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What would George Romero do if there was a zombie apocalypse? "I'd go to Max Brook's house; he has all the weapons!" Romero quipped in the Q&A panel on September 4 at Toronto's Fan Expo. As author of The Zombie Survival Guide, Brooks might well be the best bet to have as a friend in case of a zombie apocalypse--and who would know better than Romero?

Romero, who has lived in Toronto for over a decade, is best-known as the film auteur who created the iconic zombie films Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead, plus three more films in the Dead series, as well as the vampire classic Martin, and film adaptations of Stephen King's Creepshow (based on King short stories) and The Dark Half. One of his biggest regrets, he reports, is that his collaborations with King on film versions of Pet Sematary and The Stand never came to fruition. "My versions would have been a little bit different" than the ones that ended up being made, Romero noted. Also better, one might imagine.

TV fans may be more familiar with Romero for Tales from the Darkside, the horror anthology TV series he created in 1984, which ran for 90 episodes, until July 1988. Like Creepshow, to which it might be seen as a sort of unofficial sequel, it adapted tales from King as well as numerous other SF, fantasy, and horror luminaries, such as Harlan Ellison, Frederik Pohl, Fredric Brown, and Clive Barker.

Romero's work may be returning to the small screen in the near future. His comic book series for Marvel, Empire of the Dead, did very well, and it has been in development as a possible television series for a while, as was announced last May at the Cannes film festival. Romero could provide no information about the series, including how close a deal was, but he seems optimistic that the show could materialize, bringing Romero's perspective to the increasingly crowded zombie television landscape. What with The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead, Z Nation, and iZombie, there is currently no shortage of televisual zombies at the moment, but surely the creator of the modern zombie has something to add.

 Romero also spoke about attempts to develop a web-based series but seemed less optimistic about such a development ever coming to fruition. As a director who has mostly bucked the Hollywood system, he finds the increasingly mega-corporate nature of the entertainment media an impediment to getting anything done his way. Once a corporation hears a pitch, he indicated, their next step is to want to take over and determine how it develops, which is antithetical to his usual working methods as an essentially independent filmmaker. Though he did report that the few years he spent in Hollywood (from which emerged films such as Monkey Shines and The Dark Half) were the most lucrative in his career--he joked about profitable script rewrite jobs for which "I'd retype the original script and throw in a couple of 'fuck yous'"--they were also the least productive. Most of the projects to which he was attached at the time or which he tried to develop--including a version of The Mummy and a script for the first Resident Evil movie--came to nothing.

Here's hoping his current endeavours do not meet a similar fate. Romero's return to television would be a welcome addition to the increasingly strong line-up of genre-oriented programming, especially in horror. Romero's work can stand with the best in the genre, even though, as he says, being scary isn't his primary interest. The horror is there, but always in service of something else he wants to say.

Malcolm McDowell's freewheeling question and answer session, by contrast, offered up little in the way of potential new projects--though when asked what his favourite part is, McDowell responded, "the next one!" he did not provide any hints about what he might be doing next. IMDB lists about fifteen projects completed, in process, or announced, but we might want to take these with a grain of salt, given McDowell's eye-rolling and contemptuous dismissal of IMDB as a reliable source of information, in response to one hapless fan's citation of is as the basis for his assertion about A Clockwork Orange.

A Clockwork Orange is of course McDowell's best-known film, and he did have a few things to say about it, including his awareness at the time the film was being made that magic was happening but also his surprise that, 45 years later, the film still has the stature it has. He also recounted an odd version of the story of why the book and the film end differently. The fan mentioned above asked about the final chapter nobody knew about and whether its exclusion from the film prompted McDowell to make O Lucky Man as a sort of indirect sequel to Orange. "Absolutely not," McDowell asserted, before denigrating the fan's ignorance of the situation (in what did not immediately seem like a humourous moment but which in retrospect probably reflects McDowell's pleasure in throwing people off guard). McDowell claimed that Anthony Burgess, author of the novel, told McDowell that the supposedly unknown final chapter (unknown only to readers of the American edition, which excised it for a long time) had been a sop to the publisher, who did not want to publish the book with the grim ending Burgess had intended. However, Burgess has elsewhere commented that the final chapter was always intended to be part of the book, and that it was the American publisher who insisted on cutting the redemptive final chapter.

McDowell has had a long career, in which he has been involved in everything from pornography to voicework for children's television programs. The pornography involvement requires a bit of explanation. Gore Vidal wrote a screenplay based on the life of the mad Roman emperor Caligula, and recruited McDowell to take the part. However, the film was produced by Penthouse magazine's Bob Guccione, who insisted, McDowell reported, on shooting and inserting into the film a couple of pornographic sequences that did not fit stylistically or tonally into the larger movie. Vidal ultimately removed his name from the project, but the star does not have quite that luxury. McDowell's comments today make clear that he does not view the film as a worthwhile product, though, having seen it (in its censored version), I can confirm that McDowell's performance, at least, is stunning.

This experience seems to be far more the rule than the exception for McDowell. He pointed out repeatedly
in response to questions that most actors don't have the luxury of picking and choosing their roles, and that he certainly has generally not chosen his roles; they, he asserts, have instead chosen him. In response to one question about why he chose to do one of the various less than great films with which he has been involved, his response was the amusing but also no doubt painfully true, "It's called a fucking mortgage, you idiot!" He conceded to having made a lot of bad stuff but insisted that all one can do is take the few pearls when they come along. "My name isn't Tom Cruise," he asserted, adding a theatrical "Thank God!" that got one of the biggest laughs of the panel.

Thank God, indeed. McDowell may well have made many a poor film (of course, so has Tom Cruise), but he has also been involved in more than a few great ones, and as he remains a very busy actor (assuming we can trust IMDB, anyway) we can hope to see him amaze us again in the future.

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