Speak of the Dead: Exploring George A. Romero’s Original Dead Trilogy (2011)
Out of all the many horror books I read, only a small percentage (a very small percentage) are nonfiction that either delve into a particular genre (EATEN ALIVE!: ITALIAN CANNIBAL AND ZOMBIE MOVIES) or examines the works of a particular director (THE ZOMBIES THAT ATE PITTSBURGH: THE FILMS OF GEORGE A. ROMERO). So when SPEAK OF THE DEAD: EXPLORING GEOGE A. ROMERO’S ORIGINAL DEAD TRILOGY came across my desk (okay, okay; I really don’t have a ‘desk’), I was pretty excited. Author Chris Wade promises that he
[D]idn’t want to create a gushing fan book … nor … create a long winded, over ponderous work of film criticism.
So what did Chris Wade set out to do?
I wanted to put together a readable, fun, informative and affectionate book that highlights the importance of George A. Romero not only in horror, but in popular culture itself.
Wade definitely puts together a fun book, but does he accomplish what he sets out to do? Let’s find out.
Wade divides his book into three main sections, “Night of the Living Dead,” “Dawn of the Dead,” and “Day of the Dead” (seems logical enough), and inserts some interviews in between each section. He interviews Judith O’Dea, Tom Savini, & Joe Pilato (Captain Rhodes in DAY OF THE DEAD). The interviews were probably the most disappointing part of SPEAK OF THE DEAD. The questions asked were pretty common and I didn’t really get any new insight into any of the people being interviewed or the films they starred in. That being said, if you’re a newcomer to Romero’s original DEAD trilogy then you’ll enjoy these interviews. But for those of us who have been living and breathing the first three DEAD films for a long time, you’ll find yourself skimming through them.
SPEAK OF THE DEAD also lacks any kind of analysis of the three films in Romero’s original trilogy. What we do get are a lot of behind-the-scenes stories on the three sets, some funny anecdotes about Romero and the cast and crew, and a lot about Romero’s directing style. These things are hugely entertaining to read, but it all comes across as a “gushing fan book,” exactly what Wade didn’t wanna do. But I still found this really entertaining. We learn such facts that Romero got his big break working on the TV show, MR. ROGER’S NEIGHBORHOOD; that Russell Streiner’s brother, Gary, who worked on NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, earned his paycheck by collecting the soda bottles (Romero “was a chronic soda drinker”) and returning them for the 3 cent deposit; and the dumb luck of casting a black actor, Duane Jones, to play the lead in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. This last fact is pretty insightful because countless critics who still to this day write about NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, point to the fact that Romero took a huge chance back in 1968 by casting a black man and that the social commentary he was delivering was very cutting edge (again, for that time). But as Romero relates in a very honest moment:
We cast an African-American actor because he was the best actor from among our friends … But because he happened to be African-American, that made [the ending of the film] much stronger, particularly after the assassination [of Martin Luther King, Jr.]. We shouldn’t take all the credit for that. A lot of it was an accident.
Despite what Wade set out to write, SPEAK OF THE DEAD is a gushing fan book, but that’s okay. We get to learn a lot about Romero and his directing style and how he approaches the entire filmmaking process. We also get a ton of quick little facts about both Romero and his original trilogy. For example, I didn’t know that Romero was asked to direct the first SCREAM film and turned it down. This, he notes, was his “biggest career mistake.” People new to Romero’s original DEAD trilogy will find a lot of fun facts and behind-the-scenes info about his films, but those familiar with Romero’s works, or if you’ve read THE ZOMBIES THAT ATE PITTSBURGH, won’t find anything all that new. What this lacks in analysis it makes up for by being a really fun read. It’ll also make you nostalgic to go watch the trilogy all over again. I did!! Check this one out.
Author: Chris Wade
Plot: 3 out of 5 stars
Gore: 0 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer