We, at PMM, love our zombies, those macabrely amusing shuffling undead hordes in shopping malls & behind the tills of supermarkets.
& it seems that Gary Smart & his co-producer, Christian Sellers do too. In fact, they’ve written a book about one of the most famous series of Z-films of all time!
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to ask Gary some questions ….
Q1: I suppose the first question would have to be why do a book on ROTLD & not the more (in)famous Romero flicks & what, in your opinion, makes them stand out from others in this genre?
I’m a huge fan of zombie films. When I was younger my mom would get me horror movies for my birthday and Christmas. I remember getting Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead on VHS. Anyhow my granddad lent a copy of ROTLD to my dad on video. I came across it and loved it… it was just a great movie with great characters. From that day on ROTLD was my favourite zombie movie. I became a big fan of Don Calfa from watching ROTLD. I decided to do the book for a few reasons. Firstly because the movies have never been given the credit they deserve. Romero’s movies have lots of books on them but ROTLD has always been bypassed. I also met Don Calfa and Beverly Randolph in 2007 and spent a lot of time with Don in the UK and CA. From meeting the two of them and listening to their stories on ROTLD I thought ‘Hey these stories need to be shared’. Christian Sellers is an amazing writer and I got to know him through a UK horror magazine, we shared a love of the ROTLD. We then embarked on our journey to create ‘The Complete History of the Return of the Living Dead’.
Q2: The book seems to show that all those involved in the series seem to have a lot of pride in being involved in these films.
There are some really open opinions in there.
The most appealing thing in wanting to do the book was knowing that the cast and crew LOVE their movie. Don Calfa, Beverly Randolph, William Stout, Brian Peck and the others spend so much time talking about ROTLD with fans. Don Calfa once said to me that he saw his job now as a promoter of the ROTLD.
The cast and crew were all very honest… but we wanted to give everyone their say and show them all respect. Take for instance the cast/crews views on SFX artist William Munns… they were not happy with his work… they had their say BUT we also gave Munns the opportunity to give his side of the story. Munns is a very gracious man. We never wanted to be critical of anyone or anything and believed it was down to the cast/crew to share their views on each other and the production.
Q3: The attention to detail & research done is quite overwhelming how long did take from start to finish & when did you decide that this was a book that you guys just had to get out there?
From start to finish it was about 18 months. We began with getting in touch with about 15 of the cast and crew to see if they wanted to be involved. We then produced a 12 page pitch for publishers. We got a lot of interest. Plexus were really on the same wavelength as us and we decided to go with them. We were really passionate about this book as we really wanted to celebrate and promote these classic underrated movies.
The research was based on the interviews; we did a lot of reading and tracking people down. We were very lucky to get hold of Dana Ashbrook and John Russo. And very fortunate to get Brian Peck to write the foreword, Brian Yuzna to write the introduction and William Stout and Diane O’Bannon to write the closing chapters.
Q4: Being the designer & with such colourful & lurid imagery must have been a blast! Which is your favourite image in there?
The images are amazing and again we were very lucky to get the support of stills photographer Rory Flynn and Producers Assistant Victoria Slaymaker. I loved working with the images and deciding which were the best to use… I had a lot of old B/W photocopied ones which were great but unusable. My favourite image is the full page continuity photo of Don on page 56; this is because Don gave me the original framed Polaroid as a gift.
Q5: The CHOTROTLD is literally a MONSTER of book. It’s big!
What was the most difficult aspect from a designer’s point of view?
The most difficult part was planning 288 pages with the text and images. We had to state when we first started the project how many pages it would be. We said 288 but in hindsight we could have probably gone another 100 pages… but such is life and there has to be limitations to keep quality control.
Q6: I know that you’ve recently worked on a graphic novel, The Revenge Of The Living Dead, with Don Calfa himself! How did that come about?
Don wrote a treatment for a continuation to ROTLD called Revenge of the Living Dead back in 1985. O’Bannon loved it but Tom Fox passed on it. Don had it for years and he gave me the treatment. He really wanted to do something with it and we talked about a graphic novel. I spent over a year on it and completed a 70 page full colour graphic novel. It’s been sitting on shelf now for 2 years.
Q7: What is your opinion of the current zombi-philia, such as The Zombie Survival Guide, & the slew of movies & TV shows (The Walking Dead, Dead Set et al) that have recently come out?
I’m happy that the Living Dead have found a new audience. I like the Resident Evil movies. Thought the Walking Dead was excellent and love games such as Left for Dead and Dead Rising – despite the fact I’m not a big gaming fan. I just hope they don’t remake ROTLD… if they do, they have to involve the original cast.
Q8: It seems that zombies always tend to make a comeback in times of political upheaval, why do you think this is so?
Maybe it’s a lot to do with George Romero’s messages from his original ‘Dead’ movies… I don’t know really. Maybe people see the dead as a link to what humans can really be… predators, violent, and greedy….
Q9: In cinema the living have been through many different incarnations from the colonial throwbacks of the unthinking slaves of Voodoo priests, through the shambling steak tartare stalking shopping malls, to almost demonic infected wild beasts.
We’ve had post-modernism & parody.
Where else has the genre got to shuffle?
Pride and Prejudice with zombies??? Ha… Maybe Zombies in space. Zombies will always be popular as the horror is they are really us… or were us. I do think we will probably see a lot of remakes over the next few years like Zombie Flesheaters and ROTLD.
Q10: What does the future hold (beside the inevitable zombie apocalypse, of course!) what are your next projects?
We are working on a slasher book looking at lots of slasher films from the 70s and 80s. Also we are looking at a book on Hellbound: Hellraiser II. We would also like to do a book on the Police Academy movies too.
I don’t think we have left the world of the Return of the Living Dead just yet and think we will be involved in its future… so watch this space!
The first thing you notice while flicking through TCHOTROTLD are the lavish pictures. Film stills, movie posters, off camera japes, the works! There are about 150 never-seen-before photos in there, as well as, promo materials for the films & stills. A lot of them full page & grotesquely fascinating with the colours not so much leaping off the page, as diving at you to rip your throat out!
Then, once you start delving into the tome (& it is a tome!) you begin to realise the research, attention to detail & the love (Dammit!) that has been invested in this history. Christian & Gary have seemed to have talked openly & honestly with everyone involved in the films & they have brought it all together into a coherent & enjoyable tale of tragedy & farce & triumph.
TCHOTROTLD is just that. A complete history of these unique, disgusting & humourous films. Starting with Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead, it steers us through the drama of bitter acrimony & splits & then into the world of B-movie making, with its loyalty & its creativity, as well as pure & utter fun of it all.
I don’t really have much of anything negative to say about the book, as the enthusiasm showed by the authors & the passion for their subject carries the reader on through. A rollicking good read for anyone interested in B-movies, in general, & not just of the Horror kind.