George A. Romero has been the king of zombie movies since writing and directing Night of the Living Dead in 1968. The latest chapter in the saga, Survival of the Dead, follows two clans warring over whether to kill zombies or keep them in chains until a "cure" is found. Romero spoke to The Globe and Mail about his fascination with zombies and why he thinks most horror movies just aren't that good.
Why did you want to make another zombie movie?
Diary of the Dead [his previous movie]got mixed as usual reviews, but generally good. But it made a ton of money because it was done so inexpensively. So everybody said we've got to do another one, and thus this one.
Zombies are dispatched in some pretty inventive ways in this movie. Do you spend much time thinking of new ways to kill zombies?
It's mostly shower time or that twilight between being asleep and awake. I sort of jot little notes. You have to keep up with the Joneses. There's even a commercial now about killing zombies.
Why do you think zombies are so popular lately?
I don't think it's movies that have done it. I think it's video games. I haven't read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but obviously I've seen them. Maybe I've been too quick to blame video games, but I think that's what popularized this creature.
In this movie, zombies are called Deadheads. In fact, in most of your movies they're not called zombies. Why do you avoid the term?
In the first film, I never thought of them as zombies. I thought I had invented some new thing: The dead just didn't stay dead any more. And when everyone started to write about that film and call it important, I said, "Oops, maybe they are [zombies]" So in the second film I call them zombies.
Why do you think zombie movies are so metaphorically rich?
Are they? If you use it that way they can be. But is Zombieland metaphorically rich? I don't know. It's a video game, isn't it?
But haven't you always been drawn to that aspect of the genre?
Except in the first film. When we were making it, I thought of it as a one-off. Ten years later, I knew the people who developed the first big indoor shopping mall in the Pittsburgh area. I went to visit, and trucks were bringing in everything you could possibly want to this temple. It was only then that I realized I could use this to talk about the condition of the world and use it as socio-political criticism. And ever since then I've tried to do that.
What are the themes you wanted to explore in Survival of the Dead ?
I felt that I really needed to go with a more universal theme about war, conflicts that don't die. You could think of it as Northern Ireland, which a lot of people do because the characters are Irish. It's just that thing about enmities that don't die. It could also be the floor of the U.S. Senate. Anger seems to have taken over, and it's permissible.
What do you think of horror movies these days?
Not much. I've always been disappointed that so few people use it as a metaphor. They're not parables. It just seems to be shock. Every once in a while, one comes along that's pretty interesting or in some way exciting and then it gets corrupted, usually by Hollywood, where it gets dumbed-down to its commercial essence.
Survival of the Dead is the sixth movie in the saga. Is it the final chapter?
I certainly wouldn't end it there. If this movie makes money, then what I'm lobbying to do is raise the money for two more and shoot them as one production and end it that way, with a little mini-saga.
Why can't zombies run?
It just doesn't make sense to me. That's just my conceit. What do they do, wake up and go join a spa? It seems to me their ankles would snap. I just don't believe they're that agile. They're clumsy, awkward, just trying to get it together.
This interview has been condensed and edited.