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Zombie-Film King George Romero on His Latest, Survival of the Dead

With his sixth zombie film, Survival of the Dead, writer-director George Romero tells the story of a banished patriarch, hell-bent on clearing Plum Island of zombies, who hooks up with a group of self-interested mercenaries. (Read David Edelstein's take on the film here.) Vulture recently caught up with Romero to talk about his filmmaking niche, balancing practical and CG effects, and why he doesn’t think zombies have health-club memberships.

In Survival of the Dead’s press notes you say were intrigued by tribalism.
Tribalism, war, conflicts that don’t die, where people don’t even remember how it started in the first place, and also this age of incivility that we seem to be in right now, with people shooting at their senators — all of that stuff is spinning around in my head. The other [zombie] films I’ve done were very specific to the decade in which they were made.

Where do you come down on the age-old genre question of fast versus slow zombies?
I’ve always thought part of the appeal of zombies was their indefatigability — and that at a certain point you’re overwhelmed by the simple math that there are always more people dead than there are alive.

Right. Do the fast zombies wake up and join a health club?
I don’t know. But I think the idea of speed comes from video games. I’ve seen it in the Blade movies with vampires, and certainly Zack [Snyder]’s remake. I just did a talk show about Left for Dead 2, the video game, and they’re just coming at you like mosquitoes; it’s crazy. But I guess the gamer mentality is that it’s not threatening unless they’re all over you and you don’t have time to react. I think the films that are using that are responding to or copying those video games. And I’ve seen zombies in this game where they were bouncing around and crawling on the ceiling. I mean, is this supernatural suddenly? Give me a break. That’s just not my kind of zombie. If they tried to move that quickly their ankles would snap.

In Survival of the Dead, there's a story line about training zombies to eat other meat, like horses. Will you address zombiedom in the animal kingdom?
I actually did write a sequence [with zombie rats] for Land of the Dead, which we abandoned because it became too expensive. But I don’t know. [Laughs.] I’m thinking about it.

Digital effects have revolutionized filmmaking since your first Dead film. How do you strike a balance between CG effects and practical prosthetics?
When you’re working with really low numbers, you almost have to go digital, because every squib that misfires you have to reset the actor, clean the walls, and it just takes too much time. It’s much easier to paint in the gun flashes and the splatter; it just gets you off the set that much quicker. But I love the practical effects. I think there’s something really interactive and much more realistic about them if you can pull them off well. I think you can always tell when it’s CG. However, since it’s become almost mandatory to have clever kills in these movies, there are things that I could have never done back in the old days.

Photo: Malcolm Taylor/Getty Images