You might think George Romero, who all but established the rules and conventions for how zombie movies work, would be a bit tired of the genre after 40 years of doing it. You'd be wrong.
“I love it, man,” he says. “It's my schtick. I'm the Michael Moore of horror. I have this unusual position among horror guys [because] I don't have a Freddy franchise; I don't have a guy with a knife, but I have this thing that I can lay on anything. If they nuke Philadelphia next week, I can lay zombies on it and get a movie deal.”
What Romero means—and what sets his zombie flicks apart from traditional slasher films—is that he uses zombies and their domination of the globe to tell real stories that usually come with social commentary. In the original, 1968's Night of the Living Dead, he explored racism, while in the classic Dawn of the Dead in 1978, Romero looked at consumerism by putting his survivors—and the hordes of undead dying to eat their flesh—in a mall. Land of the Dead, in 2005, took ghoulish swipes at the Bush administration and the war on terror, and now, his latest installment, Diary of the Dead, lurches hungrily toward the media.
Diary focuses on a small group of college students who are shooting a horror movie when the end of the world begins. The movie-within-the-movie's director, Jason Creed (Joshua Close), picks up his camera and documents what happens to his friends as they try to survive. What he finds is that the mainstream media is manipulating information to convince the public not to worry about becoming an undead treat, so Jason decides to upload his own footage to MySpace—to make sure the truth is, in fact, out there. But Romero isn't giving citizen journalists a pass, either.
“That's the central issue in the film,” he says. “Theoretically, the truth is supposed to be out there in the blogosphere because everybody is becoming a reporter, but is it the truth? I could go much further with this. What if Jim Jones threw up a blog? Would you have 3 million people drinking Kool-Aid? Imagine some white supremacist who makes an argument that sounds halfway reasonable? Are we better off having information that's being spun but managed, or having every Joe Blow from Oshkosh offering opinions and radical ideas? It's an unanswered question.”
Now, don't get the wrong idea. Romero's not anti-Internet, but he does think people should be careful when it comes to the news. “The public needs to take some responsibility and, unfortunately, they don't want to. They'd rather send their last nickel to some televangelist and go along with it. Somebody is going to hit exactly the right cocktail of radicalism and extremism and will have a dynamic enough personality, and all of a sudden we'll have Attila the Hun again.”
Social commentary aside, Diary of the Dead is still about the impending zombie apocalypse, in which the dead rise up and feast upon the living. There's plenty of gore and no shortage of brutal killings and nasty bitings. And 40 years on, Romero says he plans to keep on biting the hand that feeds him, because these aren't really zombie movies—at least to him.
“My stories are always about human characters who respond, fail to respond or respond improperly as they try to keep on the way they've always kept on. That formula adapts itself to any decade and anything that's going on out there in the world.
“Everyone tries to ask what the zombies mean, what do they represent,” he says. “Well, to me they don't represent anything. They could be a hurricane or a natural disaster. They represent some sort of revolutionary sea change in the world. As long as shit keeps happening, I can keep doing this.”