Let’s get one thing straight: George Romero, the “Night of the Living Dead” director whose nightmarish vision of zombies rising from the grave to prey on the living has spawned countless imitations, never wanted to abandon the franchise that is his most celebrated legacy.
“After I made ‘Monkey Shines’ in 1988, I started developing a bunch of big movies for Hollywood studios, projects like ‘The Mummy,’” says Romero, 70. “We were rewriting movies for big stars — you know, let’s make this for Sharon Stone. Then the next week, we’d be rewriting the same movie for Eddie Murphy.
“But we weren’t actually making any movies. Eventually I just threw up my hands. I’d had enough. That’s the reaction I usually have when I try to work with Hollywood. I wanted to go back to making smaller, independent movies.”
With “Survival of the Dead,” opening Friday, he has.
Romero once intended to make a “Living Dead” movie every 10 years, as a reflection of “where we’re at” as a society, but he blames his Hollywood misadventure for missing the 1990s.
He roared back with “Land of the Dead” in 2005 and has since produced two more: “Diary of the Dead” (2007) and the Western-themed “Survival.”
Romero understands why Hollywood has concentrated lately on remaking horror films that represent known commodities, including his own “Dawn of the Dead” (2004). It’s the money.
“I understand it on an economic level, but these movies don’t make sense to me,” he says. “Zack Snyder turned ‘Dawn of the Dead’ into a video game — what was the point? Hollywood studios are taking films with names that everybody recognizes and gambling that people will spend their money on them.”
After “Land of the Dead,” Romero deemed it necessary to return to his modest roots, with movies like “Diary” and “Survival,” which cost less than $3 million apiece and afforded him creative control.
Doing so allowed him to make a different kind of zombie movie — in this case, one inspired by the classic Westerns of the ’40s and ’50s.
“The story we came up with, two families fighting each other, reminded me of an old William Wyler movie, ‘The Big Country,’ so I decided to make a Western,” he says. “Who knows? Maybe I’m out of my mind. But I liked how we approached ‘Survival.’
“It’s a bunch of filmmakers who aren’t young but feel young, getting together and making movies we love. Maybe the next one will be a noir. As long as we keep the budget reasonable, we’ll call the shots.”
IF YOU GO
Survival of the Dead
Starring Alan Van Sprang, Kenneth Welsh, Kathleen Monroe, Devon Bostick
Written and directed by George Romero
Running time 1 hour 30 minutes