Tom and Nyssa Talk Zombies (with @Cacotopos and @VintageZombie)

<< Nyssa: As one does, I talk about zombies a lot on twitter. My mate Tom & I got into a discussion recently and we thought we’d explore the issue further! Click on the link above for more details as we explore their agency (or not), their biology, their powers and what actually makes a zombie film!  >>

Dark Sylvan Ungulate

When I talk zombies online, I inevitably talk zombies with my Twitter pal Nyssa Harkness, who is writing (and apparently finishing it before she dies) a Masters thesis on zombies in literature and film.


Oh hey! Today Nyssa joins me to talk about zombies in film and literature! I’ve marked my text in black and hers in indented, bloody red. I hope it’s enough!

Also I’d like to thank Gary Kemble for the banner picture – that’s from Brisbane Zombiewalk 2011, with me and my son there on the right! I think I zombie-kidnapped him.

I’m not really a zombie expert in terms of having watched every classic zombie movie, but it seems from our discussions that I have at least some contribution to make in this area, specifically by throwing a sabot into the finely tuned semantic engines used to frame a discussion on zombies.

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Do we think too much?

I’ve finished another glorious book of essays about the meanings of zombies, movies and post-humanism. But I’ve stumbled across another book (apart from another one I want to buy) that questions all the research I’m reading and planning on doing.

In Combined and Uneven Apocalypse by Evan Calder Williams, the author questions critiques of zombie works for over-reading the text. Some of the analysis, he says, is not really in-depth but just pointing out what happens in the movie and only a surface interpretation. E.g. Dawn of the Dead being totally about consumerism because zombies are in the mall or an African-American dies by a redneck, therefore the text about race.

“Simply because a film seems to point out problems of social inequality does not mean that it is a radical film, or even one that is therefore ‘smarter’ and more aware than those films hell-bent on entertainment, social critique be damned.”

So I’m trying to think about this and my own work deeper, but I’m not sure how it’s going. Directors of some zombie movies had spoken in interviews about how the movie and zombies are very deliberately placed to examine 9/11 or consumerism or race or whatever. Dawn of the Dead is not just about consumerism because the zombies are in the mall, but about how the humans interact with being in the mall too. Maybe I’m not reading this bit properly.

I’ve seen the ‘reading too much into things’ directed at scholars and reviewers before. Is it always about the author’s intention? One of my favourites, I kissed a zombie and I liked it by Adam Selzer, has zombies reborn through the magic of a big supershop wanting free slave labour. Asking the author on twitter (ages ago) if it was relating to the original Haitian zombies as plantation slaves, he said he wanted a good reason to have zombies in our world. Does this mean that we shouldn’t read into the whole Walmart-like business wanting to use people (or zombies) for their benefit?

You can check out a review of this book here and a preview of the book here.

The Dead Will Walk

The Dead Will Walk (2004) is a documentary on the making of Dawn of the Dead and the perspective of it’s impact from those who made it. This doco is also included in the special edition DVD of Dawn of the Dead, as well as the original, the extended, and the European cuts of the film (check it here).

When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth – Peter

George A Romero:

  • Was inspired by old monster classics
  • Tales of Hoffman, based on an opera, is the ‘one’ that made him want to make movies
  • His first short story was called Night of Anubis. He admits it was a total rip off of I am Legend by Richard Matheson, but in adapting and changing it, it became the screenplay for Night of the Living Dead
  • Shot Night of the Living Dead over the course of a year
  • Resisted Hollywood calls to make another movie or make others movies straight afterwards.
  • Took a tour of the Monroeville Mall, one of the first indoor malls, which was owned by friends. Was told could survive nuclear attack in there, Romero thought ‘what about a zombie attack?’.
  • Went to Rome to write screenplay for Dawn, encouraged by Dario Argento.
  • Always writes his vision and then works out how to do it
On the making of the film:
  • George’s instruction to Tom Savini, makeup & cosmetic special effects, was to simply “think of ways to kill people”. And that’s what he did.
  • The zombies had no direction in ‘zombie shuffling’ and could make it up as they went, as long as they were consistent.
  • Part of what they did in filming was to cover as many angles as possible andget as many shots as possible so there were many options during the editing process.
  • Tom Savini admired by the crew and cast as “invaluable and talented”, “couldn’t believe some of the ideas he came up with”. Savini says his time in Vietnam as a combat photographer had a big influence on him when it came to working with gory special effects.
  • Dario Argento tweaked the editing for non-English countries. George’s original edit was quite long for Dario, and thus ended up creating an entirely different version from Romero’s with less gore and comic scenes. Dario contributed to the score as well with the Goblins.
On the meaning of the film:

George: I wanted to try to give it the same thematic core that the original film had and speak about some of my own ideas about society  and … I don’t think it’s an underlying message, it’s like in your face, right up front. The way society has been conditioned to think that as long as you have this stuff, life is wonderful and being falsely attracted and seduced by things that really shouldn’t have value in your life, but do.

Tom: Everybody would love to be holed up in a shopping mall, everything you want is right there. Jewellery, money, it’s a fantasy come true.

The main cast understood what George was on about with his ‘satire of consumerism’, noting that George understood it earlier than most as shopping malls were barely starting in the late 70s. Gaylen Ross, who played Fran, said she was ‘surprised by the intelligence of the script. It’s a reflection of who we are. It’s funny.”

Romero: It’s a comic book, it’s a romp. With this underlying sense of society going to hell, I wanted to have this mash like effect of you can laugh, you can have as much fun as you want, but there’s something else going on here.


The fans:
  • Initially with European distribution they made a lot of money, but when they took it around the US, the distributors would come out of the screenings loving it, but saying ‘wow, that’s really rough, let’s clean it up’. Romero wanted to keep it as strong as possible and didn’t edit it further.
  • They ended up running the film themselves and United Film Distribution went and saw the intense reaction by the audience at one of the showings and did a deal right there.
  • Not having a rating on the film helped contribute to popularity, but advertising and showing was very limited because of it.
  • Audience very excited by gory scenes. Lots of different reactions with clapping during decapitating zombies, or running out vomiting. ‘If we’d done anything at all, we had made a crowd pleaser’ – Romero.
  • Romero so happy with intense fans who fly from all over the world to see him and love the film so much. Fans often say to actors how the film changed their lives. Another fan said: ‘When I die, I want the movie in my casket’. One fan had tattoos covering himself of every character from all of George’s movies.
After Dawn: 
  • Some wanted a sequel right away, but Romero wanted to work on other things first, including working with Stephen King.
  • When Day of the Dead came out, it had smaller distribution and it didn’t do any business, as George admits it ‘may have hurt us’.
  • Helped careers of many of those who worked on the film. George mentored everyone. “Lovely, bright, sweet man that you give 110% for. One of the best people I’ve ever known.” – Donna Siegel, assistant producer.
  • George is very comfortable with his body of work, though Hollywood still considers him a maverick. He’s ‘happy as hell’ to just keep doing what he wants.
  • Land of Dead (called Dead Reckoning at the time) script was all about ignoring the problem, ‘like trying to live with terrorism’ and reflecting what is going on today.