Since presumably lapsing into the public domain, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD has been subjected to numerous indignities--sub-standard quality home video editions, multiple colorizations, an unwatchable mess of a 3D remake, and the infamous 30th Anniversary “SPECIAL EDITION.”
Because of this, news of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: RESURRECTION is already being met with suspicion among horror fans. What do you say to them?
As a horror fan myself I understand the cynicism that re-working a much loved classic is often met with. The reality that filmmakers face is that it is easier to get a film financed and distributed when it has a brand name title. That’s just how the industry is right now and as an independent company it is easier for us to raise finance for a film that has ‘Night of the Living Dead’ in the title. But that is no reason to make an unimaginative re-hashing or churn out a story with no thought or substance.
When a lot of remakes are produced in the modern era they often duplicate the superficial elements of the original film without any attempt to understand the social and emotional context which made the source material so compelling. The directors too often have no affiliation for the genre and rarely recapture the genuine suspense and tension the classics are known for. You can see those hacks coming a mile off, with their flashy editing and loud soundtrack over-compensating for the inability to build genuine tension. All the studio remakes often lack imagination in cinematography too, every horror film seems to be bathed in those awful green and brown filters.
It looks like shit, literally. Not to mention that the wonderful practical effects we saw in the 70s and 80s have now been replaced by an abundance of CGI. You end up with a film that looks more like a video game, and it takes an audience out of the movie because it doesn’t look real.
One of the biggest flaws is a lack of interesting characters that break beyond stereotype, no wonder an audience can’t feel true tension when the characters are so faceless we're rooting for the villains.
I feel the best horror films have always been gritty low budget affairs powered by hungry young filmmakers with something to prove, and that’s what NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: RESURRECTION will be. We are independent of the studios so we have the creative freedom to make interesting choices. Instead of throwing a bunch of strangers together who spend the majority of the movie arguing, the principal characters in this Zombie movie are four generations of a family, which give the relationships added depth and emotion. We will be using all practical effects, no CGI. We have an innovative young director, James Plumb, who has a genuine love for the genre. Everyone involved loves the original film and we know that we aren’t going to better it. That’s why we are going in a new direction with the characters and the plot twists, rather than staging a pointless scene for scene remake. Events will happen in this story that will unsettle the audience and leave them wondering what the hell is going to happen next. We are also not a thoughtless cash-in, using this title means we are obligated to deliver a film with substance and I wouldn't put my name to it if I wasn't confident that we could do that. We hope NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: RESURRECTION will sit alongside the original film as an entertaining modern companion piece.
By making a NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD movie we know we are going to be a target for cynicism. But if genre fans give this movie a shot we‘ll take them on a horror ride they'll remember for all the right reasons.
The modern zombie genre is a uniquely American creation, but the best zombie films of the past decade have come from outside the US. Do you have any thoughts as to why this might be?
America is most definitely the leading light when it comes to producing classic horror. But in recent years perhaps too many American companies and filmmakers have become tied to convention. It doesn’t help when studios, financiers and producers make decisions that often result in the filmmakers’ new ideas being crushed in favor of the tried and trusted formula we’ve seen many times over. I know the “rules” of a genre are important, but sometimes it’s good to spread your wings and approach familiar genre territory from a different angle. Other countries and cultures can often bring a fresh voice to American material. But ultimately I feel the quality of a movie is down to the people making it, regardless of where they are from.
Some people have tried to do something different with the genre, but all that has resulted in is the current craze of zombies running like Olympic sprinters. What the hell is all that about? I know this started with 28 DAYS LATER but they weren’t zombies, they were people infected with the “Rage” virus. I think the creators of subsequent zombie movies must have felt that a fast moving zombie would be scarier and to some extent that might be true. But we won’t be including any sprinting zombies in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: RESURRECTION. Asking people to believe corpses can return to life is enough, asking them to believe that a corpse can kick ass in the 100 meter sprint is a step too far.
As a viewer, I find the most effective zombies to be the ones without tons of stuff glued to their faces. My favorite cinematic zombies are, appropriately enough, Optic Nerve's excellent creations in Tom Savini's much-maligned and highly underrated NIGHT remake. They came closest to evoking the look of actual corpses, which no doubt comes from Savini's direction--he was a photographer in 'Nam and knows dead when he sees it.
Can you describe the look you'll be going for with your walking corpses? Who's doing the FX?
I agree that Tom Savini’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is very under rated. There’s some terrific set pieces in that film, particularly the opening graveyard scene which I thought was a superb riff on the original. If that film didn’t have the burden of being a remake it would be far better regarded.
For our project we have a new talent in charge of the effects, Rachael Southcott. People may not know her name now but after this film she is going to get a lot of work in the genre. We are going for the more realistic grounded zombie look with anatomically correct wounds. We want to ground everything in reality in this film, the characters, the setting and the look of the zombies.
Midway through the second episode of THE WALKING DEAD, when the zombies were trying to claw their way into the department store, I came to the realization that zombies were in danger of being played out... that no matter how well-made a new zombie production, that work would suffer from the fact that we've basically seen all of this before. We're reaching the saturation point.
What are you doing to avoid this?
James Plumb and I had a similar discussion when we were mapping out the script. I think a good reference point is if you look outside the zombie genre and to horror in general. Look at the famous icons of horror. In the original HALLOWEEN Michael Myers is a constant threat but he’s in the shadows a lot of the time. Same thing with Freddy Krueger in the first A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Then if you look at the subsequent sequels and remakes of those films they put the villains to the fore, you see them a lot and their impact lessens. So in that case I think it’s important to use the villain sparingly, and pick the right moments for maximum impact. In this genre, if you see someone blowing a zombie’s head off every five minutes, you become desensitized after a while. So what we will try to do is give the audience characters and relationships they can invest in. We focus on how four generations of a family, with all of the history and emotion involved, cope with facing their own mortality. In our film the characters aren’t informed by a history of zombie movie “rules”, we have them reacting to situations as we would in the real world. The threat level to the family also extends beyond the zombies. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but they won’t just have the undead to deal with.
What are your favorite zombie films?
Obviously the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and DAWN OF THE DEAD are masterpieces and revolutionized not just zombie movies but film in general. But I always had a soft spot for Romero‘s original DAY OF THE DEAD. It has a slower pace than the other movies but I felt the characters were really interesting, ‘Logan’, ‘Rhodes’, ‘Bub’, and I always thought it had the best FX of any Romero movie. Joe Pilato is an absolute legend, I love his performance and never tire of seeing him shouting down Frankenstein and the scientists!
The remake of that film was a total disgrace, a zombie walks up the wall onto the ceiling at one point!
Another zombie movie I particularly love is Lucio Fulci’s ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS (AKA ZOMBI 2 and ZOMBIE). I’m a big fan of Italian horror and exploitation in general, and that is one of my favorites. The zombies look fantastic in that one, plus that eyeball scene still impresses me even though I’ve seen it more than a hundred times!
Does your film contain analogues to characters from the original film? Essentially, what I'm asking is: does anyone come to get Barbara, and will we see Ben and an exploration of racial/social strife? Or have you allowed those elements to be a part of the original and opted instead for a new cast of characters?
There is one character from the original who plays a very prominent role throughout, but other than that it's essentially a new cast of characters. We won't be exploring the same themes as the original, with this story being set in modern times we'll be exploring modern issues.
In 1968 they didn't have the internet, social networking and mobile phones so we've had to acknowledge those advances in technology, which is an interesting challenge when you're trying to create an environment where the characters are truly isolated and cut off from the world. But technology isn't a prominent theme. The most interesting element for me was looking at the contrast in the way the younger and older generation view violence and having to face their own mortality. Trapping four generations of a family in one location allows us to really explore that. Ultimately this is a story about human beings rather than zombies, underneath the intestine munching and throat ripping we hope to touch on some universal truths about the human condition.
Intestine munching and throat ripping? Is there going to be a lot of that in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: RESURRECTION? Are you going for old-school gorefest or suggestive restraint?
The film will have a lot of suspense and tension, but it wouldn't feel right if the undead didn't get a meal time at some point!
What format are you shooting in, and how would describe director James Plumb's directorial style?
We are shooting in High Definition. James has directed a number of shorts in a variety of genres and has brought a unique style to each one. James is a very visual filmmaker, he has paid his dues in low budget filmmaking and I feel it has definitely helped his development as a director. Despite having limited resources, every short film I've seen from him has been progressively more ambitious and impressive. This is the perfect time for James' feature debut. Far be it for me to put any pressure on him but I feel that in years to come he will develop into one of the UK's best directors.
You start shooting in September. How long will principal photography last, and when can we expect the film's release?
Principal photography will last a total of four weeks. We'll have post production completed by Christmas with a release in the UK and US planned for early 2012.
It's taken a little over forty years for the sub-genre created by George Romero and John Russo to completely saturate pop culture. Video games, movies, books, and television --zombies have taken over and are more popular than ever. To what do you attribute this, and how long do you think it will last?
I think there's something about Zombies that really resonates with people. Zombies deal with the deep seated fear of death we all have, and the eternal question we all ponder about what could happen to us when we pass away. Ultimately, most people enjoy the thrill of being scared for entertainment and what's scarier than death itself trying to eat you alive? A lot of the recent incarnations of zombies have been more humorous though and personally I don't want to see too much of that. I think Zombies will always be popular if the quality of the movies, TV shows, books etc is maintained. The creators of the modern concepts need to keep the zombies frightening. That's what we hope to accomplish with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: RESURRECTION. We intend to take the audience out of the comfort zone of what they are used to seeing in zombie movies.
When the Walter Read film distribution company re-titled NIGHT OF THE FLESH EATERS as NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, they left out the Copyright mark, leading to the belief that the film was in the public domain.
Legally speaking, it isn’t. Image Ten fought for fifteen years to wrest distribution rights from deadbeat distributor, Walter Reade. In 1978, Reade went bankrupt and the distribution rights reverted to Image Ten. In 1983, Image Ten won back their copyright in federal court. By then, unauthorized copies of the film were so prevalent that to track them down and fight them in court would have been financially impossible. Today, the matter is worse. So, technically, if Image Ten had the money to take anyone exploiting the NIGHT name to court, they’d quite possibly win. Does this give you pause, either ethically or professionally?
If Image Ten wanted to sue then no doubt they'd have to track down dozens of other filmmakers and distributors who have used the title for decades now, which just seems a big waste of time and money. Personally, I think it's George Romero who should be suing someone for tainting his original classic with that abomination of a sequel CHILDREN OF THE LIVING DEAD.
I have every sympathy for the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD team that a distributor's mistake led to them losing a lot of money from the original release. George Romero in particular has had to sign away the rights to a lot of his subsequent DEAD films as well, just to get them made. It's a tough old business and I can empathize with not getting the amount of money from a film you had hoped to. But I'm sure they have all done pretty well financially down the years, all of them have launched successful careers and made a comfortable living. They are certainly worth alot more money than any hardcore fan who forks over his or her hard earned cash to see the films they have made.
I know some of the original team have criticized people who use the title and I of course understand their point of view. But while it's not their fault the film is public domain, I think complaining about other filmmakers taking the opportunity to use the title isn't fully justified because they have sought to capitalize on the original film's fanbase themselves. Look at the additional footage some of the original team inserted into the 30th Anniversary edition. That disappointed a lot of fans. Particularly because the producers themselves publicized the DVD by claiming the footage equaled the original film, when anyone who saw it knows that it didn't. They have a right to try and make money from the original any way they can, but they didn't need to pretend the new footage lived up to the original. That's a surefire way of alienating dedicated fans.
Personally, I hope that the makers of the original film remember the position they were in when they made it. Talented people just looking for a chance to break out and start a career doing what they love. The original film gave them that opportunity and despite the public domain issue they have still done very well out of it. So it would be great if they were happy for other up and comers to take the opportunity to make a NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD movie and launch their careers too. But judging by past comments I get the impression they won't be! All we can do is try and honor the title by making a quality movie and who knows, maybe the original film's producers will begrudgingly appreciate the effort. Stranger things have happened!
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: RESURRECTION starts shooting on September 24th.