There were too many highlights at the Connecticut Horror Fest on August 27 to list. Ricou Browning, who played the Creature From the Black Lagoon, was just one of the horror film luminaries that was signing autographs and talked about his career during a panel discussion.
But without a doubt the most anticipated guest speaker for many of those who attended the event at the Matrix Conference Center was director George A. Romero -- director of 'Night of he Living Dead' and its various sequels. He is the man who invented the zombie sub-genre of horror films in the modern sense.
The line of people seeking autographs was intimidatingly long and the applause from the crowd during his panel speech was deafening.
Romero discussed a variety of topics ranging from why he is sick of zombies to why 'Land of the Dead' was shot in Canada (it was due to a more permissive film commission that allowed him to shoot in more of the locations of his choice). He also recalled attending Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, meeting Stephen King before they worked on the anthology film 'Creepshow' (it was originally going to be an homage to "B" movies before they decided instead to base it on vintage horror comics) transporting film to a local television station by bicycle (he learned a few things while watching a journeyman editor at work there).
He lamented the trend toward over-budgeted zombie films, adding that studios consider them too epic in scale for more modestly budgeted films. He said this was a pity because the genre is suited for low-budget filmmakers -- earlier in he discussion, he described he and his film-making associates contributed $600 apiece toward the budget of a feature film, eventually raising $6,000 for the film that would later be titled 'Night of the Living Dead.'
The host of a local horror film program called Chiller Theater helped Romero's crew raise $60,000. When the film grossed around $700,000 when it was first released, Romero and his friends found themselves thinking what an easy business film-making is (he smiled sardonically at the memory).
"Dennis Hopper's cigar budget in 'Land of the Dead' was more than the total budget of 'Night of the Living Dead," he added to laughter from the audience.
He described how 'Night...' lapsed into the public domain because they copyrighted the original title -- 'Night of the Flesh Eaters." They changed the title because of another low-budget horror film called 'The Flesh Eaters' and lost the rights to the film in the process. But it and pseudo-vampire film 'Martin' sealed Romero's reputation as a quality film maker.
He remembered less fondly his sojourn into more mainstream films for Orion Studios -- one of them, the Stephen King adaption 'The Dark Half' was marred toward the end by studio interference.
He described the effects in the last ten minutes of the film as "garbage," adding that "they were business guys, not movie lovers."
"They sold off quality movies and kept garbage," he said. "They thought 'Bull Durham' was a piece of sh_t."
He described 'Day of the Dead' as his favorite of all his zombie films and discussed 'Diary of the Dead' -- a quasi reboot of his zombie series and his statement on how citizen journalism was getting out of hand. He also praised special effects wizard Tom Savini's remake of 'Night...'
When one audience member mentioned Romero's role in the video game "Call of Duty: Call of the Dead," he admitted that he would like to design a video game. He also mentioned two forthcoming events that will highlight his contributions to cinema -- he will receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a Romero School of Film is being established.
This writer looks forward to covering both events.