What George Romero’s zombies have in common: personality! (a slideshow)
When George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead comes out later this month, in theaters and simultaneously via On-Demand (a first for Romero), it will mark the horror master’s sixth return to the ripe troft of the undead.
That’s because zombies have been very good to him. He didn’t create the undead genre, but most people think he did. And the truth is he deserves most of the credit he gets. His first foray into flesh eaters and the people who shoot them was 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, a classic in any genre. Most people forget that ten years passed, an entire decade free of dead, before Romero made Dawn of the Dead, the second film in his series.
When you watch all of his Dead pictures in a row, something interesting stands out, even more so than the fabulous amounts of gore on display: his leads are almost always either strong women or black men. Night was shouldered entirely by Duane Jones. In Dawn, it was Gayleen Ross and Ken Foree who did most of the heavy lifting. Day featured a similar pairing, with Lori Cardille and Terry Alexander. In Land we had John Luguizamo and Asia Argento. Hubba hubba. Michelle Morgan did the duties in Diary. And now Athena Karkanis largely carries Survival, as a lesbian Latina who knows her way around an AK-47 (along with Diary’s soldier, Alan Van Sprang).
When I mentioned this to Romero, he said, “I’d just rather give the characters some color, you know?” We were speaking by phone. He was at home in Toronto, where he’s lived for five years after moving one of his productions there to save money. “I even do it with the zombies. They’re not just guys in Nikes and t-shirts. I try to give them a past. I have a wonderful wardrobe person [and] we have this shorthand about how can we create a little character. Even if we’re just gonna get a glimpse of these zombies, at least give them a past… just to humanize them a little more.” I looked back through all of Romero’s Dead films, every single one, and you know what? He’s right. He really does. Them zombies ain’t just walking stiffs.
So here’s a look at some of the best undead personalities from the series (click the link at the bottom of the image for captions, or view full-screen).