For all of you skeptics out there who could not possibly believe the holy grail of zombie movies could be faithfully ported to the stage– I have news for you.
It has been done, and no man other than George A Romero himself was involved. And he absolutely loves it!
I had the privilege to talk to him about the production, as well as other zombie related questions.
By way of introduction…
There are few people in the world who embody a movie genre like George A. Romero. When you have reached the pinnacle that Romero has reached, it stops making any sense when you try to make comparisons.
George Romero is one of the Executive Producers of the new Toronto stage production “Night of the Living Dead LIVE” from Nictophobia Films (sharing these duties with other famous Night of the Living Dead alumni John Russo and Russ Streiner).
So here is George. I met him in a condo in the heart of Toronto (which he calls home). George is crazy-tall and lanky. I commented on his height, and he apologized. He’s relaxed and going full tilt at 74 year old. He is vibrant and a consummate professional. So I tried to be. For his sake.
In this interview excerpt, George talks about the new stage production, the original alien idea for NOTLD, the preferred explanation for his zombies, new work (sort of), The Walking Dead, Lollipop Chainsaw, Call of Duty, and the scariest thing he’s ever seen live.
And George ultimately answers why it’s worth resurrecting something that is almost a half a century old.
Romero: Another opening, another night.
With the “Night of the Living Dead LIVE” stage production, it’s almost like when the original movie came out.
Romero: Well it is. That’s exactly right. I mean, I can remember that vividly when the first film opened… we got them to open in Pittsburgh. And it was a big deal. And this is, I guess, the only big deal since then, with Night of the Living Dead.
What will fans take away from this live stage production..?
Romero: It’s sort of Second City does Night of the Living Dead– that’s the first act anyway. Much more light-hearted. It’s more like Shaun of the Dead. Fans will hopefully take away the idea that the unintentionally humorous aspects of the original — I say unintentional… some of them were intentional but many of them were unintentional… are exploited here and are satirized. That’s great fun.
I saw a full dress rehearsal, and the most fun for me was the satiric take on moments of the film that have always sort of been embarrassing to me.
They really know the film, and this production really indicates that. Fans who know the movie– the references in it are unbelievable.
There have been so many remakes and ripoffs of Night of the Living Dead. Why is this the time to put your name on a production?
Romero: I really believed that they were going to do what they said they were going to do. That was it. I mean, it’s all about personalities. You meet people, and you say OK– I think these guys are good guys. They came to us– they didn’t have to. There have been a bunch of other attempted productions that tried to do it, and these guys came to us.
Hopefully the fact that Russ [Streiner] and Jack [John Russo] and I are involved in this will give this a bit of a boost.
It deserves it.
I understand that the original Night of the Living Dead didn’t start as flesh eating dead people. They started out as aliens?
Romero: No no. The rumor that, in the original NOTLD that they were aliens… I don’t know where that started. Maybe at some point in my distant past I wrote an alien story, but that wasn’t it.
I originally wrote a short story called “Night of Anubis.” A very cryptic and weird title– nobody knew what it meant. An Egyptian God. And the first part of that became the movie Night of the Living Dead. And Jack Russo and I wrote it together. I wrote the first part of it, and then we started to shoot. Jack took over the writing, and that’s where it went from there. But they were never aliens. The thing is, there were three explanations to explain where the zombies came from. One was a virus, one was… gosh I don’t remember. And the third one was a Venus Satellite probe that returned to Earth. That’s the one that the distributor decided to keep, because of the footage– we actually went to Washington to shoot that footage. And that’s the only reference to aliens– that there was some sort of Venus probe that came back. And I spent the rest of my life apologizing for that incident, because I didn’t want there to be an explanation. I wanted it to be just God’s punishment. In “Dawn of the Dead” the line is: “When there is no more room in Hell, the Dead will walk the Earth.” And that’s all the explanation I need.
Are you working on anything now, George?
Romero: I’m on a gag order. I blabbed a couple of months ago what I was working on.
About the Marvel thing?
Romero: There you go. Ha ha ha. I didn’t say anything… Ha ha ha!
What are your thoughts about all of the modern zombie “things” out there now? The Walking Dead?
Romero: “The Walking Dead,” first of all, just pisses me off. I mean, we did it. We did it, and we should have been involved if anyone was going to do it.
Have you beat Lollipop Chainsaw?
Romero: Oh God! That was a thing that my agent set up. I met her.
We were there at the EB games thing.
Romero: Oh man, what a riot. She actually looked like the character.
Romero: I had no idea what it was going to be. My agent set up this thing — “you’re going to be involved in this video game.” I was involved in this thing called “Call of the Dead.” “Call of Duty.”
You’re chasing everyone around.
Romero: Yeah, I’m chasing everybody around. I thought maybe it was going to be something like that.
Did you do any motion capture?
Romero: I didn’t. I wish that I would have! They didn’t use my voice. They wound up not using anything of me. Except my face. And it was like a Conan O’Brien routine! Yeah, the glasses and my face.
Anyway, I showed up at this other thing, there’s this Lollipop. I thought it was going to be a little more serious. But it turned out not to be.
Have you ever thought about doing something live like these guys?
Romero: No I never thought of doing anything like it live. I’ve always wanted to do live theater. But what I wanted to do is a real scary experience. I’d love to do “The Thing.” You know, the 90′s version of “The Thing.”
Which has been one of their biggest challenges– making it legitimately scary on stage.
Romero: Legitimately scary — yeah.
Stage production is different.
Romero: They’re different. I know. It’s very difficult to get [scares]– although you’d think it wouldn’t be. You think that you’ve got these people– 800 people captive. You could lock them in and make it really scary!
The scariest I’ve ever seen was this thing called “Alien Encounter” in Disney World. Where you go in– I don’t know how many people get into this thing at one time. Maybe 200. You’re locked into it. And there’s this alien in this tube. They’re doing an experiment, and this alien breaks out …it’s all live! And what happens is you feel… you hear snorts… all around the theater. You feel breath “woosh” on the back of your neck. I wish that you could do something like that. I wish you could make a real 3-D experience.
If theaters would equip themselves to do this all-purpose theatrical experience, it would be great. But they don’t want to spend the money to equip. So you can’t do Cinerama today. You can’t do scent-a-vision, smell-a-vision. You can’t do any of these things. You could make it a really theatrical experience. You might be able to raise enough money to do one theater. I think you could seriously do a very frightening thing.
If only I could have talked to him for another five hours…
Go to www.nightofthelivingdeadlive.com for ticket information.
First hand review of the stage production to follow…