Trifecta of Terror: Three Horror Directors Descend on Park City: A Round Table Discussion with George Romero, Lloyd Kaufman and Bruce La Bruce

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In the past few years, horror movies, in general, have taken an unprecedented nosedive as the political satire that originally gave horror films their bite has been watered down in favor of more violence and gore. SLUG Magazine recently talked to three prominent and wildly different "horror" directors with riotously dissimilar backgrounds about the horror movie genre and its future. The first director, George Romero, really needs no introduction as he has made one of the preeminent films in the horror canon: Night of the Living Dead. His new 17th movie, Diary of the Dead, is a story about a group of young filmmakers who stumble upon zombies while trying to shoot their own zombie film. They go about shooting a mummy horror film, only to turn their lens to a real life flesh-eating zombie massacre happening right before their eyes. The second director, Lloyd Kaufman, president and co-founder of Troma Entertainment, known for their low-budget, practical, hands-on filmmaking style, has oft been cited as the dirty old grandfather of the "slapstick gore" genre of horror film. Poultrygeist, Kaufman's 30th directorial debut, is the newest offering by Troma Studios and continues their fine tradition of B-movie comedy horror that they pioneered over 30 years ago. Poultrygeist is about fast-food restaurants that get attacked by zombie chickens. Our last, but certainly not least, director is a gay Canadian filmmaker who combines homosexual pornography with a stylized vision of independent filmmaking. Previous films, such as Skin Flick, Hustler White and No Skin Off My Ass mix homosexual expression with political propaganda. LaBruce's latest film, Otto; or, Up With Dead People deals with a gayhomosexual zombie looking for love. Here is what each director had to say about the state of the horror movie genre...

George Romero

SLUG: Who is the biggest hack in the horror business today? Why?

Romero: Some people would say I am.

Kaufman: The biggest hacks in the horror business today are the cartel of devil-worshiping international conglomerates, writing movies in committee with 13 producers having focus groups and sponsors deliberate over what will be the safest way to sell hamburgers and Big Gulps. They are making fast-food movies. They taste good going down and then 10 minutes later you have an explosive attack of intellectual diarrhea. No risk taking or true emotion. And god forbid there should be any character development. What can a true independent horror filmmaker do to compete with films like I Am Legend, who fill seats with their hundred million dollar advertising campaigns, subjecting audiences to cheap scares and even cheaper looking CGI. Indeed, the conglomerates are the champion hack moviemakers. I Am Legend is an example of this except in one way: obscenity. Many of the all time great horror films were looked upon as obscene by the blue noses of their day. I Am Legend qualifies in that regard because to spend $200 million dollars on a piece of shit like this while half the world is living on less than a dollar a day is more obscene than a anything that Troma, Argento or Deodato could ever concoct.

LaBruce: Um, Eli Roth?

SLUG: What is the ideal scenario to present a horror film? The drive-in? At home? At a theater?

Romero: In a theater. Audiences feed on each other's emotions and reactions.

Kaufman: In my ass.

LaBruce: Then: grindhouse. Now: multi-plex.

SLUG: Which decade best defined modern horror? Why?

Romero: For "modern" horror, I'd say the 70s. That's when the real garbage began. Nothing much good was made and there was very little innovation, but that era is still influencing the genre today. I still prefer the earlier days, when filmmakers like Val Lewton were making really thoughtful, frightening, and evocative films. Kaufman: I'd have to say the 30s. Dracula: erotic and scary. Frankenstein; pathos-filled and scary. Freaks; disturbing and scary. Those three films are seminal to my own 40 years of filmmaking.

LaBruce: The 70s. This was before the big studios started to co-opt B-movie slasher flicks, and exploitation films and make them into slick, commercial A-movies. So you had amazing low-budget movies like It's Alive and Shock Waves and Let's Scare Jessica to Death and Halloween and Martin and Dawn of the Dead and Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Suspiria and Sisters and Rabid and Shivers, etc. These kind of movies are better as low budget type films. And in the 70s you also had really great scary big budget Hollywood movies too, like The Exorcist and The Omen and Alien and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. So horror was the order of the day!

SLUG: What do you view as the horror genre? What is your definition of its conventions and what to you, makes a horror movie? Can you speculate on the state of the horror genre and what you envision for it and what you feel your contribution to the genre is?

Lloyd Kaufman

Romero: Horror for me is allegory. I'm basically a storyteller and horror is a framework I use to tell the best stories I can, to express myself and the ideas and socio-political themes that interest me.

Kaufman: I don't know if I'm really qualified to answer that question as I don't make horror films. I make Troma films. James Gunn, Peter Jackson, and others have suggested that I created the slapstick gore genre. For me the ultimate horror film combines Capraesque humor, Chaplinesque romance, and horrifying situations all wrapped up in one big shit disturbing enchilada of sex and violence. And if you don't believe me, just ask Woody Allen and Robert Redford.

LaBruce: Karen Black says she doesn't like horror movies; she likes science fiction and that's what she thinks she makes. As much as I adore Karen Black, I have to disagree. I think Trilogy of Terror is a great horror film. Horror generally has to do with characters who are terrorized in some way. It's when your worst nightmare comes true. I love science fiction too, but horror is more visceral and lurid and usually more fun.

I don't really like the new cycle of extreme horror films. I think they're too obvious and literally indulging in the ugly aspects of the modern culture of fear, like terrorism and war and torture. There's nothing subtle about them, and they're often apolitical. The remakes of Dawn of the Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, for example, dropped almost all of the social and political commentary of the originals. They seem really dumbed down to me. I think the genre will evolve into something more thoughtful and articulate. With my movie, Otto; or, Up with Dead People, I wanted to make zombies more human. I'm tired of zombies being just relentless killing machines with no redeeming features. What makes Frankenstein so great is the fact that the monster has a human side. So as much as I love Nazi zombies, I think it's time for some sensitive ones!

SLUG: What prompted and influenced this current directorial effort?

Kaufman: Poultrygeist, like all my Troma Movies, was inspired by current events. A McDonald's had just moved in next door to the world famous Troma building and shortly there after we were invaded by rats the size of kielbasas. Troma's supervising editor, Gabe, and I had to go down into the basement to fight off these fearless raccoon-size rodents and clean up tons of rat digested McDonald's fecal matter. My second book, Make your Own Damn Movie begins this delightful scene. Gabe used to work in fast food (his job at Troma was a big step down) and we decided then and there, on that excrement saturated spot, that we would make a horror satire skewering the fast food industry. In my opinion, well intentioned films like Super Size Me and Fast Food Nation failed to reach the audience that actually eat fast food. I felt that there needed to be a film with a similar message that could educate the "reel" fast food nation of today.

LaBruce: With Otto; or, Up with Dead People, I was referencing more whimsical horror movies from the past like Curtis Harrington's Night Tide, Herk Harvey's Carnival of Souls, and George A. Romero's Martin. Those movies all involve characters who may or may not be some sort of mythical creature - a mermaid, a ghost, and a vampire, respectively. The mood is more melancholy and somewhat demystifying. I was also influenced by the work of Charles Addams and Edward Gorey, who have a more whimsical and ironic horror sensibility.

SLUG: Do you feel comfortable in Sundance's Park City at Midnight category or would you have preferred that your movie been shown at another time? How does this attract or detract from the response to your movie?

Bruce LaBruce

Romero: This year is the 40th anniversary of my first film, Night of the Living Dead, which has been playing midnight shows for as long as I can remember. I love that Diary of the Dead is being screened the same way at Sundance, especially since I tried to make Diary with the same kind of independent spirit as Night. It's my return to that style of filmmaking and a midnight show with a midnight audience is the perfect way to see it.

LaBruce: Well, it would be nice to be in competition! But Park City at Midnight has been very good to me. This is my fourth movie in that section, and my third world premiere. I think it's good for Otto because it's not a conventional horror movie, but I still want to see if it will cross over to horror audiences. But the most exciting thing is that George Romero's new zombie movie Diary of the Dead is in the same section, and he is the master! I saw Diary at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, and I think it's brilliant. I'm humbled to be in his company. (And incidentally, I understand we used the same camera - the Panasonic HDX-900. Although I used some 16mm as well.)

SLUG: Can you speak to the canon of the horror movie and what you would include in it and why?

Romero: I'm afraid I'll have to pass on that one until we have more time to discuss it.

Kaufman: Unfortunately I misread your question. Instead of speaking to the "canon" of the horror movie I spoke to the "cannon" of the horror movie and it blew my fucking brains out.

LaBruce: Do you mean the all time best? Romero's Dawn of the Dead, because it's the greatest political allegory of modern times. Rosemary's Baby and Carrie,because they're so perfectly made, and kind of feminist, in a way. The Exorcist, The Omen, and Alien, because they truly terrified me as a kid. Phillip Kaufman's remake of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, because it's one of the best movies about conformism ever made. I could go on and on.

SLUG: There has been a return to the zombie genre in the last year or two. Why use the zombie movie instead of using a different horror genre? Like vampires, werewolf, etc.

Romero:The zombies' rise from the dead is like any disaster you can think of. Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Tornadoes. My zombie films are as much about how people deal with chaos and fear as they are about the zombies themselves. Vampires and werewolves are usually thought of as supernatural monsters. To me zombies aren't supernatural. They're us.

Kaufman:We are living in an age of mega-conglomerates who are brainwashing us while they spoonfeed us, making us into zombies. Our newspapers,television, movies, our entire media is controlled by a small club of elites who, as Harriet Tubman used to say, have their ass in a tub of butter at our expense. Poultrygeist contains the perfect metaphor for the zombie movie. The media puts the Kool-aid in our water. ie. through a barrage of commercials, merchandise, product placement, celebrity endorsements, etc. We drink the Kool-aid and go like zombies to our local American Chicken Bunker where we consume Sloppy Jose's, and drink Cluckwork Oranges, and transform into chicken/indian demons. In other words, Poultrygeist.

LaBruce: Vampire and werewolf movies are more about monsters that are always lurking around the fringes of culture, randomly picking off victims. They are outsider monsters, usually loners who lead double lives. Zombies are usually more widespread and mainstream, attacking in huge numbers. They are more populist, more conformist. They usually signify some sort of plague or widespread panic, whether environmental or metaphysical. With Otto; or, Up with Dead People, I've tried to create a zombie who is more of an individual and a loner. Plus he's gay.

While the horror genre may be in disrepute, these three filmmakers have demonstrated that horror "isn't dead." This January, as Sundance descends upon the valley, two of these directors, Romero and LaBruce, will be in the Park City at Midnight category while Kaufman will showcase his movie at his own appropriately titled festival, Tromadance (which has been around for nine years!). Check out for more information on LaBruce and Romero and for more info on Kaufman and friends.