director of zombie films (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead) falls into this second category. However, because he is praised so frequently for his exemplary creative work, people forget to laud him for his breathtaking lack-of-racistness, in an industry (movies) that plays on race-stereotypes to this day.
Romero cast Night of the Living Dead, his first film, in 1968. You’d think, with all the race-riots, bus boycotts, and political assassinations going on during this time, that he would at least be thinking about the race of his lead actor.
You’d be wrong.
As is well documented, Romero cast an African-American actor, Duane Jones, for the lead role of “Ben” in Night of the Living Dead simply because he came in and gave the best audition. That was all there was to it. He was the best man for the job, so he got it. Romero was so not-racist that he didn’t even see that having a black actor would change the way his film was perceived.
The rest of the country was not as enlightened as he.
Many viewers assumed that Ben’s race was part of the film’s message, and interpreted the film’s conclusion (in which Ben is mistaken for a zombie and shot) as an allegory for lynching. Even the purportedly-progressive New York Times, in its review of the film, described Duane Jones’ character as a “resourceful Negro.”
I can almost see Romero flinching as he read that. Ben wasn’t supposed to be a resourceful Negro, he was supposed to be a resourceful man. The character’s race had nothing to do with the plot of the movie.
Perhaps because of this attention, Romero did tackle the issue of race in many of his subsequent zombie films. However, it gives me faith in humanity that, in 1968, someone had such confidence in the ability of humans to transcend petty issues of racial difference, that he could make Night of the Living Dead.
Final thought: It strikes me, as I write this, that there is no word for the opposite of a racist. “Un-racist?” “Not-racist?” “Unprejudiced?” These all negate racism, but with a negative. Where is the word for someone who does not see race as an issue at all? Maybe the word for that should be “Romero.”
People could use it like:
“Dude, did Bill assume you were good at math just because you’re Asian?”
“No way, man. He’s totally Romero.”