More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead (2011)

MB4Okay, so it’s my birthday. I don’t like celebrating them, except that I suppose you celebrate the fact that you haven’t died yet, especially of something embarrassing. Burgomaster Hans Steininger died in 1567 when he broke his neck tripping over his own 4.5 foot long beard. Paul G Thomas, the co-owner of a textile company, got caught up in a spooling machine in 1987 and ended up suffocating inside a giant spool of wool. Chinese chef Pen Fang died last month when he was bitten by a cobra – or rather, a cobra head he’d chopped off twenty minutes before while preparing snake soup. Then there was actor Mike Myers, whose career died after THE LOVE GURU…

MB15Enough procrastination; I’m old and don’t have much time left in this world. Nearly thirty years ago, I sat alone (because I was a friendless loner whose only girlfriend at the time was a devout Christian who wouldn’t see such things) in a cinema in Belfast on an afternoon after classes, watching a little film called THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. Pre-Internet, all  I knew about it beforehand was an article in Starlog magazine. And it didn’t prepare me for a high-octane blend of horror and comedy the likes of which I had never seen before. It remains in my Top Ten Horror Movies Of All Time. If you have not yet seen it – why not?

Over the years, I’ve waited for a decent DVD copy, the main problem being that copyright issues have made distributors change the original soundtrack (one of many positives about the movie). I’ve resorted to digging out an old VHS copy of the movie and converting it to a video file. and I wore out my CD with the soundtrack. Does it sound like I’m a fan? 

Linnea as Trash, about to achieve horror cinematic immortality...
Linnea as Trash, about to achieve horror cinematic immortality…

However, one of my birthday presents was MORE BRAINS! A RETURN TO THE LIVING DEAD (2011), a documentary on the making of this remarkable little film from Bill Philputt, who produced NEVER SLEEP AGAIN: THE ELM STREET LEGACY. I’ve always enjoyed documentaries on favourite movies (read my review of CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES here), and even movies that have never been made (I’m looking forward to watching JODOROWSKY’S DUNE, another gift). But this one was out of the blue…

Brian Peck, aka Scuz, with his own action figure. Cool!
Brian Peck, aka Scuz, with his own action figure. Cool!

Narrated by Brian Peck, who played the punk Scuz in the movie, MORE BRAINS! is a fast, informative, fun watch behind the making of the movie. They managed to assemble just about everyone involved in front of and behind the scenes: Peck, James Karen (Frank), Clu Gulager (Burt), Dona Calfa (Ernie), Thom Matthews (Freddy), Linnea Quigley (Trash), Jewel Shepard (Casey) and the rest (including Allan Trautman, who played “Tarman” the zombie who killed Suicide (the late Mark Venturini, who sadly died from leukaemia in 1996).

John Russo, co-creator of a thousand nightmares...
John Russo, co-creator of a thousand nightmares…

There’s also producers, editors, casting directors, the former head of Orion Pictures, and the movie’s writer/producer John Russo, who talks about his time with George Romero (after NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, when they parted ways, Russo retained the right to make movies with “Living Dead” in the title, which is why all of Romero’s subsequent zombies films were simply “Something of the Dead”).

Allan Trautman, getting into his Tarman suit...
Allan Trautman, getting into his Tarman suit…

It was also interesting to see how his original ideas and story for RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD changed by the time the late Dan O’Bannon, better known for writing scripts like ALIEN, BLUE THUNDER and LIFEFORCE, came in to direct the movie after Tobe Hooper left to do the aforementioned LIFEFORCE

And the finished product!
And the finished product!

(Russo later novelised the movie, making him an author who wrote two different novels with an identical title. I got a copy of that novelization, and was sorry I lost it, as it greatly expanded on the movie’s characters and their backgrounds).

James Karen, you rock, sir!
James Karen, you rock, sir!

Running at two hours, the documentary is longer than the actual film, but to its credit it’s not the marathon viewing experience of CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES or NEVER SLEEP AGAIN, but it’s still an entertaining slice of behind the scenes and retrospective. The interviews are consistently worth watching, with some of my favourite being James Karen and Clu Culager, veteran actors with a wry outlook on the business.

Oh, Linnea, you still have a special place in my heart. Though I may be aiming a little high…

The actual shoot took only six weeks, but they were said to be contentious ones, with the inexperienced Dan O’Bannon clashing with Gulager, firing special effects artist William Munnis halfway through, the cast arguments, the interference from Orion Studios, and the surprise from all concerned (especially the backers, who derided it as something akin to a porn movie) when the movie went on to be a critical and box-office hit.

You’ll learn some really fascinating things about the movie, including:

  • The Nazi origins of Ernie the Mortician (well, he does listen to German Afrika Corps marching songs on his Walkman, carries a Walther P38, and has a picture of Eva Braun in his morgue. You don’t need to be Columbo to figure that out)
  • What famous comic actor was meant to take Burt’s role before Clu Gulager
  • The embarrassing actions Linnea Quigley had to undergo surrounding her infamous nude scene
  • What the eye test chart in Burt’s office actually reads
  • How they made the reanimated butterflies in the warehouse appear to come to life (it was so simple and obvious I feel like a Kardashian for not knowing)
Our heroes, including the late Mark Venturini...
Our heroes, including the late Mark Venturini…

There’s a wealth of extras on the DVD set, though I’ve yet to view them all. One of them covers the production of the sequel, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART 2 (which I reviewed here), and which is interesting for the fact that almost no one tries to paint this as anything more than a cheap rip-off of the first movie, but lacking any appreciable comedy or horror (though at least the special effects people need not feel ashamed). There’s additional features on the later LIVING DEAD movies, none of which I’ve seen.

Do ya wanna party???
Do ya wanna party???

The main documentary ends with some footage from an interview with O’Bannon, a moving piece further expanded in one of the Special Features, and I wish they had added more to the main doc. Otherwise, MORE BRAINS! is a must-see for fans of the original movie.

Deggsy’s Summary:

Director: Bill Philputt

Plot: 5 out of 5 stars

Gore: 5 out of 10 skulls

Zombie Mayhem: 5 out of 5 brains

Reviewed by Deggsy. BBBRRRAAAIIINNNSSS!!!

Romero Writing a Comic for Marvel

Yup you read that correctly. George Romero is writing a comic book for Marvel. Way back in October 2012 Twitch reported that zombie extraordinaire George Romero would be writing a new comic property for Marvel. After too many months of silence a teaser has finally dropped for the project. And by “teaser” they definitely mean TEASER!! Here’s what was revealed last October:

“I’m writing a comic for Marvel. I’m writing it now, but its plot is a secret … I can tell you it won’t involve any of their on-going characters, there will be no superheroes. But it will involve zombies!”

And here’s the teaser:

MarveloftheDead1-600x658

It’s definitely not much, but I’m excited nonetheless. What about you?

Stay Bloody!!!

Survival of the Dead (2010)

[I know that I reviewed SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD back in 2010 (my review), but this is one that I thought could use a re-visit, and Deggsy just happened to watch it recently.  I love synchronicity!!  We both come to the same conclusions but take different roads getting there.  Thanks Deggsy!! – AHS] George Romero. We love the guy. And why not? He’s the father of the modern zombie movie, after all! His original trilogy is held by us in the same esteem as the original STAR WARS trilogy, only ours has less merchandising and more heart. He set the standards. But it wouldn’t be fair, on us or on him, to blindly accept everything he offers without objectivity. LAND OF THE DEAD, a sort of bridge film between his first and second trilogies, had a big budget, but suffered from studio interference and a skewed storyline. As a result of the relative commercial failure, he scaled down the budget and scope for his next offering, DIARY OF THE DEAD (see Anything Horror Scott’s review here). He sacrificed scope for a stronger subtext, about media manipulation and the YouTube Society. Yes, there was a little too much CGI, but still, it felt a more personal film from George than we had received with LAND. I was initially displeased with DIARY, but subsequent viewings have raised my opinion of it. Could the next film, SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, also hold up?

Juicy!!

This is perhaps the most direct sequel Romero has made, in that a character from a previous movie, not just an actor, appears in a subsequent one. Here we are reunited with Crockett (Alan van Sprang, IMMORTALS, the TV series KING), a renegade soldier whose comrades in arms stick together even when the rest of the National Guard is falling apart, along with society (the movies of Romero’s second trilogy have so far taken place in the first few days and weeks after the dead started to walk, so in theory somewhere along the same timeline as NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, though it’s best not to think about it too much.

Making out with grandpa … zombie style!!

Crockett is a weary but still rugged survivalist, though refreshingly and realistically he still maintains some standards of decency (he shows disgust at some rednecks who have cut off the heads of some captured zombies – who were all black, which I’m sure wasn’t accidental – and stuck them, still animated, onto poles rather than just killing them. His views are shared by his friends, notably the lesbian Tomboy (Athena Karkanis, who played Agent Perez in the SAW movies), whom we first see masturbating in her jeep while outside at night during a zombie uprising (I have no problem with a woman strumming the kitty guitar, but I like to think there are better times for that), as well as her Latino friend Francisco (Stefani Dimatteo, CHRONCILES OF RIDDICK), and nice goofball Kenny (Eric Woolfe, CERTAIN PREY).

Looks like this gang is about to bust out into a THRILLER-like dance routine!!

While dealing with the aforementioned rednecks, Crockett rescues the smartass Boy (Devon Bostick, DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, and yes, his character is listed as Boy, which shows you how much thought Romero put into the character), who shows them an online invitation from Patrick O’Flynn (Kenneth Walsh, THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE) to come seek refuge from the dead on nearby Plum Island. What the Richard Harris lookalike O’Flynn doesn’t tell, however, is the long-standing feud on the island between his clan and the other prominent family, the Muldoons, led by Seamus (the Jon Voight lookalike Richard Fitzpatrick, GOOD WILL HUNTING, 16 BLOCKS). When the dead started rising, the O’Flynns believed in shooting them in the head and finishing them off, but the Muldoons believe some could be trained not to eat human flesh and be domesticated (gee, where have we heard that one before?). The Muldoons forced O’Flynn and his elderly friends off the island, but O’Flynn’s horse-loving daughter Jane (Kathleen Munroe, from the TV series CALL ME FITZ) remains, wanting to stay above the family feud, and O’Flynn has been arranging for refugees to get to the island – after taking them for all their possessions, of course.

This Wouldn’t be a Romero Flick Without a Little Gut-munching

Crockett and his men arrive at O’Flynn’s boathouse, and prove more formidable than the average civilian, and in the subsequent firefight and ensuing chaos the opposing parties, or at least those who remain, manage to make it to a ferry before being overrun by zombies – though not before Francisco becomes the Designated Death By Slow Zombie Infection Casualty when he has to bite off a revenant’s finger that gets poked into his mouth. Crockett doesn’t much like O’Flynn, but on reaching the island realises that for all his faults, he’s at least reasonable compared with the more ruthless Muldoon. Maybe… What do I like about SURVIVAL? Principally, the characters and the gore, both of them an improvement over DIARY. In place of the anonymous, unlikeable teens/twenty-somethings of the previous movie (though some are unlikeable in their own ways) we get a wider mixture of folk more approaching “ordinary” people. But still, most remain threadbare in terms of depth and development, apart from the friendship between Crockett and Kenny, and between Tomboy and Francisco. And the gore, though riddled in places with CGI, remains mostly fresh and real and bloody and gooey, particularly at the end, when we get plenty of “money shots”.

Zombies & Fire Extinguishers Don’t Mix

But it does have problems. The islanders’ Oirish accents are inconsistent among a supposed isolated group of the people (yes, you can tell the difference between them if you know) and it seems like they were tagged on as an obvious reflection on the Troubles in Northern Ireland). And the argument between those who would cull the dead and those who would domesticate them was done better in DAY IN THE DEAD. Both sides have some measure of validity but neither proves willing to concede, and it feels more like the heads of the respective clans just took opposite sides out of sheer habit. Coupled with this is a loss of, I suppose I’d call it The Horror of Upheaval. DAWN OF THE DEAD (both the original and the remake) illustrated perfectly the utter shitstorm society would rapidly undergo if the dead began to rise and attack the living. Everythingwould collapse quicker than Courtney Love in a meth lab. But the movies of Romero’s Second Trilogy to date have been very lightweight in terms of the Horror of Upheaval: in the following weeks, there’s still power to streetlights (and chargers for the laptops and phones we see), the Internet, talk show hosts making jokes about the Deadheads, and thoughts that money still means something.

Eewwwww … zombie breath!!

And then there’s people more willing to make snappy one-liners when dealing with the dead, as well as the “creative deaths” Romero started with DIARY, and moments of actual slapstick (I know we got a pie fight in the original DAWN, but here we get a dynamite explosion blowing away a wall and leaving people standing with blackened faces behind it; all it was missing was stars and tweeting birds flying around their heads) that made me feel like I was watching an old movie.

Speaking of which, Romero introduces a subplot that must be as old as the silent movie era: The Identical Twin. It’s a “twist” that is as contrived as a child hiding a stolen cookie behind his back, and serves less useful purpose than a Kardashian.

The movie seems to fall apart at the climax, with people doing things more because it’s time to wrap things up than for any logical reason But still, the notion of a hatred so ingrained it continues beyond death is a powerful one, and Romero ends the film with a powerful image, which made me think of how much better this could have been.

The movie is available everywhere. The trailer is here. And what will George bring us next? Two more films are promised. Fingers crossed they’re improvements.

Deggsy’s Summary:

Director: George Romero (& writer)

Plot: 3 out of 5 stars

Gore: 8 out of 10 skulls

Zombie Mayhem: 4 out of 5 brains

Reviewed by Derek “Deggsy” O’Brien

Day of the Dead Review & Retrospective (1985)

You’re only as good as your last movie, or so Hollywood says (fortunately for Michael Bay, his movies remain consistently loud and stupid, thus sparing him confusion). Of course, this never seems to apply to those who keep green-lighting loud and stupid films. But I’m not here to talk about them. I’m here to talk about our friend George Romero.

I can say ‘our friend’, because the legendary director has always presented himself as a charming, avuncular person to his fans. I can’t find any instance of his acting like an asshole to members of the public, no matter how many times they ask him the same questions, including, “When’s the next zombie film coming out?” [I can partially confirm Deggsy’s comment here.  When I met Romero at the 2010 Texas Frightmare Weekend he was the friendliest, most humble, and genuinely nice guy who loves his fans — AHS]

George Romero & some friends

Poor George. He’s had a love/hate relationship with the revenants. They’ve brought him fame, but his non-zombie films have for the most part gone been neglected, either deservedly (TWO EVIL EYES, THE DARK HALF, KNIGHTRIDERS) or not (THE CRAZIES, MARTIN, MONKEY SHINES). The one big exception was 1982’s CREEPSHOW, a critical and commercial success (and one of the best horror anthologies ever made). But despite this, his work on the seminal NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and the frankly magnificent DAWN OF THE DEAD was what everyone still associated him with, and people still wanted more zombies. I can sympathise with Romero, grateful for the acclaim the Dead brought him, but still wanting to be known and appreciated for more.

Florida in DAY OF THE DEAD looks better than it does today!!

Still, when funds of $7 million were promised if he could bring in a third Dead movie, how could he say no?

We open on a woman slumped on the floor of a stark, windowless room, who lifts her head up to see a calendar on the far wall. Slowly she rises, approaches it (all the while showing that there is no door out of the room), reaches out to the rustic picture on the calendar as if hypnotised-

And then reels back as hands burst through the concrete wall to grab her…

She awakens in a helicopter. She is Sarah (Lori Cardille, TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE), a scientist, travelling with her emotionally-ragged soldier boyfriend Miguel (Anthony Dileo Jr, LORENZO’S OIL), pilot John (Terry Alexander, CONSPIRACY THEORY) and radioman Billy McDermott (Jarlath Conroy, TRUE GRIT) to a Florida city, landing and using a bullhorn to call for anyone listening. Billy’s voice carries through the deserted, litter-strewn streets, as a wind-swept newspaper unfurls to display the headline THE DEAD WALK!

“I’ve got a headache THIS big …”

The call does not reach anything … living. Instead, the dead respond, rising and shambling towards them, their collective moans heard even over the blades of their helicopter. They depart, returning to their base of operations, an underground complex surrounded by a chain link fence straining against the weight of the dead outside. It was a facility set up at the start of the zombie outbreak, where scientists try to find a cure and the military tries to assist and protect them. But civilisation has fallen around them, and the situation has deteriorated, to say the least. Isolated for months now, supplies dwindling, the soldiers’ numbers are depleting as more are killed trying to round up zombies for experimentation, and the scientists are getting nowhere.

That’s a real croc & its trainers are the zombies walking down the stairs.

Such is the tension between the groups that the soldiers’ acting leader, the highly-irritated Captain Rhodes (Joe Pilato, who had small roles in DAWN OF THE DEAD and KNIGHTRIDERS) [he also had a small part in PULP FICTIONAHS] can turn a simple meeting into a potential gunfight, even against one of his own men, the obnoxious racist Private Steele (Gary Howard Klar, CADILLAC MAN). The tension crosses racial and sexist lines, with John as the only black man in the group and Sarah the only woman.

His nickname, Dr. Frankenstein, is well deserved!!

The scientists, led by Dr. Logan, aka Dr. Frankenstein (Richard Liberty, FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR), do little to alleviate the tension, with Logan seemingly moving away from finding a cure and focusing on domesticating the dead. Among his better pupils is “Bub” (Sherman Howard, LAW AND ORDER), a zombie who, in an astonishing scene, displays knowledge of books, razors, and telephones – and speaks! Not that this progress interests Rhodes, who’s only interested in making the dead stay dead.

Living apart from both groups, both physically and philosophically, is John and Billy, who keep a mobile home in another part of the complex. Going to them for a break, Sarah questions their attitude, and in a telling speech, John makes her rethink her own position, trying to find answers when their world has already fallen, when they should leave it all behind, find an island and have some babies – and teach them not to return to this place.

That’s never gonna come out of those whites!!

Matters worsen when Miguel is bit during a zombie roundup, and two other soldiers are indirectly killed because of him. Sarah quickly cuts his arm off above the bite, trying to halt the infection, but Rhodes is still ready to kill him anyway, until John and Billy agree to keep Miguel with them, though the outlook isn’t promising. But when Rhodes discovers that Dr. Logan has been feeding parts of his men to Bub and the other zombies as reward, all hell breaks loose…

“They’re coming to get you Lori …”

DAY OF THE DEAD would go on to be the least critically- and commercially-successful of the original DEAD trilogy – but it would be a mistake to dismiss this movie on this alone. Romero was promised $7 million to make DAY (in comparison, DAWN cost only $500,000 and NIGHT a mere $114,000), and with this Romero planned a true epic, “a GONE WITH THE WIND of zombie movies”. In his initial storyline, the scientists would be living aboveground in a fortress surrounded by an electrical fence, and the military living more safely underground, and there would have been a small army of zombies trained to defeat the “ferals”. It was also planned that an explosion would wipe out most of the undead in the area, and that one of the characters who died earlier would not reanimate, thus offering hope for the survivors that death could still be the end for them.

This looks like most older people with new technology!!

However, the backers wanted an R-rated movie to guarantee a wider theatre release with consequent box office, a condition Romero would not agree to, so his budget was slashed in half, and he was forced to retool his original script, retaining most of the original characters but keeping nearly all of the story underground. The opening and closing scenes were shot in Fort Myers and Sanibel Island, Florida, but the underground facility was real, a former limestone mine near Pittsburgh converted into a storage facility. This lends a real sense of claustrophobia to the setting (you can even see and hear bats in the background, and I’m assuming Romero didn’t intentionally add them!), and a feeling that the survivors are already in Hell. Most of the zombie extras were Pittsburgh residents who volunteered to help, and those who participated received a dollar, a cap that read ‘I Played a Zombie in Day of the Dead’, and a copy of the THE DEAD WALK! newspaper. Damn, I’m jealous!

Our héros. Not quite the rugged looking group of folks, is it?

Lori Cardille (whose father Billy had a small role in the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD) puts in a strong performance in the lead, as strong and convincing as Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, an intelligent character who never has to become a damsel in distress or resort to her sexuality (in interviews, Cardille said she tried to soften the character, but Romero refused, believing it would weaken her, a good move on his part). Also of note is Richard Liberty as Dr. Logan, a multifaceted, vulnerable scientist, human and too blinkered to recognise the dangers of his actions. Working well opposite him is Sherman Howard as Bub (whose character has become a minor horror icon), and it’s a friendship that both actors express in scenes without words.

The Godfather of Gore, Tom Savini, working on Bub

The rest give quite good performances, but if I had any quibble, it is with those portraying the soldiers, in particular Joe Pilato as Rhodes, though I lay most of the blame on Romero’s script. He stated in interviews that he wanted to show the inability of both sides to get along with each other in the face of the crisis around them, but the military is primarily shown as ignorant, racist, sexist, obnoxious, mentally disturbed and trigger-happy. Pilato in particular chews the scenery on a number of occasions, not helped by some of Romero’s dialogue.

Still, Rhodes *does* get one of the best death scenes ever filmed… more on that in a moment.

“Choke on ’em …”

DAY OF THE DEAD might not receive the respect given to its predecessors, but it remains one of the strongest additions to the genre for the decade. Romero’s decision to deliver an unrated film reaps dividends, and Tom Savini delivers the best effects of his career, light years ahead of Romero’s previous movies, and still stronger than much of what we see in today’s CGI-heavy age. The zombie makeup is unparalleled, far beyond the grey paint and oatmeal seen in a hundred lesser movies. And the gore is of equal strength: dissected bodies, spilled guts, dismemberments, gunshots, bites, all delivered simply but effectively by a true master of his art.

This is especially true when Rhodes meets his end, and though I’d hate to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t yet seen it, there comes with it a story that must be told: the blood and entrails used in Rhodes’ death scene were real, pig parts procured from a nearby slaughterhouse the weekend before they were needed. However, during the weekend custodial staff unplugged the refrigerator storing them, so that by the time shooting commenced the following Monday, they were well and truly spoiled, causing most of the people who had to get up close and personal to them physically ill. When you watch Joe Pilato torn in half by the undead, and he squeezes out the immortal, ad-libbed line, “Choke on them!”, imagine those reeking intestines just under his nose.

George & Bub having a tender moment with one of his young ‘uns.

If you haven’t seen this movie, see it. It remains stronger now than Romero’s later efforts such as LAND, DIARY and SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD. And watch the trailer below for no other reason than it’s so Old School :-)

[I couldn’t agree more with Deggsy in this review!!  DAY OF THE DEAD is one of my favourite horror films (and zombie) films made.  It’s bleak, dark, depressing, and claustrophobic and simply one of Romero’s best films.  If you haven’t seen this one or only saw the remake, shame on you!!  Go out and buy this film — AHS]

Deggsy’s Summary:

Director: George Romero

Plot: 5 out of 5 stars

Gore: 10 out of 10 skulls

Zombie Mayhem: 5 out of 5 brains

Reviewed by Derek “Deggsy” O’Brien

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.

author Chris Wade

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.

My Summary:

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