I remember exactly where I was when I got the news that George A. Romero had passed away. I was sitting out in the grass, a warm summer sun shining through the Central Park trees over the pulsating sounds of funk music. Then my phone buzzed and I saw the news: the father of the zombie film, the director who made the movie that led me to write these words you are currently reading, had passed away after a long battle with cancer.
He may have been 77, but he seemed to have the energy of a man half his age. He was still writing comics as recently as 2014 with Marvel’s ‘Empire of the Dead’. He showed up in video games, from ‘Zombie Squash’ to famously being the unbeatable villain in the zombies map Call of the Dead from ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops’. Hell, he was even set to return to the world he created with Road of the Dead, the newest installment of his Dead series that was supposed to be a cross between The Road Warrior, Rollerball, and The Fast and The Furious. So, basically, Knightriders with zombies.
But now it’s emerging that not only were we left with George A. Romero’s indelible legacy on the horror genre, but something much more enticing: scripts. And lots of them. Comicbook.com reports that Romero’s wife, Suzanne Desrocher-Romero, has unearthed 40-50 scripts penned by the late master that could potentially be adapted into future films.
“George has many scripts. We have very many scripts that he’s written. And so, you just never know what’s gonna pop up. But we have a lot. George was a prolific writer. He loved to write, and we have 40, 50 scripts that he’s written, and a lot of it is very good. He had a lot to say, and he still does, because I’m gonna make sure that he does. It’s my mission.”
Desrocher further states that they also plan to release a rarely seen Romero film, “It’s a scary movie, but it’s not a horror movie, and it’s about ageism.”
While we do know that one of those scripts is the currently in development Road of the Dead, what else could possibly be in that fat stack of Romero scripts just waiting to be produced?
The Non-Horror Script
George Romero could never escape the Z-Word after his Living Dead series, despite never wanting to call himself a purely genre director. This man clearly had more stories to tell than merely spooky ones. There’s Always Vanilla, a light romance, was his directorial follow up to Night of the Living Dead, though he wasn’t responsible for the screenplay. This makes Season of the Witch, more psychodrama than a supernatural tale, the “straightest” film Romero ever wrote. But someone who had such a powerful voice on the human condition is bound to have had more to say outside of the confines of the horror film.
In 1998 for the Japanese market, George Romero directed a short commercial for ‘Resident Evil 2’, the sequel to Capcom’s monolithic hit video game. In the late 90s, before it swarmed every facet of pop culture, zombies were still relatively niche, so Romero was the only man anyone thought would fit for the job. His script for Resident Evil, which floated online over a decade ago, followed the first game far closer than Paul W.S. Anderson’s subsequent film, with the largest departure being the character of Chris Redfield. Neither S.T.A.R.S. nor Caucasian, Chris was to be a Native American who lived near the Arklay Forest and Spencer Mansion who happened upon Jill, Barry, and Wesker after their helicopter crashes. Dreams of Romero’s Resident Evil got the kibosh after Paul W.S. Anderson took control of the project, but perhaps as the franchise vies for a reboot, we could see Romero’s vision of Shinji Mikami’s survival horror come to light.
Vampire in Pittsburgh
In Romero’s Marvel Comic ‘Empire of the Dead’, it featured not only zombies but also vampires! And while Romero made easily one of the greatest modern vampire movies, Martin, it never had a cinematic follow-up. Now look, we don’t need a Martin II, as much as I’m sure John Amplas would love the work. But Romero had such a skilled way of taking the very idea of something and subverting it to tell not only the story he wanted too but with an angle that had never been conceived. He reinvented zombies, why couldn’t he have done the same for vampires? I’ve heard that he had developed a vampire film called The Ill, but apart from the title, no other information exists. Perhaps The Ill is part of the 50 scripts, and maybe Romero will have a second life as a different type of creature of the night.
King on King on King
Legend has it that if Creepshow had been the success it deserved to be, it would have just been the maiden voyage for a fleet of Stephen King/George Romero properties. He was attached to everything from ‘‘salems Lot’ to ‘Pet Sematary’, and even more recent King novellas like ‘The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon’. But the one that could have possibly rocked the foundations of horror, even giving Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining a run for its money as peak cinematic King, would have been their collaboration on ‘The Stand’. King’s novel is his most gargantuan and elaborate, a years spanning apocalyptic tale of good and evil reaching across the United States. Rumor has it they even had an eye on Robert Duvall playing The Walking Dude himself Randall Flagg. But once Creepshow made paltry box office returns, Romero and King’s future projects fell apart like sand through a sieve. ‘The Stand’ was revived later by Mick Garris for his surprisingly effective miniseries, but with talks of reviving the novel in the current surge of King popularity, perhaps a version of ‘The Stand’ with Romero’s name on it is still out there. With ‘The Stand’ being one of Romero’s greatest artistic frustrations, it’d make a fitting tribute to the late Master of Horror if it finally made it’s way to the screen.
A True Blue Creepshow 3
Speaking of Creepshow, could Romero have secretly penned an actual follow up to his and King’s EC Comics collaboration? Stephen King wrote the first film, Romero the second (based on stories by King), and while Tales From The Darkside: The Movie has been famously referred to as the third film in the series by effects guru Tom Savini, it still doesn’t make up for the travesty that is the very much real, and very much terrible Creepshow 3. I wouldn’t be surprised if the man who gave us 89 episodes of an anthology TV series wouldn’t have at least one anthology script waiting for discovery!
Romero Does J-Horror
In 2008, it was rumored that Romero would work on a Koji Suzuki short story, author of The Ring and Dark Water. The story, ‘Solitary Isle’, follows a man who visits the titular island nine years after hearing about a religious cult taking roost on the isle. Frankly, a lot of these themes sound like Romero may have gotten out of his system in Survival of the Dead, which also happens to take place on an island. But I think the mix of Romero’s smart social commentary with Koji Suzuki’s adept hand at building dread would have been an absolute match made in heaven.
Readers beware, we could have been in for a much bigger scare if George Romero’s adaptation of R.L. Stine’s ‘Goosebumps’ series had ever made it to fruition. Now Romero wasn’t exactly known for making kid-friendly films (he did write a children’s book though!), but in the pilot episode of his anthology series Tales from The Darkside, ‘Trick or Treat’, he sure got close. Barnard Hughes plays a curmudgeonly old man who loves to prank the local kids on Halloween night. He hides money around his boobytrapped house, lets the kids search for the IOU’s, and then when they least expect it he springs his traps to scare them. But on this Halloween, he’s about to get a surprise of his own in the shape of a rather nasty little demon. The story fits perfectly into the realm of R.L. Stine’s kindertrauma, but we can at least rest assured that when Goosebumps did eventually arrive in 2015, it perfectly captured the spirit and tone of not only the novels but the PG fright films of our youth.
George Romero’s Maximum Overdrive
Ok, I’ll cop to it. He wasn’t attached to the Emilio Estevez opus, but Romero did continue his interest in the intersection of automobiles and society that he began in Knightriders with his attachment to Jay Bonansinga’s ‘The Black Mariah’. The 1990 novel follows an African American truck driver forced by a decade’s old curse to not stop moving (sort of like a certain The X-Files episode featuring Bryan Cranston), forcing him to outrun local cops, the FBI, and a crazed racist grandmother in his big rig while looking for a way to break the spell. Bonansinga’s novel concerns a lot of the themes that Romero himself explored in his films, especially racism. Picked up by New Line Cinema in 1993, one year removed from the LA Riots, the film would have most assuredly explored race in America in the only way Romero knew how: with tension and blood.
Romero Goes Metal
With Anna and the Apocalypse right around the corner, who wouldn’t love to see George Romero’s long-gestated zombie rock opera Diamond Dead? Apparently meant to be Romero’s answer to Phantom of the Paradise, he enlisted the help of The Rocky Horror Picture Show’s Richard Hartley (who arranged all of Richard O’Brien’s original songs, as well as composing all of the incidental music for the film) and was set to move on the film before the project eventually became the canon-sequel Land of the Dead. While Land is fantastic, my heart aches for a musical about a rock singer who accidentally kills her bandmates, just to summon them from the dead to become a rock superstar. It was actually produced in 2009 as a stage musical, presented at the NYC Fringe Festival by The Landless Theatre Company.