I should preface this rant by saying that I avoided making this article for a few days if only because I am a big Romero fan. I think Night, Dawn and Day of the Dead are brilliant masterpieces that should be analyzed by film students everywhere, while films like “Knight Riders” and “Creepshow” are pretty fantastic in their own right. Hell I’ve even ardently defended Romero at every turn, cheering on his efforts to make a “Resident Evil” movie, “Dead Reckoning,” and I’ve even defended “Land,” “Diary,” and “Survival of the Dead” despite being his lesser movies. But lately I’ve managed to come across an interview with George Romero who has decided to bring the whole house down with him despite someone who has offered films with diminishing returns. And what’s worse is some media outlets are pretty much enabling him.
He goes on to say:
“Now, because of World War Z and ‘The Walking Dead,’ I can’t pitch a modest little zombie film which is meant to be sociopolitical. I used to be able to pitch them on the basis of the zombie action, and I could hide the message inside that. Now you can’t. The moment you mention the word ‘zombie,’ it’s got to be, ‘Hey, Brad Pitt paid $400 million to do that.’”
This coming from the guy whose original script for Day of the Dead was an epic action movie in the vein of Temple of Doom that he HAD to scale down because he was forced to work with a small budget. So he not only goes on to say that he can’t pitch a modest zombie movie but he also can’t squeeze in commentary because “World War Z” made almost a billion dollars at the box office. Forget the fact he’s bad mouthed “The Walking Dead” at every turn.
Not everyone is going to like the show, despite it being a pop culture phenomenon and ratings juggernaut, but he seems to be angry that “The Walking Dead” and sadly even “Z Nation” are reaping the rewards of the ground work that he laid down. He doesn’t mention the plans for his last two films were dumb and that his zombie comic book at Marvel was just dull nonsense, but now he’s outright lying.
Ever since “The Walking Dead” premiered on TV in 2010, there have been dozens of zombie movies released from all corners of the world. Before “The Walking Dead” was even in development at AMC Network, there were a ton of zombie movies from various countries like Russia, Africa and the like. To borrow a page from Film School Rejects, type up “zombie” on IMDB and this is a list of movies that came out before and during the huge success of “The Walking Dead”:
Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, Zombieland, Warm Bodies, ParaNorman, Resident Evil: Retribution, Freaks of Nature, Planet Terror, Maggie, Resident Evil: Afterlife, Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead, Dead Snow, Cockneys vs Zombies, Zombeavers, Cooties, Night of the Living Deb, Pontypool, V/H/S/2, Life After Beth, Dead Rising: Watchtower, Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead, The Walking Deceased, Juan of the Dead, Doghouse, Contracted: Phase II, The Coed and the Zombie Stoner, The Horde, The Dead, Dance of the Dead, The Battery, Pro Wrestlers vs Zombies, Porn Star Zombies, Flight of the Living Dead, A Little Bit Zombie, The Zombie King, Apocalypse Z, Aaah! Zombies!!
And that’s only a portion. IMDB came up with 500 pages of movies featuring zombies made between 2007 and 2015.
There have been animated zombie movies, zombie romances, zombie romantic comedies, zombie porn, zombie erotica, zombie action films, zombie epics, small relationship comedies with zombies, and so much more. Many of these films were modestly budgeted, some of them were indies that found success, and some of them are huge Hollywood films. They’re not all masterpieces, but a lot of them are damn good, have found a cult following, and have also squeezed in huge social and political commentary. “The Dead,” “The Battery,” “Maggie,” “Zombie Honeymoon,” “What We Become,” all modestly budgeted zombie movies of varying quality that also managed to squeeze in social commentary, political commentary, and very engrossing human themes, as well.
Hell, fan favorite “Juan of the Dead” was a foreign made zombie action comedy teeming with political commentary about Cuban rule and living in Fidel Castro’s rule. Hell, I loved “Zombie Honeymoon” for being such a compelling indie about two people facing the rotting of their true love in face of a zombie infection. “The Battery” explores dealing with restlessness in the zombie apocalypse and how you simply can’t ignore reality, often times. In either place, George Romero is wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Many indie filmmakers have found success funding their films with friends, Indiegogo, or kickstarter, and they’ve completely laid down impressive careers for themselves. Hell, I’ve met tons of horror fans that argue that most of these indie zombie films have surpassed latter day Romero zombie films by miles.
“Then, all of a sudden, here came ‘The Walking Dead.’ So you couldn’t make a zombie film that had any sort of substance. It had to be a zombie film with just zombies wreaking havoc. That’s not what I’m about.”
Like it or not, “The Walking Dead” is filled with social commentary and political commentary. The introduction of The Governor in season three, despite being a missed opportunity, was a stark exploration of the cult lifestyle and how the Governor ruled over people as a Jim Jones of the apocalypse.
Hey, good for him for twisting a formula to his benefit and creating three truly stellar horror movies that will live on forever, but blaming others for not being able to make a movie is crap. He’s been hobbled by studios before, but claiming he can’t make a movie? It’s a cop out. Even if he can’t really get a movie funded, how about doing what other filmmakers do? Make a short film that acts as an idea of what Romero has planned and sell it to studios. Or how about calling upon the independent film community for help and partnership? I’d wager there are at least a thousand young men and women with four completed zombie movie screenplays who would travel for miles just to work alongside Romero and his crew for the chance to create a potential horror masterpiece.
It’s just nonsense to say “Gosh darn all these studios want are big budget zombie movies and I can’t get smaller scale ones made,” meanwhile there were dozens of smaller scale zombie movies released over the last five years. Most recently the Australian short indie film “Cargo,” a drama about a man turning in to a zombie trying to deliver his toddler daughter to someone in the zombie apocalypse was announced as being developed in to a feature film starring Martin Freeman. Anyone who’s seen “Cargo,” knows how gut wrenching, beautiful, and unique that the short was, so one can only imagine what the feature film will be like. I love a lot of Romero’s work, but he just sounds bitter and I’m disappointed in him, frankly.
Rather than help the indie community as Wes Craven used to do and as Sam Raimi does, or, you know, just standing back and giving support in more subtle ways like John Carpenter, he just seems to be intent on destroying the flourishing sub-genre. Quit blaming others for your failure and just accept you’re not the only kid on the block anymore. Do the best you can with what you have, and how about implementing modern technology to help fund and conceive the best zombie movie you can. The fans won’t always enable you.