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Q&A – George Romero on Survival of the Dead, The Walking Dead and a Zombie Renaissance

Vampires aren’t the only undead getting new life: Don’t look now, but zombies are gaining ground. They’re starring in commercials and filling up book racks (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) and theaters (Survival of the Dead) and television of course (The Walking Dead). What does Romero himself make of it all?

Q: Do you think there’s a zombie renaissance right now? And what do you attribute it to?

A: It’s not movies. There’s never been a huge zombie movie until Zombieland, so it must be video games. That’s what I think. For some reason, my stuff has a shelf life, but why beats the shit out of me. Maybe because my movies are actually talking about something.

Q: Or because your Dead series is more about the people than the zombies.

A: Yeah, and how society doesn’t listen to anything. People are not learning. We haven’t learned squat. We’re still fighting homosexuality and abortion. Give me a break. I thought we were past that. So it’s about how they have this disaster — it’s zombies, but it could be a hurricane, it could be anything, zombies are just more fun — and the response, or nonresponse, or stupid response. People are still shooting at each other, instead of addressing the problems. That’s the most fun for me, making fun of that. People ask, “Could the zombies take over?” Not in my world, because I need people. I can’t really make fun of zombies. They’re not liars. They’re not cheats. We sit around and bullshit about it, but they’re us in an altered state. Maybe not so altered.

Q: So how do you survive a zombie?

A: The whole point is you can easily get away. They’re easy to run away from; they’re easy to kill; they’re easy to handle. If you’re in a real bind, a tank is the best thing. Get a tank with a big gun. Close it up, and make sure you’ve got some canned goods in there. But people screw themselves up. But what I need to tell you first of all is it’s probably not going to happen. Max Brooks [author of The Zombie Survival Guide] and I debate this all the time. [Laughs] He’s great, but I keep saying, “Max, chill — it ain’t going to happen. An asteroid will hit before there’s a zombie apocalypse!” He’s taken the approach that it could be real, and my stuff is pure fantasy. It’s meant to be allegorical, metaphorical.

Q: So if the metaphor is about humanity making the wrong moves, what changes when it involves animals, like in Pet Sematary?

A: Wouldn’t that be a fun one to explore more? Maybe I’m getting to that [metaphor], if I get to make another one or two of these. It’s more of a question of “What if?,” because it’s fun dreaming up where this could go. When I did Night of the Living Dead, I wasn’t thinking of the rules, so they’re eating insects. So forget the first film. No rules in the first film. So it is a big step that a zombie can learn to eat a horse, instead. But her just riding the horse — that’s cognitive memory, in my mind. I threw in this thing where the guy starts his car, but he’s just crashing it, almost to justify the fact that Jane is still riding a horse once she’s dead.

Q: Survival of the Dead borrows a character from Diary of the Dead. Are we going to see other characters become major players in their own films? Would Tracy be next?
A: Yes, if she lives! [Laughs] I’d like to use the looters, too. We can go any which way but loose. What I’d love to do, which I’ve never been able to do, is cross collateralize, where you have characters reappear. Stephen King has this town of Castle Rock, and you get to know everybody — who the coroner is — and it’s great fun, when you’re creating a mythology, to have these little reference points. I don’t live for this, but I hope it happens where I get to play around with a semi-saga kind of thing.

Q: You used Charlie Adlard — who does the art for The Walking Dead books — for one of your posters for this film. What do you think of The Walking Dead?

A: I love it. I think it’s the best thing, the best zombie thing out there. It has been for a long time. I’ve always loved it.

Q: Did you pick up on all the Dead references in the comic books? There are some characters named after actors you’ve used, like Duane Jones.

A: Wow, I didn’t realize that. I never noticed it. How did I miss that? No one’s ever mentioned it to me before. Now I know I got to go back and reread them.

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