Monday, August 27, 2007

a Sneak Peek at George A. Romero's ''Diary of the Dead''

In keeping with the Internet's promise to bring the public information as quickly as possible, no matter how inaccurate or trivial, I am going to file an early report about George A. Romero's forthcoming zombie epic Diary of the Dead.

Last night, my lovely wife and I travelled to downtown Toronto to see an interactive interview with George A. Romero organized by the Rue Morgue Festival of Fear. The night included a nice documentary about Romero by Rusty Nails, detailing his rise from Pittsburgh student at Carnegie Mellon, to working filmmaker on commercials and news shoots, to independent filmmaker, starting with the brilliant Night of the Living Dead in 1968. The success of Night of the Living Dead in the years in which the MPAA was just beginning its reign of terror (incredibly, Stephen King talks in the documentary about seeing the film at a kiddie matinee!) was not repeated by Romero's next few films, There's Always Vanilla (1971), Season of the Witch (1972), The Crazies (1973), or Martin (1977). Those films are good, mind you, but the distribution sucked. Nevertheless, by the mid-70s, Romero was gaining recognition as an intelligent, skilled filmmaker.

In 1978, Romero returned to the world of the non-living with Dawn of the Dead, an adventurous horror film that also manages to satirize mass consumerism. Since then, Romero has made an adventure film (Knightriders(1981)), and various horror films (Creepshow (1982), Two Evil Eyes (1990), The Dark Half (1993), Monkeyshines (1988), etc.) But, he is most associated with the living dead films, which also include the bleak 1985 film Day of the Dead and 2005's Land of the Dead. It's strange to think that zombies in horror movies used to live in Haiti and get revived by voodoo. Romero basically created the zombie world that you see in countless horror movies, in which the planet has been overrun by infectious walking corpses. This year, he is returning to the world he created with Diary of the Dead.

The event was populated by the fans like myself who think that Romero is one of the great American filmmakers, and it resembled nothing so much as a very freaky love-in. Romero was surrounded by his devotees and admirers- the king of the ghoulmongers on his throne. I can't be the first to point out that there are few better ways to spend one's 'golden years'.

And besides, Romero has seemingly no intention whatsoever of retiring. Diary of the Dead will be premiering in a few weeks at the Toronto International Film Festival and will then be released theatrically in Europe. As of now, there are no release plans for North America, so horror fans might want to move to Europe, or, less drastically, see the film in Toronto if they can.

Two clips were shown from the film, which is shot in the style of a first-person document of the original outbreak of the zombie plague. Given that Night of the Living Dead took place in 1968, and this film starts things all over in 2007, one might wonder if Diary of the Dead will be part of Romero's original series, or something new, or just what the heck is going on. Also, reports have it that the film will comment on the new ''citizen media'' such as blogs and how they have transformed the role of the media- none of which sounds like particularly nail-biting horror material.

Luckily, the clips made sense of where Romero is going with this and cleared up some of my misgivings. In clip 1, we see the main characters, who are a group of students and actors shooting a horror film in the woods, as they start receiving reports over the radio that the dead are returning to life. From the characters' argument in the scene, it seems that Romero is going for the sense of confusion that has characterized disaster scenarios like Katrina in recent years. Nobody knows exactly what's going on or what information they should trust. The subjective filming style heightens the tension by putting the audience in the midst of a life or death situation. While the first clip played a bit like cable access television at first, by the end, it was possible to see how this could be a truly scary film.

The second clip featured the heroes storming an abandoned hospital, looking for help. They come upon a zombie doctor and a zombie nurse who they dispatch gorily. The audience cheered when the zombie nurse was killed with a defibrillator charge to the head, and the style of the scene was also fairly exciting. I think this first-person shooting style is going to work well in the movie and my interest in the project was definitely piqued by the clips.

Afterwards, there was a great discussion with Romero and Stuart Andrews that covered all sorts of things that the fans would want to know. Andrews did a great job researching for that- instead of the usual ''what's it like making scary movies?'' questions that Romero gets in mainstream outlets, he was asking questions that I wanted to know about, such as whatever happened to Richard Rubenstein? Lastly, there was time for a few questions from the fans.

Overall, it was a fun night out and we're dying to see the new film. So to speak.

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