Film

George A Romero: “The Walking Dead is a soap opera with occasional zombies"

The horror icon on why zombies are trending... and why he's working on "a whole new fiction"

Zombies are more popular than ever. Will their appeal ever die?
Not in my book! Once they bleed out of pop culture I’ll be able to go back and do them again. I don’t want to touch them now. Gosh, they are all over the place. The Walking Dead is the number one television series in the States, World War Z, games, commercials… Ugh! It’s too much!

Being the father of zombies how do you feel about that?
It feels like I don’t have a horse in the race. They asked me to do a couple of episodes of The Walking Dead but I didn’t want to be a part of it. Basically it’s just a soap opera with a zombie occasionally. I always used the zombie as a character for satire or a political criticism and I find that missing in what’s happening now.

The Walking Dead cast

In Night of the Living Dead, what did you want zombies to represent: Vietnam, racial tension, the threat of communism…?
A lot has been said about that. I think the zombies could be anything. They could be a hurricane or a tornado. It’s not about the zombies. The important thing to me is the way the people react to this horrible situation, misbehave, make mistakes and screw themselves up.

Do zombies remain popular because they can be used to represent anything?
That’s certainly been the appeal to me. I can hang anything on them. But lasting appeal? I have no idea why they became so big. Zombies have become a huge business, an economic engine – that’s what can’t be stopped. They’re hot. As they say, zombies are trending.

The idea of trending is about everyone being obsessed by the same things and acting the same way. Have we all become zombies?
Maybe! I’ve often played around with that. I resisted making a follow-up to Night for a long time because people were talking so admiringly about it and calling it an important statement film and things I never intended. I knew I was going to have to have an idea that would stand up under scrutiny and when I saw the very first indoor shopping mall in Pennsylvania – I’d never seen anything like it – it looked like a temple to consumerism and I knew I could satirise this. The humans in Dawn of the Dead have everything they could want but end up sitting around, just as inert as a zombie. They’re just as dead.

They are even more dead. Zombies always keep busy walking around and eating people.
I don’t know, do zombies sleep?

I resisted making a follow-up to Night for a long time because people were talking so admiringly about it

They don’t sit around watching TV like most of us.
They might. I could see a zombie becoming fascinated with Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Should zombies be able to run?
I guess Zack Snyder started that with the remake of Dawn of the Dead – fast-moving zombies, but the zombies in World War Z, my God, they’re like army ants! But in all the adverts here they never called it a zombie film.

You didn’t call the creatures in Night of the Living Dead zombies either.
No, never did. I never thought they were zombies. To me back then, zombies were those voodoo guys who were given some sort of blowfish cocktail and became slaves. And they weren’t dead so I thought I was doing a brand new thing by raising the dead. Not that the dead haven’t been risen before…

Night of the Living Dead

When did that happen?
It goes back to Jesus, doesn’t it?

If Jesus was the first zombie, how have they evolved in 2013?
I wouldn’t want to do a zombie film now. I’m taking a step away. Empire of the Dead is a whole new fiction I’m working on with Marvel comics involving zombies and vampires together, fighting for the same food source.

I don’t think the industry is recession proof but people spend their money on frivolous things

What would happen if a vampire bit a zombie? Would the vampire become a zombie or would the zombie become a vampire?
First of all a vampire would never bite a zombie because they’re dead. And they’re not stupid. A vampire might get mistakenly bitten by a zombie, however this is one thing no one seems to get – it’s not the bite that does it. In my mythology everyone who dies becomes a zombie. So even if a vampire was to get stabbed in the heart it would come back. As long as its brain was intact, of course.

Is the recession good for the horror genre?
I don’t think the industry is recession proof but people spend their money on frivolous things. All forms of entertainment benefit from the recession because people need to get their minds off it and cinema is a relatively inexpensive entertainment.

The audience for horror is generally quite young. How do you remain focussed on them even though you yourself may be getting older?
Hell yeah no maybe about it! Every horror writer is a child at heart, still trying to figure out what scares them, why they’re scared of something that might be under the bed.

What scares you?
Life.

George A Romero is appearing at London’s Southbank on November 8 during BFI’s Gothic season 

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