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PCR #270  (Vol. 6, No. 21)  This edition is for the week of May 23--29, 2005.
A Truly Magic Moment
 by William Moriaty
Summer's Here!
 by Mike Smith
Remakes and Sequels....There is Only One George A. Romero
 by Drew Reiber
Seijun Suzuki-A-Go-Go
 by Peter Card
The Force Wasn't With Them....JawsFest On The Horizon....Monster Bash Also Looming
 by Matt Drinnenberg
From Last Week....Bad Hair Day....Who Are You?....Passing On....Jaws: The Story, Part 20
 by Mike Smith
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Horror Movie Update by Drew Reiber

Remakes and Sequels....There is Only One George A. Romero

Today, The Hollywood Reporter announced plans for a remake “George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead”.

Yes, you read that right. No, if you remember a sequel already announced to “Day of the Dead” you’re not mistaken. But there’s no way I can tell if you’re thinking of the CORRECT sequel. Why not? Because there are two completed unrelated ones coming of VASTLY different quality, one with the original creative team and another with the original title. Confused? Well, I’ll do my best to sort it out for you so the evil bastards behind the remake don’t get your money with their pathetic manipulations. A many industry professionals (i.e. hacks) have been surviving for years through this exact practice and its high time someone attempt to dissolve the illusion that there is any valid extension of Romero’s work outside his own. Let me start by telling you a story.

Back in 1968, as I’m sure all of you know, writer/director George A. Romero co-created “Night of the Living Dead” along with fellow producer and co-writer John Russo. No one suspected it, but this film would see become one of the most popular, profitable and ripped off genre pictures through the rest of the twentieth century and beyond. And despite what many fans have come to assume, none of those who created the movie would ever see a profit return on the film that resembled its long-term success.

Due to a reorganization of the distributor handing “Night”, someone forgot to place a copyright on the feature as it was released. Due to this gross oversight, people believed they were allowed to copy or otherwise distribute the film on their own without reimbursement to any of the owners and producers. Curtailing this practice was impossible and to this day you can still go to any video store and buy a cheap copy of the original 1968 “Night of the Living Dead” from a host of different DVD studios which carry different prices and quality.

One may never know how much this oversight helped or hurt this film, as it vastly improved its distribution around the world and probably generated the massive grassroots cult following that only came AFTER its initial release. However, this ever-increasing success did not go unnoticed by either Romero or Russo. Once the potential success of a sequel became obvious, a tension began to mount between the two of them. Their production company, Image Ten, dissolved after Romero’s second film “There’s Always Vanilla” and now both had developed separate plans on exactly what to do with a sequel.

Romero had an intention to create an all-new feature, distinct from the original, which eventually came to fruition with the help of producers Richard Rubenstein and Dario Argento (with his brother Claudio). Russo had planned on little more than a complete retread, as evidenced by the regurgitation of the original “Night” script in his sequel’s novel form with only slight variations. An agreement was struck between the two that Romero would use the title extension “of the Dead” with Russo retaining the right to use the extension “of the Living Dead”. As previously alluded to, Romero followed through with his critically acclaimed and highly successful “George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead” in 1978 while Russo published his sequel as a book titled “Return of the Living Dead”. Events are starting to sound familiar, aren’t they?

The story goes that another condition was struck between the two as gentlemen. As Romero’s notoriety grew due to both his sequel and the critical success following his neo-realist vampire classic “Martin”, he feared the inevitable optioning of Russo’s “Return” might be used by film producers to leech some money and ticket sales off of his newfound credibility. Russo was asked to promise that any adaptation of his book would remain exactly that, following his story closely as to avoid any possible ‘confusion’ that might be created to lead people to film version as if it had something to do with Romero. Naturally once Russo sold the rights for the feature film, no such demand was agreed to on paper and the story was completely thrown out in favor of just using the title for the purpose of marketing of rip-off of Romero’s style.

Though Dan O’Bannon’s ascension to the director’s seat would cause the rip-off direction to be dropped and produce a fine horror film, the primary purpose of generating confusion and stealing the thunder of Romero’s popular zombie formula would ultimately succeed. Many factors ensured that it was linked to the competition, ranging from references to the original “Night” in the film itself to clear advantages gained by a larger budget for marketing and distribution resources. Independent marketing firms would sell the film with Romero’s name attached (which were promptly threatened with litigation) and confused entertainment shows declared it to be Romero’s latest film.

The manipulation of the media was so successful that extras having worked on Romero’s true sequel, “George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead” released that same year, wrote nasty letters to the director as they were concerned when they didn’t see their scenes in the finished product. Sure, “Day” suffered due to the smaller-than-expected budget and distribution, but it didn’t help that everyone seemed to think it was another movie entirely. Comparatively, “Return of the Living Dead” was so successful that it spawned four sequels in just a decade and maintained enough of a presence through the eighties that people still imitate zombies with the franchise trademark “BRRRAAAIIINSSS!”

Due to the failure of “Day of the Dead” in 1985, Romero would not return to the series proper for nearly fifteen years. In the meantime, Russo had realized that his gravy train had left the station and began contemplating the idea of remaking “Night of the Living Dead”. As many of the original Image Ten studio members retained content and title rights, a new agreement was struck between them to see this idea through before someone else found a way to do it without them. Romero decided it best to write as well as produce, hoping that the director would be longtime collaborator/actor/makeup effects genius Tom Savini (whose recent projects involved directing episodes of “Tales from the Darkside”). Sure enough, despite all the problems and budget/schedule mishaps, the remake was released in 1990.

Nearly a decade later, probably around 1998 or so, George Romero returned to the idea of creating another entry in his “Dead” franchise. Hoping to produce a zombie feature once a decade to reflect his feelings on society at the time, he began developing the idea of a post-apocalyptic world that ignored the zombie problem assuming that it was no longer worthy of their attention. Over the next several years, he would take the development to small distribution companies like Anchor Bay and eventually get it to the bigger studios like 20th Century Fox. Unfortunately for Romero, September 11, 2001 was around the weekend when he turned in his latest draft for the then titled “Dead Reckoning” (named after the anti-zombie super vehicle featured in the story).

Interest in dark horror like this would pretty much die down for a while until the Danny Boyle’s successful rip-off “28 Days Later” turned heads on the theatrical limited release market. The obviously renewed audience interest would put Fox’s interest back into Romero’s project, but with odd requests ranging from the use of a title like “Night of the Living Dead: Dead Reckoning” to the idea of just remaking “Night” all over again. Fed up with the lack of serious interest at Fox (who would instead put a sequel to “28” into development), Romero began to seek elsewhere for financing. Alternatively, Russo spent much of the 90’s trying to figure out new and uninteresting ways of beating the (un)dead horse.

Beginning by establishing new title rights through the publishing of his limited comic book series, “Children of the Living Dead”, he further exploited thousands of fans through Anchor Bay’s 30th Anniversary Edition of “Night of the Living Dead”. For those of you who have either to hear of this abomination or already blocked it out of their memory, Russo basically copied the approach of the Star Wars special editions. He re-scored and ‘re-mastered’ (basically washing out the image) the film, and spruced it up with all-new scenes he shot and integrated himself.

The outcome was so horrible and offensive that fans routinely chewed out Romero for the next several years, though he had nothing to do with it. Ain’t It Cool News writer/founder Harry Knowles likened the experience to finding his mother’s charred remains. Thanks this new product, Russo even managed to convince a few people to finance a z-grade, direct-to-video mess (yet another ‘sequel’ to “Night”) carrying his “Children of the Living Dead” title in 2001. Though this film was immediately forgotten once released, it wasn’t long before another previous Romero collaborator and producer got some ideas on how to exploit the original films. Enter “Dawn” and “Day” producer Richard Rubenstein.

Previously a major part of the production effort behind Romero’s work from the mid-seventies through the mid-eighties, Rubenstein decided to use his ownership of title rights to pitch new sequels and remakes to that portion of Romero’s filmography. He managed to get Universal interested in remake rights to “Dawn of the Dead”, which we all know saw successful release in early 2004. He then immediately sold his remaining rights for “Day of the Dead” to a company called Taurus Entertainment, after Universal turned him down. After all, what did the studio need it for when adding 2 to the “Dawn” moniker was far less confusing for their audience? Taurus turned around and immediately set to producing a low-budget ‘sequel’ entitled “Day of the Dead 2: Contagion”. Though this supposed sequel has yet to see release, early reports of previewed footage have not been kind. With interest in the sequel lower than it was when first announced, what else could Taurus do but announce a new project… a remake!

Taking our story back to Romero, he found his financing for “Dead Reckoning” which was now being called “Land of the Dead”. Two separate independent production companies, Wild Bunch & the newly formed Atmosphere Entertainment, combined their resources to get the picture off the ground. Fresh off the success of their “Dawn” remake and the enormously successful British zombie comedy “Shaun of the Dead” (which outgrossed 28 Days Later in both films’ home field of the UK), Universal signed a negative pickup deal guaranteeing purchase and distribution of the feature upon completion. It had taken him at least six years to get off the ground, but his fourth entry in the true continuation of the original “Night of the Living Dead” was finally coming to be.

So there you have it folks. The ridiculously convoluted story of how a copyright mishap and several limited partnerships have launched at least 5 sequels, 4 successful zombie franchises, 3 remakes, 2 previous “Dead” producers running amok and 1 f-ing embarrassing special edition of “Night” that should be avoided at all costs. Even with all those figures in mind, there is only ONE filmmaker who has strove to tell new and effective stories based on his original contributions. Romero’s original trilogy still stands as prime examples of the best in contemporary American horror filmmaking. If you consider yourself a fan of his work or even just the genre, then you simply must seek out “George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead” when it hits theaters June 24, 2005 from Universal Pictures.

Anything else – Return of the Living Dead 4 & 5, 28 Weeks Later, Day of the Dead remake/Contagion, etc. – will just end up another attempt to regurgitate a movie he made over 35 years ago.

NOTES: For those of you looking for definitive editions of the Romero films I mentioned above, see Elite Entertainment’s ‘Night of the Living Dead: Millennium Edition’, Anchor Bay Entertainment’s “George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead: Ultimate Edition” and “Day of the Dead: Divimax Series” 2-disc edition. For those of you interested in the cheaper/simpler route, single disc editions of “Dawn” (theatrical version only) and “Day” (no special features disc) are offered as well.

"Horror Movie Update" is ©2005 by Drew Reiber.  Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2005 by Nolan B. Canova.