Chris Wade loves zombies. Especially the ones found in the amazing George A. Romero’s Trilogy of The Dead, which includes the masterpieces that are Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead.
In fact he loves them so much he wrote a book, Speak of the Dead. Packed with information, interviews and insights into Romero’s seminal zombie movies it is a must have for all horror fans and essential for Romero lovers.
We caught up with Chris to talk zombies, zombies and more zombies along with other subjects that is.
You say in your book Speak of the Dead that you first watched Day of the Dead when you where 11 years old. Is this what started your love of horror and Romero films especially?
Oh yeah definitely! Before then I think the only horror I had watched was 80s things like Lost boys and a thing called Monster Squad which not many people will remember, but it was ace. It probably isn’t now, but I remember it being a classic horror comedy in the style of Lost Boys. But when I saw Day of the Dead it kind of sparked something.
What do you think is it about the Dead trilogy that captivated and enthralled you and so many others?
Romero has a very unique vision that kind of goes past the films themselves. They have a real anger in them, underneath the plot, but on the surface they work as proper horror gore films as well. I just think that Romero was firing on both cylinders and always made a proper well rounded scary film with something to say. The themes always relate to people too, and are relevant to the times.
Speak of the Dead is a brilliant book excellently put together as part criticism, part making of, part personal opinion all extremely informative and very readable. How did you come to write it and how hard was the research process?
Thanks for the compliment about the book because it really means a lot. I loved writing it and to hear positive things about it is so rewarding. The research wasn’t hard at all, it was a thrill. I got to re watch the films, read the old interviews, interview the people involved with the making of the movies and really dig deep. I decided to write it because I failed to find a real definitive guide and homage to the films out there. Whenever I do a non fiction project it’s usually out of pure love of the subject matter. It was so fun doing this project.
The book contains some great interviews with essential cast members including the star of the original Night of the Living Dead Judith O’Dea and special effects legend Tom Savini among others. What where they like in real life and how did they feel about the legacy of the movies they made?
The fact they were open to answering these questions, the kind of things they have talked about for years and years on end, really shows how much they respect George Romero and how they appreciate their involvement in such a great legacy. I think Tom Savini’s involvement in the book is particularly great for me and the whole project itself, as he has such an interesting story to tell. I won’t go into it too much as he gives us some great insight into the films, but I do think it was fantastic that people like Joe Pilato, Captain Rhodes himself, were open to this book.
The films met with a lot of negative criticism when they first came out why do you think that is and why have they since been re-evaluated?
I think Romero’s films, Dawn aside, have all been met with hostility or even indifference which is worse in some ways, upon release. He isn’t afraid to ruffle a few feathers and always says something about society and human nature that maybe the critics didn’t want to address. These aren’t feel good movies but they continue to have validity in today’s times. Plus they were So gory for the times…. They have been re evaluated and appreciated as the works of art they are. In my opinion, the Dead movies are perfection!
Every true horror fan knows Romero is the Grandfather of the zombie having created pretty much all the conventions we now associate with modern day zombies. How much of Romero’s zombie creation was design and how much was accidental?
I learned that quite a bit of it, mostly in Night of the Living Dead, was accidental. The whole flesh eating thing came about one night in a brainstorming session between George and the other investors in the movie, and this is the thing we now associate most with the Living Dead. But I think by the time Dawn of the Dead arrived, Romero had the ideas pre planned and didn’t want to make a zombie film for the sake of making one. He was much more prepared with his themes and his attack on consumerism by the time the second film came along. I see him as the key representative of the genre and I don’t think anyone else comes near him.
You talk in the book about the audiences increasing relationship with the zombies which leads to us sometimes sympathising more with them than the human characters. How did Romero achieve this and what was he trying to tell the audience about themselves?
Romero’s films are basically about a lack of human communication. By the time Day of the Dead comes along, the humans are so pre occupied with arguing and fighting that the creatures don’t seem quite as sinister. The zombies are US, by that I mean how much have we changed from our original form to the slobbering, drooling, flesh craved beasts we become in his films? Romero holds a mirror to us all, especially in Dawn when he really questions the so called “importance” of consumer goods. I think he was basically saying that the pre sixties generations submitted to the limited scope of the system. Only a true hippy gent like George could point that out in such a cool way…
Romero’s packs his films full of social and political ideas and satire more than many other directors either in or outside of horror. Why do you think the films work so well on these multiple levels as entertainment, social comment and intellectual stimulation?
Because he balances it all so well. Gore wise, the first three, especially Day, cannot be beaten. They provide the thrills and the spills, making you sick with the violence at times. But he always stimulates the mind, for me anyway and he just gets it right. i think the one film he balanced it all perfectly, although it isn’t my favourite, was Dawn of the Dead. he just got it right in the centre with that one and it works on so many levels. You really need to watch it and pay proper attention; notice the details, the direction, the whole thingt.. He just gets it right. It takes a lot longer to define the brilliance, but I think I did that in the book as best anyone could really.
What do you personally think of the Dead movies that followed the original trilogy including the remakes of the first three and the sequels made by Romero himself – Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead?
Well I think Romero’s follow ups are interesting and are all good films really. Land was really saying something about the snobbery of the class system, something I can really relate to in England. I also thought that Diary of the Dead really highlighted the ludicracy of the internet and the fact we have all this technology and have little to say with it. He was so on the mark with that film. The remakes are all OK, but they miss the underlying satire and become kind of video game shoot em ups.. which is Ok but not very Romero-esque when you look at them alongside his work.
What is Romero’s legacy on modern horror not just the zombie genre and what’s your opinion on the state of horror movies today?
I do think horror is thriving more than ever, but I’m kind of old fashioned for a young guy and think that people aren’t saying enough in their films. I mean, the sick things like Saw and all that type of genre.. it’s not my cup of tea, to sound really English.. But Romero is really respected for his older films, and kind of looked down on due to the last three by many of his fans. I think people should realise he is doing something really interesting and that he is the Master!
Has Romero read the book and if so what did he think?
No he hasn’t. I did try to get in contact but there was no reply. Which is a shame. But the blessings of the cast and especially Tom Savini does count for something. It’s an honour to have Lori Cardille and the others involved with the book.
Apart from Romero’s movies what other horror directors do you really rate?
It’s weird because I like the odd thing where the director who made it isn’t really a horror film maker. I LOVE The Shining and Exorcist, but Romero is the one guy I love as horror director. Saying that, I do like Carpenter a lot as well.
What’s next for you and ware there any other horror projects on the horizon?
I have a lot of other things due out. I always do a wide variety of types of projects. I have a kind of horror/psychological audiobook I wrote due in the new year and I also have a few more of my fiction books to release. I class myself as a surreal fiction writer really but I have a real passion for films and music too, so I do bits of non fiction on the side. I’ve been working with the comedian Charlie Chuck who is well known in the UK, lately on audio stuff and I have work out read on audio by the comedian Rik Mayall. It’s all on the Wisdom Twins site if anyone is interested.