You might imagine that horror maestro George A. Romero’s favorite film is The Exorcist. Or maybe Cannibal Holocaust. Or even The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It’s easy to picture the twisted mind behind Night of the Living Dead curled up in his Toronto home with the Saw marathon unspooling on his blood splattered DVD player. Easy to imagine, but far from the reality. Most nights you’ll find him rewatching a classic. Maybe The Brothers Karamazov, Casablanca or Dr. Strangelove. Nary a decapitated head or disembowelment in the bunch! He also loves The Quiet Man, High Noon and King Solomon’s Mines but his all time favorite is an obscure 1951 Michael Powell film called The Tales of Hoffman.
“It’s the movie that made me want to make movies,” he says.
“I was dragged kicking and screaming by an aunt and uncle. I wanted to go see the new Tarzan; the new Lex Barker movie to see how he stacked up against Weissmuller and they said, ‘No! We’re going to see this,’ and I fell in love with it. It’s just beautiful. Completley captivating. It’s all sung. It’s all opera. It’s not like The Red Shoes where there is a story running through it and then Léonide Massine does a ballet at the end. I just fell in love with it from the pop.
“He did it on a low budget. You could see the techniques he was using; he was reversing action, doing overprints, double exposures and it seemed accessible. I think at that age if I had seen Jurassic Park I would have said ‘Forget about it, I don’t know how to do this dinosaur thing’ but I could see how Powell made the film and it was accessible to me. It made me think that maybe someday I could do something like this.”
All these years later Hoffman and other films of that vintage still move him—“I’m a sucker for the old movies I loved as a kid,” he says. “I put them on and I get a tear in my eye when the overture starts.”—but don’t think he’s getting soft. The man known to fans as the “Grandfather of the Zombie” has a new gut wrenching (literally) movie called Survival of the Dead in theatres this weekend.
Like his previous movies it works on a couple of levels. “Goremets” will appreciate his signature style with the blood and guts but wipe away some of the red stuff and the social commentary of his work becomes clear. “I bring the zombies out of the closet when I have something I want to talk about,” he says.
His classic Night of the Living Dead touches on Cold War politics and domestic racism, while others in the Living Dead series shine a light on consumerism, the conflict between science and the military and class conflict. The new one, the sixth in the series, is a lesson in the futility of war. Inserting these ideas into the films is very important to Romero whether audiences get it or not. He says he knows most people are “there either to just take the ride or watch the gore, chuckle at the gore, and don’t care about the other stuff,” but his work has had a profound effect on a couple of generations of filmmakers.
Quentin Tarantino, who says the “A” in George A. Romero stands for “A f**king genius,” cites the director’s fierce independent style as an influence and Romero’s blend of speculative fiction and social comment is particularly apparent in the work of Guillermo del Toro.
When I mention this to Romero he says, “Guillermo is my man! He runs a close second to Michael Powell in my mind.”