When it comes to the gory genre of zombie horror, there is no one more revered than director George Romero. From 1968’s cult classic Night of the Living Dead, to his latest, Survival of the Dead, which opens in theaters today, his work has been delightfully grossing us out for decades. There’s no question: He’s a horror film pioneer with a thing for gallons of fake blood. And now, he’s taking his zombie influences digital.
App of the Dead is his latest zombie venture, a camera plug-in for your iPhone that will zombify any photo you take and will be available in the iTunes App Store soon. I got a chance to talk with George and Don Tyler of Additive, who designed the app’s zombie-ing capabilities.
Allie Townsend: We’ve seen a mini zombie renaissance in the past few years. Has it given you any new waves of inspiration?
George Romero: As a filmmaker, I love the medium. I have a great affection for it and I’ve been lucky enough to work for 40-some plus years now and do all different kinds of films. The greatest part of the success I’ve had comes from horror. I love the idea of mixing humor and horror and to me, it’s all a giggle. I grew up on DC comic books.
I’ve been able to use these zombie films as sociopolitical satires. That’s made it very gratifying. I don’t know, maybe I’m the Michael Moore of the genre. That’s the most fun for me.
Now as to why zombies are so popular, I don’t know. I attribute it mostly to video games than to movies and hopefully this app will be fun for people.
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Three-thousand people came out to Toronto for a zombie walk. I don’t know why, but for some reason people want to be zombies. Whenever we’re shooting a film, we have no problem at all recruiting extras. Everyone wants to be a zombie. Now that, I can’t answer. I cannot for the life of me figure out why 3,000 people would want to goop up their face and come out for a zombie walk. There’s some sort of perception of these characters, they’re sort of the blue-collar monsters. That, or maybe it’s just a cheap costume?
AT: When you were putting together this app, was there a certain aesthetic zombie look you were going for?
GR: It’s all versions of the makeup we’ve used in the films, so I’m happy.
Don Tyler: What we did was gave the ability of the user to make it as serious as they wanted to or make it as fun as they wanted to in keeping with the spirit of George’s movies. You have the ability to blend the scars and the eyes and the abrasions into the skin so it looks very photo real, but you also have the ability to slap it on there and turn a shampoo bottle into a zombie if you wanted to.
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GR: Shampoo of the Dead, a new product. Ooh, Mr. Potato Head.
DT: There you go.
AT: Mr. Potato Head should be a zombie.
GR: How do you know he’s not?
AT: Good point. Have you used the app on yourself yet?
GR: I have not, but Don has.
DT: I did turn George into a zombie.
GR: You never showed me that. He’s turned everybody into a zombie: his daughter, his wife, but he’s never showed me the one he did of me.
DT: Well, it’s an extremely addictive app.
AT: In the past few years, we’ve seen special effects advance in a big ways. Have you ever considered going back into your films and tampering with different scenes?
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GR: What we’ve done with the last two films is retreat into the lower budget range. CGI has enabled us to do amazing that we could never do with prosthetics or mechanics before. What I love about it is that I have years worth of these silly ways to kill zombies in the back of my brain and now I’m able to do it with computer generated imagery. In the latest film we did a gag with a flare gun. We did a gag with a fire extinguisher. These are things we just couldn’t do mechanically, or on the set.
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No, I haven’t been tempted to go back through or go into Avatar-land. Instead, I’ve stayed in my backyard and looked for ways to use the technology to enable us to do sillier things than we were able to do before.
AT: Are we ever going to get a Romero zombie in 3D?
GR: I was around during the first wave of 3D. I was the first guy in the theater when Bwana Devil came out. I remember movies that people don’t realize were 3D movies. Dial M for Murder was a 3D movie. People don’t realize that. It sort of wore off and I’m not sure that this isn’t going to wear off as well.
Ever since then, I’ve wanted to do a 3D film. I’ve never seen the need, and Peter (Producer Peter Grunwald) and I have never been invited, except one time for an IMAX thing that didn’t happen. I’d love to do it. I can’t say yes, I can’t say no. How long is the trend going to last? I don’t know, but I’d love to make a 3D movie, just for the pure fun of it.
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AT: So, I have to ask because there are entire books dedicated to this topic: How do you survive a zombie apocalypse?
GR: Oh boy. I don’t know. You can’t involve me in this debate. Max Brooks wrote The Zombie Survival Guide and I think somewhere in the back of his mind he actually fears that it might happen someday. I keep saying to him, “Max, chances are, it won’t happen.” So, I don’t get involved in that. My pat answer is: Steal a tank.
DT: The problem is that it never works.
GR: The characters always seem to have a genius idea, like in [Survival of the Dead] – here they go to this sparsely populated isolating island, thinking but even there.
DT: The problem is that the characters always have really good ideas about how to stay safe, it just doesn’t work out.
GR: My problem is figuring out why it doesn’t work out. That’s what my films are about – people’s inability to pull together in the same manner without harping on their own agendas.
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AT: Do you think they’ll ever be a day when you say, “You know, I think I’m done with zombies.”
GR: (Laughs) You know what? I don’t know. I have two more story ideas I’d like to do. They’d both be based off of picking characters from Diary [of the Dead] and I’d like to do a little saga with connective tissue. I think at the end of the day, you could wheel me in like John Huston with an oxygen tank and I’d still try to make a zombie movie.