George Romero had come to Long Island, along with actress, Lynn Lowry, to grace a showing of his 1973 film, The Crazies. What more can any sane horrorhead ask for? To have the chance to meet one of the most influential directors in modern horror cinema is always a gold star in my book. And Lowry, who starred in The Crazies and Shivers, was charming. Oh, and Zombos tagged along, but managed to stay out of trouble. Perfect.
We arrived early. Zombos went for the popcorn and I went for the tickets. Since we had over a half hour to kill before the show, we headed into the café for coffee. The Huntington Cinema Arts Centre offers hot organic popcorn, to boot. It was a pleasant surprise to find Lowry already there, manning an autograph table. Romero had been delayed in traffic.
Zombos immediately darted over to her table and perused her photographs, anxious to get an autograph. The range of photos ran from demure to quite racy, and Zombos' hand instinctively paused over the raciest one. I whispered one simple word in his ear, and he chose more wisely, settling on a headshot that could be displayed proudly. That word, of course, was ‘Zimba.’ There are many miracles I can perform as valet, but reviving his corpse after Zimba got through with him if she saw the photo he almost picked up is not one of them.
We hurried into the theatre to get good seats for the show—the place was starting to get crowded—and Zombos ran smack into Creighton from Ghoul a Go Go. He was incognito of course, all six feet six inches of him. I picked Zombos up, brushed him off, and we found two excellent seats. Zombos mumbled something about Creighton being Tor Johnson’s illegitimate brother, but I kept him from causing a scene.
The theater quickly filled to capacity, and Lowry introduced the film. The Crazies is a quirky, at times unintentionally funny and rough film done with no-frills camera work and on a shoe-string budget: one shoe’s worth. But standouts include the white hazard-suited and gas-masked military personal popping up in the town, who are just as clueless as the townsfolk, the really bad hair makeup, and an interesting series of fast cuts between scenes and dialog during the conversation between the ineffective military personnel in the town, and the ineffective military brass outside. The acting is adequate, the art direction okay, and the slow spreading of the virus through the characters and the town still effective, especially in today’s political and social climate. It reminded me very much of the classic Star Trek episode, The Naked Time, where people lose their Ego filters and start to act—well—crazy, but in a way that reflects their repressed desires.
After the film, Romero and Lowry held a short QA session, though most of the questions were directed to him. The questions were lively, the answers priceless. Here's a paraphrased sample of Romero's answers:
There were a lot of scenes involving food in this film. Was this on purpose?
No. I’m told my stuff makes people un-hungry, actually.
I heard that this film had trouble with distribution. What was the problem?
Lee Hessel; he didn’t have clout. He was not a big enough distributor.
What was your favorite movie to make?
I don’t know. Hard to say. I think it has to be a film I made called Martin.
Your film [The Crazies] is more relevant today, with Katrina, 911…[not sure how the question ended, but Mr. Romero’s response is quite revealing.]
I was a child of the sixties; we thought we had changed the world. Not sure why everyone is still shooting at each other.
What was the movie that inspired you the most?
Tales of Hoffman; it's a beautiful film. Back then it was harder to see a film when you wanted to. There was a kid in Brooklyn who had a 16mm print I would go and watch. That kid was Martin Scorsese.
What made you come up with the film, the idea?
So hard to answer these questions. I don’t know. You come up with an idea in the shower.
What are you currently working on?
Stephen King’s From a Buick 8.
What would you do with the sequel to Land of the Dead?
Follow the people in the truck as they travel on their way.
Did Richard Matheson’s novel, I am Legend, influence your film Night of the Living Dead?
Yes. I ripped it off. It was made a couple of times…I felt that, basically, it was about revolution. And I wanted to do a film about that.
A very young fan got up and asked this question:
Were your horror movies supposed to be this funny? [a nice chuckle from the audience followed the question].
I grew up reading EC comics. To some extent, I can’t resist trying to be silly with it. Hell…Bride of Frankenstein is f**king hilarious.
What things really frighten you?
What scares me is what people do to each other.
After the QA session, we queued up for his signing. Zombos and I waited for close to two hours on a long, spiraling line. (Now there’s a horror film treatment in there somewhere.)
As we inched ever so closer, Creighton joined the line and begged his sister, who was ahead of us, to give Romero a DVD of Ghoul A Go-Go’s episodes.
“My word,” said Zombos, “she’s as big as he is. It’s a family of giants.”
She refused, saying it would be embarrassing. Creighton turned to the Goth couple behind us. They graciously accepted to hand the DVD to Romero. We finally met the man shortly after midnight and got a signed poster of Dawn of the Dead.
It was worth the wait.
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