Friday night was zombie night at the Hero Complex Film Festival. The two films (and one TV show sizzle reel) shown all showed very different takes on the zombie genre, but all four special guests present knew that they had one person to thank for making their work possible: George Romero.
“I think the only thing that me and Simon [Pegg] really feel is that George Romero should always be given proper respect for starting the whole thing, which I don’t think he always is,” Edgar Wright said about his passion for zombie films following a screening of “Shaun of the Dead.”
In addition to Wright and Pegg, Zack Snyder and Robert Kirkman were also present for “Dawn of the Dead” and “The Walking Dead,” respectively. Wright, Pegg and Snyder had the most to thank Romero for, as “Shaun of the Dead” was a comedic spin on Romero’s 1978 classic “Dawn of the Dead,” and Snyder’s film was a direct remake.
“Romero having created the genre and, in a weird way, a world that is kind of unique in that, no matter what, you kind of have to go yeah, we acknowledge that it’s a sort of Romero world, we’re just sort of passing through it. Which I think that’s cool,” Snyder said.
Kirkman also acknowledged that Romero was “a huge influence” on “The Walking Dead.” But according to Pegg, he is the only influence.
“[Zombies are] always seen like being vampires or werewolves. They’re not. George came up with this in 1968,” Pegg said. “Zombies existed in a sort of voodoo way, but he combined it with the cannibal and mixed in a little kind of communicability and you’ve got your modern zombie. That was all George’s idea, and it’s been picked up now and run with as if — and by us as well, although we did it actively by eyeing towards him — but like it’s a free for all, and really George needs to be canonized for what he did, I think.”
In fact, Wright and Pegg went as far as to mean for “Shaun of the Dead” to be a part of Romero’s universe. Since “Night of the Living Dead” took place on a farm, “Dawn of the Dead” in a mall and “Day of the Dead” in an army compound in Florida, the writing team said they considered “Shaun” to be taking place at the same time, except in London.
“What we tried to do, I guess similar to Rob’s show, is we tried to set it within George’s universe. That was one of the things that I always loved about the original Romero trilogy is, as far as I could thing, they were the only horror franchise, or only franchise, that took different stories within the same crisis. There were no returning characters,” Wright said. “That was part of the comedy/horror thing, is we tried not to make the zombies to funny. It’s the reactions of the characters that’s nearly all the jokes, and their reactions to the fact the world is ending.”
After they wrapped “Shaun of the Dead,” Wright had Universal reach out to Romero to see if he was interested in giving his blessing to the project. He agreed, and watched the movie in a Florida movie theater with no one but a Universal security guard keeping him company.
“George watched it and we got a call from him later than night and he couldn’t have been sweeter about it,” Wright said.
Wondering about that Universal security guard? Well, apparently he was there to make sure Romero didn’t bootleg the movie or steal the reels of film. “Like we didn’t owe him money for stealing the title,” Wright said with a laugh.
Though their appreciation of George Romero was universal, Snyder, Kirkman, Wright and Pegg had some differing opinions on the fast versus slow zombies debate. “The Walking Dead” features slow zombies (though Kirkman said that sometimes he gets complains that the TV show’s zombies are too fast, so he’s affectionately dubbed them “speedwalking zombies”), and “Shaun of the Dead” does as well. Snyder’s “Dawn of the Dead” had much faster zombies, as opposed to the Romero film that it is based on.
“I don’t have a preference,” Snyder said. “I don’t have a preference either,” added Kirkman.
He continued, “Well seriously, I know sometimes you get some flack for the running zombies, but the thing is there is room for all kinds of zombies, and the zombies in your movie are totally goddamn awesome.”
That’s a nice sentiment, but Wright was not so kind about Snyder’s decision to include fast zombies.
“Since Rob Kirkman’s gone and since Zack is gone, I’m firmly a slow zombies, man,” Wright said. “The original recipe.”
Pegg was even more passionate in his defense.
“I was having this conversation with Max Brooks, who was saying that they made the zombies in ‘World War Z’ fast, which he wasn’t entirely along with, but we were talking about it and how much we love slow zombies and he said it’s the difference between a bullet and a tumor,” Pegg said. “The tumor is far more sinister and scary than a bullet, and I think that’s key to the slow zombie. I think that’s what’s made them so beloved, is this weird eerie ineptness that they have, which makes them sad, it makes them tragic, it makes you feel sorry for them.”