Thursday, November 23, 2017

Zombies and Heroes

I know, I know. Long time. Gimme a break. We had a baby, the beautiful and jolly Cordelia. On top of that, with the exception of three or four days,  my vfx studio has had non stop projects to keep me up late knocking out shots. Most days I get up with the girls at 8a, watch them and have family time until that evening when I start to work and keep going until 3a. Lather, rinse, repeat. I love my time with them and dont want it to go quickly, but there is a part of me looking forward to them both being in school so I have weekdays and normal hours within which to get work done so I can start getting regular sleep.

Enough complaining.

July 16th, the great George Romero passed away. It possible you only think of him as a director of some cheesy zombie movies. If thats the case then you must have found this blog through a very indirect google search. I mean, its probably true to an extent. But in this world of Walking Dead, Marvel and DC zombie variants of every character, it seems like zombies are everywhere.
But he was the Dude. The man. The guy who made zombies zombies. Before that they were the voodoo breed only. No rotting corpses walking around. But they werent really rotting corpses. They were a metaphor and horrific. Your nearest loved one could suddenly be tearing your intestines out and using them to floss their teeth. There was no safe place, no one you could trust. If there were people, there was the chance of being cannibalized, ripped apart while you screamed and gurgled.

We didnt watch a ton of scary movies when I was a kid. My Dad would have nightmares and he was a scrapper. He wouldnt run from the scary things in his dreams, he would punch and kick. So for Moms sake we didnt see many scary movies. We didnt have cable or any of that, so we would either get watered down versions of scary movies or rentals from the local VHS palace. So Critters would have the best parts cut out, aired on Sunday afternoons or we would get the borderline creepy, like Gremlins and the like. The first scary thing I can remember watching was when I was 10, on a tv show called Monsters. Kind of a variation on Tales from the Crypt. Weekly creature feature. One week they had soldiers in a fox hole, the dead enemy combatants pulling them into the walls and ripping them apart. Plus, this all time creepiest Goosebumps book.

 Zombies were stuck in my mind.

 So long story not as long, horror is now my favorite genre. Its usually the most inventive, has the most poignant social commentary, and will haunt your dreams. But zombies, those are my favorite. My first zombie film was the remake of Night of the Living Dead, which like the remake of Dawn of the Dead, I ended up preferring over the originals. But that said, I loved George Romero.

He shot his first films on next to zero budget, borrowing from friends and local businesses, ignoring Hollywood standards. Night focused on the question of "who is the true enemy? and race." Surrounded by friends and family now focused on your death, the bigger threat may be the person fighting next to you. This was all fallout from the Vietnam war. Dawn of the Dead focused on consumerism, capitalism and materialism set inside of a mall. I dare you to watch the shopping spree scene and not be reminded of Black Friday sales at your local box store. Day of the Dead may be he most poignant of the trilogy, rife with the political undertones of the Reagan era, the monsters become far less threatening than the military, all huddled away in caverns full of all of the hoarded items of yesterdays opulence, put there by people long since eaten.

IE, these werent just movies of blood, boobs and jump scares...look to Return of the Living Dead for that in all of its delightful glory.

Romero made smart movies in easy to digest wrappers. He shunned the Hollywood system, preferring to make as much of his films in his home of Pittsburg (until they tried to hose him and he went to Canada). So a young horror nerd who had high asperations of becoming a filmmaker, Romero was the man. The first film that I wrote and shot was a horror film, set in an old farmhouse, full of rotting ghosts and Romero references. I've got his autograph on my studio wall.

So when he died I mourned a bit. The local Alamo Drafthouse played Night of the Living Dead and I went dressed as Romero. And it got me thinking.

Why would I be so sad over the loss of someone I never met? Dont get me wrong, I tried. I drove to St Louis with friends over a decade ago to hit a Living Dead convention. We met the amazing Tom Savini, several actors from the films and incidentally, the incredible gem Tura Santana, who I also mourned at her passing. Romero was advertised as being the star of the show, but he was nowhere to be found. When I asked the information desk if we'd just overlooked him somehow I was told "oh, he wouldnt be here. He is filming in Canada."

I think it comes down to our modern day heroes.

Mainly, we dont have them. At least not like we used to. Or maybe its just me. There was no one I knew growing up that made me say " I want to be just like them!" No war heroes, no local leaders in sports, religion or life to idolize. My dad and grandpa were as close as it got, and they both made it a point to tell me to do better than they did, very aware of their flaws and shortcomings.

In college I started to look towards my interests for heroes and the list filled with directors. Spielberg, Kevin Smith, Rodriguez, Raimi and Romero.  Schultz, Davis, Frazetta and Drew Struzan were the art list. I suppose we create our own pantheon based on who we are and what we need at the time. I need(ed) creatives who came from nothing and made a name for themselves. Not for fame, but for the need to create. The older I get the more mortal they seem to become, but still we mourn when one of our heroes die and can no longer bless us with new work. A little less magic in the world. A few more Kardashians and Trumps.

Romero got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame a few weeks ago. An honor that is well past due even if its a little dubious in the nature of that honor. But regardless, Long Live the Zombie King.

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