George Romero’s disdain for The Walking Dead continues. Recall that a few years back, the director of the Living Dead trilogy and the godfather of the zombie genre was asked to direct a few episodes of the AMC series. He declined, saying “basically it’s just a soap opera with a zombie occasionally. I always used the zombie as a character for satire or a political criticism and I find that missing in what’s happening now.”
He wasn’t entirely wrong. While zombie genre is still effectively used for political criticism in shows like In the Flesh or movies like 28 Days Later, it has also evolved a lot because of The Walking Dead. Instead of using zombies to satirize politics, zombies are now used as a backdrop to tell character-based stories. I’m sure in 1968 when Romero directed Night of the Living Dead he never imagined that a zombie would be the lead character in a network television procedural, but here we are in 2017 and iZombie just wrapped its third season. Meanwhile, The Walking Dead is heading into its eighth season and has a spin-off series in its third season, and the closest either has gotten to being political are the occasional racist characters.
So, yes, the genre has evolved, but The Walking Dead at least still respects where it came from. After all, Romero’s special effects and make-up guy, Tom Savini, was the mentor of Greg Nicotero, the special effects and make-up guy on The Walking Dead, and Nicotero will occasionally pay homage to Romero.
On the other hand, The Walking Dead has effectively put George Romero out of business. He hasn’t made a movie since The Walking Dead premiered, and according to an interview Romero did with Indiewire, he can’t get financing for his latest movie.
“I harbor a lot of resentment … I used to be the only guy on the zombie playground, and unfortunately Brad Pitt and The Walking Dead have made it Hollywood-ized. I was ready to do another one, a $2-3 million one, and nobody will finance a zombie film now.”
The film Romero is currently trying to get financing is Road to the Dead, which he co-wrote with Matt Birman, who will also direct the film (he was the assistant director on Romero’s last three zombie flicks). The premise involves, well, zombies who drive.
I’m not entirely sure that The Walking Dead can be blamed for the lack of financing here. Romero’s last two films, Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead, barely made $1 million at the box office between them, and they both came out before The Walking Dead. To be honest, they weren’t great films, and I say this as someone who is currently wearing a George Romero T-shirt. I love his original trilogy, the genre he created, and I count several zombie films among my all-time favorites, but a movie about driving zombies doesn’t exactly seem like a sound investment. Then again, I loved Fido, and that movie was about domesticated zombies, which truly does illustrate how malleable the genre is.
In either respect, I do hope Romero’s latest gets financing because I am curious. Besides, even Romero concedes that the genre was bound to evolve. “I felt that I almost found a niche, but it was bound to happen … I had a terrific run.”
Damn right he did.