Sense of Wonder: Night of the Living Dead and the Riddle of Racism

Night of the Living Dead Jones and Hardman fighting
Racial subtext? I see no racial subtext!

While posting “Anatomy of a Horror Film: Night of the Living Dead” yesterday, I was struck by something that has occurred to me several times over the years. In case you have not yet read the article (which was originally published in the printed version of Cinefantasitque magazine – Volume 4, Number 1 – back in 1975), it features a round table discussion with Karl Hardman, Russell Streiner, and John Russo, essentially staking a claim to their share of the credit for the 1968 horror masterpiece directed by George Romero. Among other things, they deny any allegorical aspect to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD in regard to the casting of black actor Duane Jones in the lead role of Ben.

[RUSSELL] STREINER: Getting back to the question you asked earlier about allegory in the film. A lot of people have read in some meaning to the casting of Duane Jones, a Negro, playing the male lead in the film. The simple truth of the matter is that he just turned out to be the best person for the part. He would have gotten the part if he were an Oriental or an American Indian or an Eskimo.

Elsewhere in the article, interviewer Gary Anthony Surmacz presses the allegorical issue slightly, asking whether symbolism could have developed on an accidental, unconscious level. Streiner’s reply is: “It could happen but it didn’t happen with this film.”
This has been the party line for decades. No allegory was intended; therefore, none exists, except in the minds of over-imaginative critics. During an appearance at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2001, Romero himself offered a somewhat more flexible variation on this theme. Acknowledging that some unintended thematic content might have emerged in the film, he recalled:

We weren’t actually trying to use NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD as a forum for our socio-political leanings. They simply crept in through the back door. Perhaps there is some back-handed credit due for not shrinking from our views, for letting them show. The lead role of Ben was played by an African-American. This wasn’t a politically motivated choice. Duane Jones was simply the best actor among our friends and acquaintances. Here again, we might deserve some back-handed credit for not changing the script once Duane was cast. The script never defines Ben racially but assumes that he was a white middle-American. It never addressed race at all, anywhere in the story. I take points away from it for that.
During the shooting of our film, I realized that while we were rather proudly ignoring racial differences, we shouldn’t have been, because they existed….

What struck me upon re-reading Anatomy of a Horror Film was that I believe both Streiner and Romero are wrong, although in different ways. What Streiner ignores is that authorial intentions count for only so much; works of art that endure as classics, do so because they are open to audience interpretation, which keeps them fresh from generation to generation. The script for NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD may not have intended any racial statement, and the casting of Duane Jones may have been a color-blind decision on the part of the filmmakers, but when the action plays out on screen, with Jones’ calm black man confronting the hyperventilating hot-head Harry (played by Hardman), the racial animus is palpable – and all the more intense for being unstated.
This brings me to my second point – what I see as Romero’s mistaken belief that NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD should be dinged for not addressing racism openly. Had the film done so, I fear that it would, today, seem hopelessly dated – an interesting artifact of the radical ’60s, but probably not much more than that. By keeping the subtext submerged, Romero and his team – whether by accident or design – created a riddle that the audience must answer for itself. And the very nature of a riddle demands that the answer not be stated. As Jorge Luis Borges puts it in his short story, “The Garden of Forking Paths”:

… “In a guessing game to which the answer is chess, which word is the only one prohibited.” I thought for a moment and then replied:
“The word is chess.”

Whether intentional or not, racism is the answer to the riddle that is NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. The fact that it is not stated openly has made the film more relevant over the ensuing decades, during which racists in our society have learned to cloak their attitudes behind more diplomatic language. For example, President Ronald Reagan never literally said that “welfare queens” were black. More recently, in 2001, when a caller to CNN’s Larry King Live told Senator Jesse Helms that “you should get a Nobel Peace Prize for everything you’ve done to help keep down the niggers,” Helms – a proud segregationist – objected to the word but not to the sentiment, saying, “When I was a little boy, one of the worst spankings I ever got is when I used that word, and I don’t think I’ve used it ever since.”
So, yes, racism is never mentioned in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and Harry never drops the N-bomb (no doubt, his father spanked him when he was young). But that’s the way racism works today, denying its own existence, hiding behind rationalizations – the same way that Harry rationalizes his conflict with Ben, while never admitting the true, underlying nature of his resentment against this black man who is ordering him around.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is far from a perfect film; it is loaded with technical problems (jump-cuts, continuity lapses). Nevertheless, it is a masterpiece. Its greatness as a genre piece lies in its uncompromising depiction of believable, documentary-style of horror; its greatness as a piece of cinema lies in the unstated subtext that allows viewers to make their own interpretations.
You may not agree with my interpretation of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, but that elasticity is what keeps the film alive today. As Dario Argento said to me, “When you watch a movie, you understand your truth. It’s not my truth maybe, but your truth is okay.”
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD will be “okay” for generations to come, because it leaves room for us to find our own unstated truths.

CFQ Black Hole Ultra Lounge Podcast 2:15.3

ROCHRF-00001237-001 retouch
It’s time for another trip into the depths of the Black Hole – the Black Hole Ultra Lounge Podcast, that is, this time brought to you with all the excitement of D-Box motion simulation. So strap yourself in and get ready for a bumpy ride as Dan Persons, Lawrence French, and Steve Biodrowski ruminate on the philosophical questions plaguing sophisticated aficionados of horror, fantasy, and science fiction cinema. To wit: How high a batting average does a genre filmmaker need to maintain in order to be considered a power hitter? Are the twin titanic terrors of of type-casting and sequels to blame for career slumps of otherwise stellar talents? Is the D-Box motion-simulator chair the only way to truly enjoy INCEPTION? Does the premise of J.J. Abrams’ SUPER-8 (kids filming a movie encounter real-life monsters) suggest a pint-sized version of George A. Romero’s DIARY OF THE DEAD?


Oh What a ‘Night’: Looking Back at the ‘Living Dead’

"They're coming to bookstores, Barbara!"
"They're coming to bookstores, Barbara!"

Just in time for the pre-Halloween gift-giving crush comes this breezily entertaining yet critically informative tome on the evolution, production, and aftermath of 1968’s seminal horror film, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.

Joe Kane, a.k.a. The Phantom of the Movies, has been covering the exploitation and B-movie scene for thirty-plus years. As editor of the tabloid The Monster Times from 1972 to its premature demise in 1976, he oversaw coverage of a slew of genre flicks, as well as running a 1974 presidential campaign for the King of the Monsters himself, Godzilla (who better to replace the reptilian Richard M. Nixon, even if it wasn’t an election year?). Since 1984, he’s been writing as The Phantom of the Movies, a hip, streetwise counterpart to trailer parkdom’s drive-in guru, Joe Bob Briggs. Whether covering the demise of NYC’s Forty-second Street grind houses for the New York Daily News or the inexorable rise of the home video marketplace for The Washington Post — in addition to editing and publishing his own quarterly film magazine, VideoScope — Kane’s credentials for the task are indisputable, while his passion for the subject is undeniable.

In his foreword, writer/director Craven (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, SCREAM) credits NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD as having “liberated me to make LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, because I knew that after [NOTLD] there was a whole new kind of film blossoming in American cinema.” As Kane points out, film zombies were still mired in the voodoo traditions of 1932’s WHITE ZOMBIE before NOTLD, although 1943 became a banner year with the release of REVENGE OF THE ZOMBIES and THE MAD GHOUL. It wasn’t until 1964’s gritty, Italian-lensed THE LAST MAN ON EARTH and Hammer Studios’ period-piece THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES that we see the true cinematic forefathers of director George A. Romero’s re-animated flesh-eaters.
Through interviews with the primary participants (some posthumously culled from previously printed sources), Kane recalls the struggles of Pittsburgh, PA-based The Latent Image, Inc., a commercial/industrial film production house, to come up with a viable concept for a feature film they could shoot on a shoestring budget — actually, more like a penny-candy budget! After rejecting a science-fiction comedy about “‘hot-rodding’ aliens” and their BLOB-like pet coming to Earth for some highjinks, Latent Image partner John A. Russo concocted an outline that combined elements of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) and, oddly enough, 1953’s LITTLE FUGITIVE. After discussing the idea of “ghoulish people or alien creatures … feeding off human corpses,” Romero, another partner at Latent Image, came up with forty pages of story that was basically the first half of what would become NOTLD’s plot. Once the story was in place (Russo would complete the screenplay), the major hurdle of actually making their first full-length feature loomed large. Casting friends as well as professionals, a significant shift in the film’s ultimate tone and focus occurred once African-American actor Duane Jones was cast as lead character Ben, a role originally written as a redneck trucker.
While the making-of section contains much that’s been previously revealed through various print and video sources over the four decades since NOTLD’s release, it’s the aftermath of production where the story gets truly complex. Changing the title from “Night of the Flesh Eaters,” distributor Continental Releasing (a division of the esteemed Walter Reade Organization) cost the original investors their copyright of the film. Then, Continental reneged on royalty payments, and lawsuits ensued until Walter Reade Organization finally went bankrupt. Once the film’s copyright was restored to the producers, however, they had no money to pursue legal action against the many infringers.
Meanwhile, the original cast and crew drifted apart, with Romero rising to the top of the notoriety pool. Kane chronicles his post-NOTLD career with efforts such as THERE’S ALWAYS VANILLA and JACK’S WIFE (both 1972), then his return to the horror genre with THE CRAZIES (1973) and the modern vampire tale MARTIN (1977). He eventually returned to the world of flesh-feasters with 1979’s DAWN OF THE DEAD and 1985’s DAY OF THE DEAD, in addition to such varied genre-related projects as KNIGHTRIDERS (1981), CREEPSHOW (1982), MONKEY SHINES (1988), TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE (both the 1984-88 television series and the 1990 film), TWO EVIL EYES (1991), THE DARK HALF (1993), and BRUISER (2000). After twenty years, Romero revisited his ghoul-friends with his first studio-bankrolled zombie epic, 2005’s LAND OF THE DEAD, which served as a finale to his original DEAD cycle. Two years later, he returned to his low-budget roots with DIARY OF THE DEAD (2007), which rebooted the zombie plague and spawned the first-ever direct Romero/zombies sequel, SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD (2010). Kane also briefly spans the period in Romero’s career where he became a victim of numerous unrealized projects, such as an adaptation of Whitley Streiber’s novel UNHOLY FIRE, and remakes of both THE INNOCENTS and THE MUMMY (which Universal eventually assigned to Stephen Sommers), as well as the first film version of the NOTLD-inspired videogame RESIDENT EVIL. (After shooting a wildly acclaimed 30-second, live-action spot for the game RESIDENT EVIL 2, shown only in Japan, Romero was tasked to adapt the game to a feature, but the producers were unhappy with his script and the project went to EVENT HORIZON director Paul W.S. Anderson.)

Kane examines the various LIVING DEAD spin-offs, beginning with 1985’s RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. Romero and Russo struck a deal, whereupon Russo could use the LIVING DEAD title as long as any projects weren’t promoted as direct sequels to the original NOTLD. However, Russo’s script for RETURN was exactly that, and it was a project he hoped to direct himself. After languishing for several years, Russo turned the screenplay into a novel, then sold the project to producer Tom Fox, and it wound up at Orion Pictures. ALIEN scripter Dan O’Bannon (DARK STAR) drastically rewrote the film into a dark, twisted comedy, and ended up replacing TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE auteur Tobe Hooper as director. The film’s punk rock-influenced cast and soundtrack gave it a lively twist, but its release at the same time as Romero’s own DAY OF THE DEAD overshadowed that project. RETURN was constantly being misidentified as Romero’s work during its initial release! RETURN spawned a bevy of sequels, of which only 1993’s RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 3 (directed by BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR’s Brian Yuzna), is worth a viewing. Russo and the other Latent Image partners were joined by Romero for the ill-advised 1990 remake of NOTLD, scripted by Romero and directed by DAWN and DAY’s make-up effects maestro, Tom Savini. Although a larger budget and a genre-savvy cast made for some solid production values, it was ultimately a letdown for both fans and the investors. Changes made to the plot seemed perfunctory at best, such as Barbara’s (Patricia Tallman) transformation into a Sigourney Weaveresque tough chick. It smacked of exactly what it was: an effort by the original investors to finally turn a buck. Even more desperate (and despicable) was the so-called NOTLD: THIRTIETH ANNIVERSARY EDITION, released direct to home video by Anchor Bay Entertainment. “Inspired” by George Lucas’ successful twentieth anniversary re-releases of the original STAR WARS trilogy with enhanced special effects and added scenes as “Special Editions,” Russo, Karl Hardman (“Harry Cooper”), Bill Hinzman (“Cemetery Zombie”), and Russ Streiner lensed new sequences, re-edited the film, and added a new synth-rock score that was already a decade outdated. Romero, at the time hip deep in RESIDENT EVIL scripting, wisely avoided the project. It was instantly decried by fans and critics alike.

Throughout the volume, Kane scatters recollections on NOTLD by such genre luminaries as Peter Jackson (DEAD ALIVE), Danny Boyle (28 DAYS LATER), Lloyd Kaufman (THE TOXIC AVENGER), William Lustig (MANIAC), Allan Arkush (ROCK’N’ROLL HIGH SCHOOL), and Frank Hennenlotter (BASKET CASE). Also examined are spoofs such as NIGHT OF THE CREEPS (1988) and SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004), as well as the Romero-less remakes/sequels DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004), DAWN OF THE DEAD 2: CONTAGIUM (2005), DAY OF THE DEAD (2008), and the non-sanctioned NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 3D (2007). The upcoming NOTLD: ORIGINS (2011) sounds utterly yawn-inspiring.

Illustrated only with b/w photos, the book includes Russo’s complete NOTLD screenplay (with red-necked dialogue for the “Truckdriver” character that became Duane Jones’ more refined “Ben”). Kane’s writing style is conversational, so you never feel lectured at while he tells the tortured tales of the film’s four-decade odyssey. My own experience with it began with a 1980 screening of DAWN OF THE DEAD at Cambridge, MA’s Orson Welles Cinema, where beer-fueled Harvard frat boys chowed down on ketchup-drenched KFC during all the zombie-feasting sequences, then tossed the denuded chicken bones at the screen! Fortunately, a Harvard Square Cinema showing of NOTLD soon followed, making me a member of the DEAD-head ranks forever after. It’s an interesting, generational divide, as Jackson and Boyle both point out their own zombie epics were more influenced by DAWN than NOTLD. DAWN was the over-the-top, kick-in-the-nuts that then drove you to seek out the more subtle, sucker-punch-to-the-gut that was NOTLD. Twenty years from now, it would be interesting to see what the filmmakers whose first exposure to the living dead is 2004’s DAWN remake or Romero’s DIARY will be inspired to unleash upon us.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: BEHIND THE SCENES OF THE MOST TERRIFYING ZOMBIE MOVIE EVER, by Joe Kane, foreword by Wes Craven. Citadel Press, New York, NY. August 31, 2010. 316 pp. $16.95.

George Romero answers 10 questions at Time magazine

Director George A Romero
Director George A Romero

Time magazine has posted “10 Questions for George Romero,” in which the writer-director of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) and the recent follow-up SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD responds to queries from his fans. Romero expresses admiration for Guillermo Del Tor’s PAN’S LABYRINTH, reveals that Howard Hawks’ THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD scared him, and mentions that he has a non-genre film in the works (if he can get financing) but also says that he would like to make more films in the DEAD series.
His most interesting exchange:

Do zombies have an expiration date?Zachary Williams, BURNABY, B.C.
I hope that my guys don’t have an expiration date. My zombies will never take over the world because I need the humans. The humans are the ones I dislike the most, and they’re where the trouble really lies. The zombies are just [swats at the air] mosquitoes.


Shrek Forever After & Survival of the Dead: The Cinefantastique Podcast 1:15


This week, the Cinefantastique Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction Podcast scrutinizes a pair of sequels that seem to have nothing in common: SHREK FOREVER AFTER, the latest family-friend CGI fantasy from DreamWorks Animation; and SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, the latest horrifying episode in George A. Romero’s on-going zombie apocalypse, which began way back in 1968 with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. What’s the connection? Although each film has their worthwhile moments, both raise the question of whether their franchises are tapped out and in need of a hiatus to recharge their batteries. Also on the menu: a round-up of recent news, a preview of the week’s home video releases, including TRUE BLOOD: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON and THE ROAD; and listener mail.


SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD and MICMACS: Horror/Fantasy Interview Podcast

Y’know, people probably shouldn’t be this gleeful about issues of mortality, but in the cases of the movies being discussed in this episode, we’re kinda glad they are. This episode features interviews with Jean-Pierre Jeunet and George A. Romero, both of whom have previously addressed matters of life-and-death in their own, unique ways, and have decided that there’s still more sport to be had from the subject.

Twisted Love: Dany Boon (left) and Julie Ferrier meet peculiar in MICMACS.
Twisted Love: Dany Boon (left) and Julie Ferrier meet peculiar in MICMACS.

In MICMACS, Jeunet gives us a cockeyed protagonist in the person of Bazil (Dany Boon), a man who quite by chance winds up at the precipice of the eternal when a stray bullet gets lodged in his brain. This makes him not so charitably inclined towards the manufacturer of said bullet, a matter only exacerbated when he discovers that the land mine that killed his father in the Middle East was created by a neighboring company. His only recourse: Take down both corporations, with the help of a ragtag assortment of unusually talented junkyard misfits. For such a dire theme, the film turns out to be quite a lighthearted adventure, with Jeunet deploying all his powers of visual invention into the narrative, while also making copious nods to film history, particularly to the works of silent comedians and Sergio Leone.

Home on Deranged (Sorry): Joris Jarsky (left) wrangles Kathleen Munroe in SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD.
Home on Deranged (Sorry): Joris Jarsky (left) wrangles Kathleen Munroe in SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD.

George Romero is also taking a few pages from cinema history, most specifically from classic westerns. In SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, the group of renegade guardsmen we met in DIARY OF THE DEAD — led by Alan Van Sprang — decides they’ve had enough of zombies, and aim themselves for a respite on an island off the coast of Delaware. Problem is: Not only is the place already infested with the walking dead, but they’ve become a rather peculiar stake in a kind-of range war between waged between two feuding clans. As always, Romero mixes zombie assaults with some particularly vivid death scenes — for both living and dead — along with some trenchant observations of our current, fractious times. Turns out the departed still have something to say to their survivors, and it has nothing to do with moving into the light.

Click on the player to hear the show.


Romero to Remake Argento’s Deep Red

Director George A Romero
Director George A Romero

It seems as though George A Romero (NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, MARTIN) is letting the dead rest in pieces, at least for a short while. Variety are reporting that he’s set to remake Dario Argento’s (SUSPIRIA, TENEBRAE) 1975 Italian horror film, DEEP RED. The film is also, drum roll please, set to be shot in 3D.

The original DEEP RED is a  classic in the giallo horror sub-genre, about a pianist (of all people) who is investigating a serial killer, only to find that the maniac is seemingly one step ahead of his every move. This will of course not be the first time Argento and Romero have been connected: Argento helped produce Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978), and each of htem wrote and directed one episode of the two-part horror anthology TWO EVIL EYES. Argento’s brother, Claudio, is currently writing the script.
Romero’s decision to temporarily ditch his walking dead friends is no surprise as he usually takes a few years out of each ‘OF THE DEAD’ entry to focus on other projects. Hopefully the change of tact will reinvigorate the director as his last two films, DIARY OF THE DEAD and SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD were woefully bad, and he’ll do justice to the original film.
Romero is said to be deep into negotiations to direct the remake, with a plan to start shooting in Canada later this year.

Survival of the Dead (2010)

Survival of the Dead (2009)George A. Romero’s latest excursion into the land of the living dead is reminiscent of the 1990 version of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (which he wrote but did not direct): like that remake, SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD is a reasonably entertaining variation on a familiar theme, although it is lacks the inspiration that would make it stand as an original in its own right. Instead, it’s the same old formula, with the usual Romero twists: once again, the walking dead are the catalyst for human conflict; the focus is as much on the drama as the horror; the genre elements are used to express broadly stated social critique. These conceptual elements make SURVIVAL more than just another zombie movie, but the execution could use some kind of original vision to distinguish the film from its predecessors. Unlike the recent DIARY OF THE DEAD, whose back-to-basics approach (after the larger scale LAND OF THE DEAD) reinvigorated Romero, providing a fresh take on the old material, SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD evinces only anonymous professionalism; although the story traffics in the film-maker’s recognizable themes (mankind’s self-destructive impulses, the tribalism that prevents cooperation in the face of impending mutal doom), the execution gives the impression that any competent director could have been behind the camera.
The story follows a rogue military unit, briefly glimpsed in DIARY, whose search for a safe refuge leads them to an isolated island off the East Coast. Unfortunately, they stumble into the middle of a feud between rival patriarchs: one wants to clear the island of the living dead menace; the other wants to find a way to preserve the dearly departed, in the hope that someday someone will find a cure.

It's cowboys and zombies, pardner!
It's cowboys and zombies, pardner!

Romero makes a laudable attempt to add a few new ingredients to the mix, but that’s not quite enough to prevent the result from feeling watered down. With the rival families coming across like a modern version of the Earps and the Clantons (they even ride horses), SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD deliberately suggests a Western, and the tactic of inserting outsiders into this conflict is a good one, upsetting the balance of power and precipitating a crisis.
Unfortunately, these new elements do not always serve the subject matter well. Romero is revisiting themes from DAY OF THE DEAD (which focused on finding a way to feed the dead, so that they would not eat the living), but he is not really expanding upon the old ideas, just repeating them in a new context. The idea worked when the experimentors were scientists (who could offer theories about what they were doing), but the characters in SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD are just laymen with no expertise on the subject. Consequently, the opportunity to explore the theme is severely blunted. In fact, at times it feels labored.
For all this good intentions, Romero stoops to some weak plot devices, such as the old identical twin ploy, which is played so half-heartedly you wonder why he even bothered. Even worse, he gets lazy with his climactic twist, which [SPOILER ALERT] echoes the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), wherein the obnoxious Mr. Cooper (who is set up as the movie’s antagonist) was in the end proved right. This sort of irony is perhaps too delicious to resist revisiting, but its reprise here is poorly thought out. A dead equestrian (who has been mindlessly riding her horse for days if not weeks) is captured and put into a corral with the horse, and after about five minutes she decides to eat it. Why now? Why not during all that time she was riding it? At least DAY OF THE DEAD suggested that Dr. Logan was using behavior modification techniques to train his star pupil; here, it just happens. [END SPOILER]
As in DIARY OF THE DEAD, Romero replaces most of the old practical gore effects with computer-generated imagery (a decision motivated by budget concerns, not artistic ones). The results are not unduly horrible by low-budget standards, but they are immediately recognizable; at least the quicker ones go by too fast to dwell on the digital origins. In general, the result is that the horrific impact of SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD is less pronounced than that of Romero’s earlier efforts, although there are still a few good gruesome moments featuring old-fashioned prosthetics.
The cast – sometimes is a weakness in Romero’s films – is strong, particularly Stefano DiMatteo, who takes what could have been a one-note stereotype and makes him the most sympathetic of the lot. Alan Van Sprang carries off the lead role well enough, although one wishes that the script had more carefully charted his character’s progress from the ruthless thief scene in DIARY to the sympathetic comrade revealed here. (Romero has always tried to people his films with characters who are more than mere walking victims, even if their personalities were sometimes broadly defined.) The casual inclusion of a lesbian among the military unit (without the sniggering seen in most exploitation horror films) is a nice touch. q
A family patriarch fends off the walking dead.
A family patriarch fends off the walking dead.

More than George A. Romero’s previous sequels, SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD simply suffers from the law of diminishing returns. Back in their glory days, the films  benefitted from being spaced out over years if not decades, providing time for the cultural context to change and for Romero to recharge his batteries, coming back to the franchise with a maturing vision and improved expertise as a filmmaker. However, since 2005 he has made three more “of the Dead” films (LAND OF THE DEAD, DIARY OF THE DEAD, and now SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD), and it may just be too much to expect that any filmmaker has that much to say on such a narrow topic. Romero would like to do other things, and if film financiers are not comfortable handing him a musical comedy, they should at least give him an opportunity to explore other areas of the horror genre. Then, maybe sometime around 2019, he could come back and blow us away with “Return of the Dead.”


LAND OF THE DEAD (2005) concluded with a small paramilitary team hitting the road in an armored vehicle known as Dead Reckoning, in search of a safe refuge; the ending clearly suggested a sequel; however, in 2007 Romero made DIARY OF THE DEAD, which rebooted the franchise instead of following directly from its predecessor. SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD is presented as a direct sequel to DIARY (it is the first of Romero’s DEAD films to feature a returning character), yet it feels like a spiritual sequel to LAND, in that its rogue military unit takes possession of a heavily armored vehicle, then sets out on the road in search of a safe refuge. LAND also featured an isolated society broken down into warring factions, including an Irish spokesman for the oppressed – ideas and characters that are echoes in SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD.
In the U.S., SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD made its national premiere via Pay Per View on April 30. A limited theatrical release will follow on May 28.

The dead walk - again!
The dead walk - again!

SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD (Copyright: 2009; VOD Release: April 30, 2010; Theatrical Release: May, 28, 2010). Written and directed by George A. Romero. Cast: Alan Van Sprang, Kenneth Welsh, Kathleen Munroe, Devon Bostick, Richard Fitzpatrick, Athena Karkanis, Stefano DiMatteo, Joris Jarsky, Eric Woolfe, Julian Richings, Wayne Robson, Joshua Peace, Hardee T. Lineham.

Sense of Wonder: Shameless Plug for Survival of the Dead VOD

Click here to rent

Just wanted to remind everyone: the theatrical release of George A. Romero’s SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD is nearly a month away, but the film is now available for “pre-theatrical rental,” courtesy of’s Video on Demand service. For $9.99, you can get access to the film for 48 hours, either on your computer screen or on your television (if you have a Roku box or other similar device).
If you’re nice enough to rent the film by clicking through from the Cinefantastique Online Store, then we get a few pennies to help keep us in business. And you all want that, don’t you?

Survival of the Dead red band trailer

IGN has posted a new red band trailer for George A. Romero’s SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD. The film, a sequel to DIARY OF THE DEAD, will makes its Video on Demand debut on April 30, followed by a platform theatrical release in May. The story is set on a small North American island, where the population fends off the living dead while searching for a cure that will restore the zombies to their former selves.