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Dead reckoning

George Romero’s exquisite corpses
By PETER KEOUGH  |  February 13, 2008

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SNAPSHOTS OF THE ERA: Romero wonders whether the whole world isn’t just chasing its tail and eating itself up.

Dead men mocking: It's shoot to kill in Diary of the Dead. By Peter Keough. 
For years it looked as if George Romero had hit a dead end.

After the rabid success of Night of the Living Dead (1968) and its sequel, Dawn of the Dead (1978), his Day of the Dead (1985) failed to revive even his diehard fans. A couple of years ago, his Land of the Dead fared better with both critics and audiences, but it got lost in the flurry of zombie knockoffs, from 28 Days Later (which he hasn’t seen) to Shaun of the Dead (of which he’s a big fan) to the studio remakes of his own movies.

So with a minimal budget and no studio obligations, he decided to reinvent the genre. The result, Diary of the Dead, his fifth in the series, takes him back to its origins, when the dead first rose to plague the living. This time, though, the nightmare is seen through the cameras of film students in the age of the Internet and video.

“All of the movies have been motivated about what’s going on in the world,” he explains, “rather than, ‘Oh, I got to make another zombie movie.’ So I was starting to get concerned about this media explosion, alternate media, the blogosphere, and all that, and that there’s some dangers here. It struck me that this was what was going on in the world now, everyone’s a camera, everyone’s a reporter, and people seem to be obsessed by it. It all has a sort of power, and people believe and buy into it. A lot of these blogs that are going up, the people that subscribe to them are already believers, and it strikes me they’re creating new tribes. It seems to me any lunatic could get on there and suddenly have a following. I’ve joked about how, if Jim Jones had a blog, we’d have millions of people drinking Kool-Aid.”

The real danger, then, isn’t the lurching cadavers feasting on the innards of the unfortunate but those who — like Jason, the student filmmaker in Diary — use the new technology to feed their own voyeurism and narcissism.

“Jason is obsessed with what he’s doing,” says Romero — “so obsessed he forgets about his own survival. Maybe he started out well-intentioned. But I think this whole blogosphere is a kind of graffiti. It’s some sort of quest for personal identity. The problem is all of a sudden people jump on it and a lot of people are listening to you.”

Is Romero more pessimistic about the state of things now than when he made Night in 1968?

“I don’t know if it’s pessimism. It’s really an observation. We do these little snapshots of the era, and I try to do it stylistically with the films as well, I try to make them look like films of that time. And so this one fell right into place that way. The subjective camera and everything. It’s part of the collective subconscious these days, everyone seems to be doing it — Redacted, Cloverfield, Vantage Point. I think there are several others as well. It does strike me as a mess, the whole world just seems to keep chasing its tail and eating itself up.”

Did he find Cloverfield especially annoying since it usurped his premise of a video diary of a nightmarish disaster?

“It was surprising that someone else was doing it. I didn’t think it will necessarily hurt us. I mean, that’s a big film. I have this niche; we’re not competing against that, the 4000-screen blockbusters. It’s a smaller film. My fans, and those interested in stuff I’m doing, will hopefully go out and see it.”

And perhaps another sequel?

“I’ve never done a direct sequel from one to the other. In this case, if it happens, it will be quickly, it probably will be that, continuing on with the same characters. There’s a lot more I could say about the emerging media, a lot I didn’t get into. You just never know.”

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