One, Mr. George A. Romero, has gotten a lot of love from me recently. He, obviously, made my Top 10 Zombie Film List and landed on my 4 Fright Films for the 4th, and we just celebrated the 32nd birthday of my favorite Dead film, Day of the Dead. His name has been on my tongue a lot (that sounds wrong), but for good reason. Romero invented the zombies we have today. With one film, Night of the Living Dead, he created an entire subgenre. That film will be celebrating its 50th anniversary next year, and I couldn’t be more thankful to have it in my life.
The films that followed Night, Dawn and Day, join to create an amazing trilogy. Each is easily considered a classic of the horror genre. They’re important films that use the living dead as placeholders for societal ills, and critics and audiences adore them all. The series doesn’t stop there, of course. It has grown to encompass a total of six films. The last two of which were met with much less reverie than Romero’s previous efforts.
In the past few months there has been a steady drip of news regarding the future of his Dead films. Outside of Brad’s surprisingly timely April Fool’s joke, there was the zombie-noir Romero couldn’t get funding for, and most recently we got early word on the upcoming Road of the Dead. Fan reaction to this latest news has been tepid to say the least. In the comments section of this site and on twitter the remarks have not been too kind:
Master of Horror
I find it so upsetting to see fans turn their back on the man like this. I understand if you weren’t a fan of his last, Survival of the Dead. I wasn’t either. Even if you haven’t enjoyed the last three Dead pictures, you should appreciate that as a creative, as a director, he feels he has a story to tell. Directors certainly make films with an audience in mind, but they also do it because they have a passion to create. This is a man who has dedicated his life to the horror genre, and every time you sit down to watch Dawn of the Dead or even, The Walking Dead, you have George Romero to thank. You might not want to see Road of the Dead; you certainly don’t have to (if it gets made). I just find it disrespectful that after the hours of entertainment he has provided us fans, we act as if we don’t even want to see what else he may have in store.
Growing up there were three horror directors that were massively influential to me: Wes Craven, Dario Argento, and George Romero. Craven was able to maintain respectable amounts of critical and commercial success until the end. Argento has continued to work fairly steadily, and despite fans generally being unimpressed by his recent filmography, there is still a level of excitement when he announces a new project. The hope being this one will be “the return to form”. I feel that way too (I’m still looking for Sandman), and I also feel that way when Romero’s name is attached to a film.
Mad Max…With Zombies!
Beyond Romero’s legacy, there’s another reason to cheer this film on: the plot! Yes, at first glance it does sound incredibly cheesy:
The story is set on an island where zombie prisoners race cars in a modern-day Coliseum for the entertainment of wealthy humans.
What gets me excited, though, is this is the perfect continuation of the living dead saga. In Land of the Dead we were shown a world far removed from the initial outbreak. The wealthy were living like kings, while the poor were left to try and scrounge a meager existence. There’s a set-piece early on where two zombies are locked in a cage match with “live bait” – Asia Argento, to be exact. It’s a fun scene that illustrates the chaos of a post apocalyptic society and the lengths people will go to just for entertainment. A look at most reality shows today proves it’s probably not that far off. It sounds like Road intends to tap into that same kind of pulpy Mad Max-ian territory.
Also, throughout the series we’ve seen a clear progression of the zombies’ evolution. In Day we were shown that the undead were “learning” and remembering their past lives. Even with Dawn the zombies were drawn to the mall because they “remember they want to be in here.” After Land delivered the smartest “stenches” we’d seen yet, Romero went back to the beginning of the outbreak with Diary and Survival. Now it sounds that Road will drive us forward again. It’s refreshing to me that he continues to push the narrative further than before.
On paper there doesn’t appear to be much you can do with a zombie tale. They’re reawakened dead who want to consume living flesh. Romero has managed to take that simple conceit and run with it. He’s allowed his living dead to evolve with our times, each incarnation representing something new. Simply look at The Walking Dead to realize it’s important to change things up and grow. That show continues repeating the same plot over and over. Even the spin-off, Fear the Walking Dead, after several strong episodes this season, ended up resorting to the same schtick as it’s sister show. They must fight for their land!
However you feel about Road of the Dead or Romero making another zombie flick, I couldn’t be more excited for the next chapter.