Sunday, July 25, 2010

May 26, 2010: 20 Things You May Not Have Known About George Romero

This Friday, George A. Romero unleashes Survival of the Dead, the sixth installment in his beloved “Living Dead” film series. Romero not only spearheaded the zombie craze that continues to rage but also made the greatest films in the genre (save one priceless exception by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg) with his original trilogy of Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead. Of course, there’s a lot more to Romero than reanimated corpses that snack on entrails. Here are 20 Things You May Not Know About George Romero

1. While making one of his first eight-millimeter films, The Man from the Meteor, 14-year-old George Romero was arrested for tossing a flaming dummy off a roof. His parents bailed him out… then sent him off to a Connecticut prep school where he continued to make low-budget movies.

2. Before he had even turned 20, Romero took a less-than prestigious position as a grip on a tremendously prestigious film: Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest.

3. The first commercial film George Romero made was the short “Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy” for the children’s program “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood”. Romero has jokingly called it “possibly the scariest movie I’ve ever made.”

4. Judy O’Dea was not Romero’s first choice to play the starring part of Barbara in Night of the Living Dead. Betty Aberlin—Lady Aberlin of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood”—was Romero’s original selection, but Rogers would not allow one his own cast members to act in a horror film!

5. George Romero originally targeted his friend Tom Savini to do make-up on Night of the Living Dead, but the budding effects wiz was shipped off to Vietnam to serve as a combat photographer instead. Savini’s gruesome experiences in Vietnam, including the time he almost stepped on a disembodied human arm, influenced his work heavily on Dawn of the Dead a decade later.

6. Romero shot the siege that concludes Night of the Living Dead with a shaky, handheld camera to mimic evening news reports from violence-ridden locales like Vietnam and Watts.

7. While Romero can take credit for much of what makes Night of the Living Dead the most memorable zombie movie ever made—having directed, co-written, edited, and shot the film—there is one thing for which he was not responsible: the oft-quoted line “They’re dead; they’re all messed up” was ad-libbed by actor George Kosana.

8. Following a screening of Night of the Living Dead for possible distribution by American International Pictures (AIP), execs from the famed purveyor of B-movies told Romero they’d pick up the film if he shot a new “upbeat” ending. Wisely, Romero refused.

9. In his introduction to John Russo’s novelization of Night of the Living Dead, Romero explained that the film’s campy dialogue was consciously patterned after the clichéd ghastly gasps common in E.C. horror comics such as Tales from the Crypt and The Haunt of Fear. Romero paid even more explicit homage to E.C. with his later film, Creepshow.

10. Having established himself as a horror heavy hitter with Night of the Living Dead and The Crazies, Romero branched out to direct a TV documentary about football star O.J. Simpson called “Juice is on the Loose” in 1974. Of course, the underlying horrific nature of this ostensible sports doc would not be apparent until two decades later…

11. Romero edited his cult-favorite vampire flick Martin down to 95 minutes from an original cut lasting close to three hours. While he says a print of the three-hour version did exist, it has long since been lost. The novelization by Romero and Susanna Sparrow covers the excised material from the film.

12. Romero’s original cut of Dawn of the Dead had Peter and Fran, the two characters who ultimately survived the released version, committing suicide right before the closing credits. Fran was to kill herself with the helicopter propeller-blade, much like the most famous zombie death in the film.

13. While Day of the Dead, the third installment of Romero’s original “Living Dead” trilogy is not as acclaimed as its two predecessors, the filmmaker has said that the film has become his favorite in the series. His favorite film in his overall body of work is Martin.

14. Romero has worked in connection with horror giant Stephen King on several occasions, including his adaptation of King’s novel The Dark Half and Creepshow, which was scripted by and co-starred King. However, a couple of King-related projects never made it past the drawing board, including Romero-helmed versions of King’s novels Salem’s Lot and The Stand. Both projects were eventually born as TV miniseries by other directors.

15. Romero is notoriously critical of his own work, even going so far as to say his 2000 revenge-flick Bruiser was the first on which he “really knew what [he] was doing,” according to an interview with Home Page of the Dead.

16. Romero wrote his first draft of Land of the Dead prior to the September 11, 2001, attacks. Following the attacks, he made some alterations to his script, revising the Fiddler’s Green building to resemble the Twin Towers and adding topical lines like “I don’t negotiate with terrorists.”

17. Mayor Tom Murphy, of Romero’s hometown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, named June 22, 2005, the day Land of the Dead was first previewed, “George Romero Day.”

18. While Romero has generally been indifferent regarding the mass of zombie films that followed in the wake of his groundbreaking work, he has been quite vocal regarding his love of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s hilarious Shaun of the Dead. He was so taken with the film that he cast Wright and Pegg in zombie cameos in Land of the Dead. Pegg also performed uncredited voice work as a newsreader in Diary of the Dead.

19. In 2008, Romero listed his ten favorite films for the British Film Institute. They are Richard Brooks’s The Brothers Karamazov, Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca, Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon, Compton Bennet’s King Solomon’s Mines, Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, John Ford’s The Quiet Man, Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil, and Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Tales of Hoffmann. Aside from Repulsion, not a single horror movie in the bunch.

20. Despite his massive success, Romero professes to live a largely simple lifestyle. His one extravagance is his love of travel.
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