Documenting George Romero’s Dead Cycle

May 4, 2013 | By


George Romero evolved from a director of industrial films and commercials to the chief pioneer of the zombie film, but between 1968 and 1978, the writer / director / editor / producer also ventured into other genres, demonstrating a yearning to test himself, if not build up a solid C.V. of fresh twists on classic and modern genres.

When he returned to the zombie genre with Dawn of the Dead, it was with brute force and a sharp satirical edge, and it remains a major work on par with Casablanca [M] (1942), Citizen Kane [M] (1941), The Godfather (1972), or The Matrix (1999).

Soon after, when Romero took offers from Hollywood to direct higher-budgeted projects, perhaps like many indie filmmakers, he was put in that nutty position where the studio wanted ‘that edgy indie feeling’ but without all the controversial elements that might lessen box office returns, if not make the resulting film too nichey.

He made three studio films: the Warner Bros. distributed Creepshow (1982), which was ahead of its time in terms of being a cheeky, satirical, comic book shocker; and two for the more indie-minded Orion Pictures – Monkey Shines (1988), and The Dark Half (1993) – of which the latter was among the last films produced by the dying mini-studio.

Romero’s next work, the shot-in-Canada Bruiser (2000), was an attempt as satire again, but the severely flawed film is only available on a handful of video releases outside of North America.

The next move seemed the most logical choice: return to the zombie genre, and see what plays out, but neither Survival of the Dead (2005) nor the increasingly lower-budgeted Diary of the Dead (2007) and Survival of the Dead (2009) have enabled him to try other genres, and the presumption is perhaps he has little interest beyond reconfiguring the zombie template through his subjective critical eyes.

He’s also not alone in being part of a group of iconoclastic indie filmmakers and genre pioneers whom Hollywood courts for remake / sequel /prequel rights, but feels there’s no need to fund a new film. John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, and Romero have all seen several of their classic works ‘re-imagined’ by a new batch of filmmakers, but none have made anything significant in recent years. (At least Romero and Carpenter’s last films have been released; Hooper’s Djinn, shot in the UAE and completed in 2012, has vanished and is reportedly being held back until 2014 due to rather picky issues.)

Synapse’s DVD and limited Blue-ray release of what’s billed as the Definitive Document of the Dead [M] brings attention back on Romero’s zombie odyssey, which began in 1968 and so far froze in 2009 with Survival of the Dead. Mark Frumkes’ documentary began in 1978 while Romero was filming Dawn of the Dead, and the two have reconnected every few years, resulting in patches of footage that somewhat follow Romero’s career highs and plateaus.

Frumkes has had to make slight editorial revisions to accommodate the new material, and Synapse’s disc is supposedly the endpoint of Frumkes’ own odyssey, since he’s likely made his own final statement on Romero’s Dead cycle.

To accomodate the review, I’ve also tried to add mobile reviews of Romero’s films from the main site, so in addition to Frumkes’ doc, there’s also Autopsy of the Dead [M] about the local people involved with Night of the Living Dead [M], plus Night of the Living Dead: 25th Anniversary Documentary [M] (1993), which is still unavailable on DVD.

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray release of the 1990 NOTLD remake [M] sold out in pre-orders, and I’ve added an expanded version of my fall ’12 Rue Morgue review.

To add some continuity between the Synapse and TT releases, I’ve also added mobile versions of the two Dawn of the Dead editions from Anchor Bay – the separate U.S. theatrical cut [M]  and the 4-disc Ultimate Edition [M] – plus reviews of three  Dawn soundtrack CDs: the Goblin score [M], the stock music [M], and a tribute CD [M]. Oh yeah: plus the stock music from the original NOTLD [M].


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'Hi: I want to hurt you because it's fun!'

This week’s been a little sporadic due to me being hit with something evil called Frozen Shoulder:  if you sleep badly long enough, and do repetitive tasks long enough, one day your arm feels like a nerve’s being ping-ed in multiple areas by some amorphous, fast-travelling barb (see illustration), and movement’s fairly limited.

It came on both shoulders – which is freakish, and just plain stupid – so I’ve had to splice in time some rest time between the reviewing of videos, CDs, and Hot Docs screenings. Mornings tend to start immediately with ice on the aggravated areas, but after a month of severe pain it’s slowly on the mend.

I’ve got a set of Hot Docs reviews coming shortly, and plus more Danish TV, Twilight Time’s new Blu-ray of Brian De Palma’s The Fury, some soundtrack reviews, and a podcast with composer Jeff Toyne, who’s latest series, Rogue, is currently airing on DirectTV.

Lastly, following reviews of this Sunday’s Hot Docs offerings, there’ll be a short collage of sights & sounds compiled while I was zipping between screenings. Yes, it’ll be arty-farty, and there will be some visual and aural distortion.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor ( Main Site / Mobile Site )

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