Print interviews from STACK’s labyrinthine archives, exhumed for your enjoyment in the digital realm. This episode: horror master George A. Romero, who speaks about his years trapped in development hell, turning down Scream, and his comeback film Bruiser.  

George A. Romero’s last film was an adaptation of Stephen King’s novel The Dark Half in 1993, so where has he been for the last eight years?

“I’ve been here. Nobody called me!” he laughs.

“Actually, my partner and I did two years at New Line Cinema. I make it sound like a prison sentence and that’s pretty close. They never made a picture with us, which was frustrating and ended up being ‘development hell’, which everybody talks about but I hadn’t been through until then.

“All the other things we had our fingers in fell through the crack. I was involved with Goosebumps and The Mummy, and for one reason or another they all blew up. Out of sheer frustration with the system I just decided to scram, get out of there and do a little film that was mine.”

That little film is Bruiser, the story of a placid guy (played by Jason Flemyng) who is mercilessly bullied and harbours gruesome revenge fantasies. When he wakes up one day to discover his face has become a featureless mask, he takes advantage of his new anonymity to exact revenge upon his tormentors.

George A. Romero

Bruiser is more allegorical and understated than Romero’s signature work, but would he describe it as a horror film?

“I don’t think it is. I suppose I’m not meant to say that, but it’s much more of a parable, almost a black comedy I guess. I’d been thinking about an old French film called Eyes Without a Face and I was just haunted by that image of a blank face. I tried to think of some kind of phantom movie or what the hell I might be able to do with that. Then all these things hit the news, like Columbine and people using violence to express themselves.”

Initially, Bruiser was also in danger of being consigned to development hell when lack of studio interest in the project delayed production. Fortunately, Le Studio Canal came to the rescue.

“They really left us alone, no interference at all, so it’s mine. I’m completely, 100 per cent to blame for it. I’m really gratified by it, I’m glad it’s there and it was a really cathartic process to go out and actually do something again.”

During his long hiatus away from the camera, Romero was involved in a film adaptation of video game Resident Evil, whose premise was a perfect fit for the zombie specialist.

“A high-minded German company acquired the property and the guy had no idea what he had bought, he just knew it was a highly successful video game. I was working with an executive, and often an executive doesn’t have any ‘yes’ power. So there I sat labouring under his instructions and by the time it got to the boss man he said, ‘What’s this?’ I told him, ‘Well you bought this,’ and he said, “If I knew what this was about I would’ve never bought it’. So it ended just like that. “

Romero was also originally approached to direct Scream, which wound up in the hands of Wes Craven and subsequently revitalised the horror genre.

“I think they were offering it to everybody, but it was different, they didn’t know what it was, and they didn’t know whether it was meant to be campy, funny or what. Miramax at that time were thinking of it as a flat-out horror and I said to them, ‘Who wants to rehash an old genre?’ and turned it down.”


ROMERO ON ROMERO: A SELECTED FILMOGRAPHY

George A. Romero

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)

“It’s my baby. It’s very hard to comment on ’cause I still wish I had a little more money or a little more time, or whatever. I keep wanting to fix it, but then if it ain’t broke…”

 

George A. Romero

MARTIN (1977)

“I still like it the best. I think it’s my most successful work. I was able to pull it off closer to what my original intentions were, which is very hard to do because making films is compromising from day one.”

 

George A. Romero

DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)

“Dawn is a romp. I’ve always loved it and I keep thinking I got away with murder there and somebody actually let me do it. It was such a goof, but at the same time I’m pretty proud of it too. It’s amazing how people say, ‘Gee, there’s so much underneath that film.’ It’s right in your face, and not exactly hidden!”

 

George A. Romero

KNIGHTRIDERS (1981)

“My other favourite. Again, more I think because it was very personal – I just felt really close to it. Like raising kids, a lot of it is just the experience. That was one of the greatest times of my life.”

 

George A. Romero

CREEPSHOW (1982)

Creepshow was just great fun. A chance to cut loose, work with wonderful actors and be more outrageous.”

 

George A. Romero

DAY OF THE DEAD (1985)

“This has become my favourite of the zombie films. I love it. The effects are better and I think we’d all grown up a bit. It’s darker. We were forced to change the script from one that was going to be more expensive.”

 

George A. Romero

THE DARK HALF (1993)

“Working with Steve again, I sort of felt privileged to do it. Working with a great cast, and it’s very different in terms of craftsmanship from anything that I’ve done.”

[This is an edited version of an interview that appeared in REGION 4 magazine in May 2001.]