Goodbye, George Romero

Goodbye, George Romero
by R.C. Murphy

There are few people in the world who make an impact so great, the depth of what they’ve left behind is nearly impossible to calculate. Unfortunately, a couple of weeks ago we lost one of those bright, shining souls. George Romero passed on July 16th at age 77. According to a statement given to The Times by Romero’s longtime producing partner, Peter Grunwald, the legendary filmmaker passed in his sleep after a, “brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer.” The statement went on to say that Romero was at peace, listening to the soundtrack from his one of his favorite films, The Quiet Man, with his wife and daughter at his side.

To say we’re all floored at the news is an understatement. None of us at the ZSC would be here doing all things undead without Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Not a one. What he did with that film, not just the outrageous notion to take zombies from their origin and give them somewhere new to come from, but the social commentary woven throughout, created a new form of horror film. It gave the creators who favor the dark side of fantasy the okay to send a message in what would otherwise just be a bunch of dead bodies shuffling toward their next meal. When I said we cannot calculate the differences Romero made in the film world, I mean it. So many directors currently shaping the entertainment world have spent the last few days expounding on how much they treasured what Romero started and how he stuck to his guns throughout his long career. But no matter how long it was, it’ll never feel like enough time with a man who just seemed to get it, to understand the impact a silly zombie film could really have on social constructs. That he did it with grace, dignity, and kindness just makes it that much harder to say goodbye. It’ll be a long time before I stop wondering when the maestro will drop a new film. It’ll be even longer before the tears stop coming every time his films pop on TV or someone sneaks Night of the Living Dead into their film in homage.

Everyone has that one favorite Romero film they go to time and time again. I have two, because it was just too difficult to pick one. Hell, whittling it down to two was a herculean task. However, I cannot overstate how Bub changed the way I approach acting and writing creature characters, and that’s what finally made Day of the Dead my top Romero flick. The other? The Dark Half. It’s just so spot-on for a Stephen King film, yet so few list it when they ramble off the usual suspects. Romero gifted us with a treasure-trove of films like that, ones which speak to a certain group and give them what they need to hear—but with a lot of gore because that’s fun to work with.

There aren’t enough words to thank him for not just his films, but the care he showed his fellow man. Nor are there enough to fully comprehend the loss. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.


Things are Slashy in New Zealand

Things are Slashy in New Zealand
by R. C. Murphy

We can’t forget about the bloodiest show currently on television. That’s not an overstatement. I’ve done the math. Last season, Ash vs Evil Dead easily used hundreds of gallons of various fake bloods, including flooding a room with the red stuff with Kelly trapped inside. Judging from the few on-set selfies and videos the show’s star, Bruce Campbell, dropped on his social media pages earlier in June, they’re on-track to make season three of the Starz show just as gruesome.

Filming for AvED began in New Zealand in early March. The super-tight leash the production team is keeping on the plot means we have nothing to go on beyond a few snapshots and quick Instagram videos from the cast. This could be a response to swapping show-runners before the new season began production. After season two, Craig DiGregorio parted ways with AvED, citing severe creative differences with producer Robert Tapert. It boiled down to Tapert’s vision for Ash stifling the more comedy-driven direction DiGregorio preferred for the universe. Mark Verheiden (Daredevil) stepped in to fill the void for season three. It’s safe to say, the laughs may be more subdued from here on out, but I highly doubt they’re going to take a franchise which thrives on its splatstick moniker and turn it into something as serious as The Walking Dead. Campbell says the secrecy is so they’re free to make season three more outlandish than the last. How they’ll accomplish that, I have no clue. Last season was a head-scratcher, what with the Ashy Slashy puppet and all.

The gang will be in New Zealand for a few more months. On May 6th, cast and crew celebrated the halfway point with a party, as one rightly should. That puts them firmly on schedule for the season. However, Starz has yet to announce a release date for the new episodes. Don’t ask Campbell for a release date, either. He’ll direct the question to the Almighty Starz Overlords with some form of biting sarcasm. If they stick to the usual schedule, expect to see the season premiere sometime around Halloween.

There may not be a date for season three, but they just announced that AvED season two will arrive on Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD on August 22nd. The boxset includes audio commentaries, an inside look at S2’s production, and featurette’s like “Women who kick Ash” and “How to kill a Deadite.”


Gear Up for Z Nation Season 4

Gear Up for Z Nation Season 4
by R.C. Murphy

Thankfully, Syfy has continuously saved Z Nation from the dust bin, no matter how wacky the show’s season finale. I mean, they did nuke a large portion of the USA at the end of season one yet still managed to make a coherent second season happen around a nuclear wasteland. The third season saw Operation Bitemark disband as Murphy sought to regain agency over his future, and his bid to control what happens to mankind in a zombie world. One would argue that splitting the crew was a good/bad choice, since it took away the key to making the outlandish personalities on the show work—Murphy needs Roberta’s practicality to stay out of the deep end. Without her as his conscious, he does things like enslave his friends. And that’s just not cool.

Luckily for us, during an interview this March David Michael Latt, one of the show’s producers, told Cartermatt.com that the gang would indeed come together again. The last two seasons were huge, monstrous things with plot lines racing in every direction, and the characters wound up chasing them in smaller and smaller groups in order to make the overall story work. Latt says that won’t happen in season four. “The good news, or it could be good news depending on how you read this, is that we’re going back to the season 1 definitive objective, the group being together, and the dynamics that make the series so good. The bad news is that it’s really out-there crazy.” As for getting any in-depth plot clues, or even a premiere date, his lips are sealed. The production seems to be on schedule. Barring any huge problems, it’s safe to expect the show to return in early September. But in the end, that’s Syfy’s call to make.

Z Nation fans living around Spokane, WA will have the ability to get a peek at the show’s production this summer. The show is turning the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture into a behind-the-scenes exhibit and functional film studio. The summertime exhibition, Z Nation: Behind the Camera, will include programs focused on local talent brought in by The Asylum who not only work on-screen as zombies and human extras, but also behind the camera. They’re opening up the filming to public viewing, as well, to give everyone a working idea about how much effort it takes to create the mayhem we see every week on-screen. Karl Schaefer, another producer for the show, says this is their way to give back to the Spokane community, a thanks for the support since season one. “The exhibit is kind of aimed at the 15-year-old kid who wants to know how to get into the movie business but thinks, ‘Oh, there’s no way I can do that in Spokane,’ ” Schaefer said. “But we just want to show people they can.” Keep an eye on the museum’s social media pages for the up-to-date program schedule. The exhibit opened with a zombie-filled party on June 10th.

Locals had the chance to audition for remaining background roles this last weekend. Sets have gone up in the museum, with a green screen stage built in the parking garage for effects shots. ZN stars have arrived, ready to tackle whatever weirdness the writers came up with during the hiatus. Keith Allan took a minute to post a zelfie when he rolled into town, saying he was, “About to step back into the apocalypse.” Russell Hodgkinson made a similar tweet on June 9th. We can’t wait to see where the cast takes their characters during the upcoming season.


Line Up for a Vision Test!

Line Up for a Vision Test!
by R.C. Murphy

There’s reports flooding our servers detailing instances where folks mistake actors for fictional people who live in a plastic box. I’m not talking one report. There’s many. It’s overwhelming. And if I’m honest, it breaks my heart a little to have so many confused people out there in the world.

Surely you jest, R.C.. There’s no way someone’s eyesight is that bad.

No, voice inside my head, this is not a joke. This is merely a response to yet another string of fandom-based attacks on actors who they worship . . . until the writers take the actor’s character on a darker path.

Where does this turn against the talent begin?

I’ve personally witnessed exchanges where fans downright refuse to call an actor by name, insisting, “They’ll always be [character name] to me,” with a laugh like that forgives the rudeness. No, my dude. By transferring the character’s name to the actor, you’ve dehumanized them. It then gives your conscious leeway to continue with a conversation which often accuses the actor, not character, of vile things, like racism, bigotry, rape, and murder. Sometimes the name confusion thing is an honest mistake; though given the age of the internet, that excuse is thinner and thinner by the minute.

The real problem comes when fans continue to dehumanize actors, stripping them of autonomy and presuming they’re directly responsible for their actions on screen. Worse is when fans demand reasoning from the actor. News flash: Actors work from a script written by a team of other people, they’re given direction from yet more people during the filming process, and even then the action on-screen is further changed in the editing room to adjust the scene’s tone or cut in new dialog because something changed last minute. That character worshipped or hated by millions is actually fifteen badgers in a bag pretending to people. One lucky badger gets to be the face, but there’s so much more under the surface. It isn’t fair to actors when fans refuse to differentiate between who they watch on-screen and the person they meet at a comic-con or happen to pass on the street.

How does confusing a name turn into death threats? I’ve honestly got no answer for you. My brain isn’t wired in a way which allows me to even consider the violent actions some so-called fans have taken. Floods of threats happened several times in the seven years TWD has aired. Lori Holden and Sarah Wayne Callies were constantly under fire during their tenure, blamed for every instance their characters made an ill-advised decision and threatened with sexual violence or death if the character didn’t shape up or get killed off of the show. Children on the show aren’t immune to this bile. When Sam panicked during their escape from walker-ridden Alexandria, fans took to social media to call the young man playing Sam degrading names, accusing him of being mentally handicapped, and even going so far as to write fetish-like theories where a child is mutilated by walkers. Even Yahoo’s TV reviewer chimed in, their article vibrating with indignation that a traumatized child dare act traumatized—uh, what? Brighton Sharbino was the subject of a terrifying online campaign, besieged with death threats after her character Lizzie demonstrated sociopathic tendencies and became a threat to her traveling companions, including an infant.

At comic-cons, actors are often followed on the way to the bathroom, into an elevator up to their to their hotel room, and at one event where the greenroom was on an elevated platform some fans camped out and zoomed in with cameras to watch the actors eat. Norman Reedus was bitten, and while the incident was blown out of proportion, it should have never happened in the first place. Keep your mouths to yourself!

In recent weeks, two TWD actors pulled some or all of their social media accounts. Alanna Masterson took to Instagram a while back to firmly reprimand fandom parasites who felt it their duty to police her postpartum weight. While she did deactivate her account for a bit, it appears she’s active again on the site as of the end of May. I doubt the same will be said about Josh McDermitt. We left McDermitt’s character in a really crappy situation—die like Abraham or work for Negan—and every Eugene fan knew what the choice would be; he’d chose life. But there’s still that unhinged group who launched irate messages at McDermitt, putting Eugene’s betrayal on his head and threatening his life so often, he’s reached a breaking point and will not subject himself to the hate any longer. We honestly don’t deserve McDermitt, guys. In the FB Live video recorded before he closed up social media shop, he ended it by stating he loves his fans. There’s people threatening him daily, but he still acknowledges those who genuinely care about him, the actor.

How can we prevent incidents like this in the future? Well, let’s start by assuring everyone can see the differences between an actor and the character they portray on the big screen, TV screen, or stage.

Exhibit A:

Photo credit: J Benham from sickpix

This is an unnamed zombie. Their clothing is torn, dirty, bloody, and doesn’t fit properly. What about makeup? Does it suggest they’re going out to coffee with friends? Nope. It screams, “I’m a god damn zombie, bro! Let’s eat some people.” The zombie’s face/arms/etc. are covered in blood/slime/dirt.

Exhibit B:

This is an actor. Who just so happens to be me, and the same person portraying the zombie above. Note that the clothing is neat-ish. Hair is neatly styled. The actor sits in a natural, friendly position for this headshot. There’s no blood or dirt. There’s no underlying need to devour human flesh. There’s little similarity between the figures in the images other than the eyes.

Given some fan’s theories on how reality works, the fact that I often portray the undead means I should totally be a cannibal, correct? Truth is, I hardly eat meat, let alone desire to take the time to kill a human and process that much flesh for consumption. My hobbies include . . . wait for it . . . using my acting skills to raise money for charity. So tell me again, why would anyone assume an actor in a violent or morally ambiguous role would want to perpetuate the same during their off-time? Acting is emotionally and physically exhausting work. The minute they can drop it and relax, they will. Keep in mind, fake blood is unpleasant at best and a stain-filled, hair-pulling nightmare at worst, and we won’t get into more complicated SFX makeup with its aerospace-quality adhesives and suffocating prosthetic pieces—few actors enjoy the process and certainly wouldn’t endure the extreme discomfort outside of paid gigs. The same can be said for the wardrobe, which is often the same outfit in different stages of disgusting on shows like TWD. Once actors scrape off the makeup and put on their own clothes, that’s it. They’re free elves, no longer controlled by the chaotic chorus—the creative team building their character.

Do yourselves a favor. Make sure you understand the difference between an actor, their character, and the situations in which said actor fully controls the character’s actions—which is rare, despite how many times one hears, “Yeah, he just made that up on set that day.” At the end of the day, the performance the actor delivers isn’t just theirs, but has been manipulated by writers, directors, producers, digital artists, and the editor. Instead of attacking one person over the decisions of many, why don’t you focus your energy on supporting the amazing work they’ve produced? No one, literally no one alive right now needs to endure yet another human being attacking them for situations completely out of their control.


Reviving that which is Not Dead Yet

Reviving that which is Not Dead Yet
by R.C. Murphy

One does not simply march into Cannes four months after dropping what was billed as the final film in a franchise and announce a new six-film deal to revive it.

But that’s exactly what Martin Moszkowicz, chairman of the board for Constantin Film, did during the international film festival. With absolutely no plan under their belt, the production company, which already owns film rights to Resident Evil, announced hopes for a six-film arc in an upcoming reboot. Variety scooped the original interview, but couldn’t get any juicy details from the chairman during their chat. Probably because no one was ready for him to jump out and announce something this big so soon.

Days after Moszkowicz’s Variety interview, Deadline dug up more dirt on this poorly-timed revival. According to them, the first film installment will be directed by James Wan (Saw, Aquaman). Wan made a name for himself in the horror industry, delivering films which on the page could become utterly ridiculous, but often end up being at the very least fun thrill-rides for the audience. I’ll never forget the night I sat to watch Dead Silence as a joke and wound up sleeping with the lights on. His work on Saw set the tone for virtually every scary flick released after 2004. It’s almost natural for anyone working in the genre to court Wan, and I don’t blame the RE team for wanting someone solid to lead the charge.

The wildcard in Constantin Film’s plan is the writer slated to bring a new voice to the franchise which earned $1.2 billion in its lifetime. Greg Russo is currently working with Wan on the upcoming Mortal Kombat revival. And that’s about it for his film writing career from what I managed to find. As a RE fan, that’s cause to raise a brow. A seemingly untested writer is handed one of the largest horror franchises with no notice and no plan from the production company besides grabbing Wan and apparently whoever he’s currently tied to professionally. A few articles said the MK script wasn’t half bad. But Constantin Film still demands massive faith from fans if they expect us to forgive rushing the original franchise into its grave, then they hand the lot to someone we’ve never heard of except that he’s working with a well-known horror director.

Wan’s name alone won’t make Resident Evil live again. Constantin Film hung the future for the reboot onto Russo’s ability to capture the magic which made the games so popular and drove the film franchise into horror history. It’s almost too much pressure to put on one person. Like someone simply walked up on Monday and said, “Here, we just told the public this is the last movie, but we’re going to have you rewrite the entire thing from the start. Don’t muck it up.” As a writer, I’d run far from that offer.

Keep in mind, there is no actual script yet. Everything has been announced, but all parties are currently focused on other productions. It’s entirely possibly Constantin Film will never get the Resident Evil reboot off the ground, or they’ll change the main production team before filming begins. These folks want to talk a big game in order to remain relevant, or simply to keep the film rights. There’s no planning behind this announcement; it’s giving me little faith in what’s to come.

Jovovich, the face of the film franchise since its inception, delivered this parting shot for the new Resident Evil team during an interview with ComicBook.com. “I would suggest that you find people that have that same passion for the property before you talk about reboots. I think if you get into this kind of genre, people are very sensitive to fakes. There’s some real fans in the sci-fi/action/horror world, and they’re not idiots. They can smell when something is done because people love it and when something is done just to monetize an opportunity.”

If you were given the monumental task of writing the first Resident Evil reboot film, what changes would you make to the universe, or do you prefer the tale laid out by the original series? Personally, I dig the idea of a reboot because they never did reach the universe’s full potential. However, the timing makes this news like dancing in the cooling ashes of a funeral pyre. It’s the ultimate case of, “Too soon, bro.”