The Rapidian

They aren't always shadows

This article includes mature content:
Graphic images included.

On the eve of George A. Romero's 72nd birthday, a long time Thriller! Chiller! Film Festival judge, filmmaker and FX artist explores why the godfather of all zombies means so much to him and to independent filmmaking.
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The Thriller! Chiller! Film Festival will be hosting a special presentation of "Night of the Living Dead" for George Romero's 72nd birthday on Saturday, February 4, 2012.

GRCMC event page to buy tickets

Link to the “Night of the Living Dead” trailer

 

Link to Thriller! Chiller!

Related article by the Wealthy Theatre

 

Event listing on the Rapidian site

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jason James (left) of Michigan Film Reel, poses with special effects artist, Mark A. France, at Thriller! Chiller! (2010)

Jason James (left) of Michigan Film Reel, poses with special effects artist, Mark A. France, at Thriller! Chiller! (2010) /Courtesy of Jason James and Michigan Film Reel

A zombie for the upcoming film series, "The Last Broadcast", directed by Michael G. Petersen.

A zombie for the upcoming film series, "The Last Broadcast", directed by Michael G. Petersen. /Mark A. France

Thriller! Chiller! Film Festival directors Chris Randall and Anthony Griffin.

Thriller! Chiller! Film Festival directors Chris Randall and Anthony Griffin. /Mark A. France

For the past seven years, the Thriller! Chiller! Film Festival has showcased numerous award winning feature length and short films at the Wealthy Theater in Grand Rapids, humbly boasting over the talented filmmakers who frequently submit their works to Michigan's premiere genre film festival. Generally treating their audience to a weekend of international and locally lensed films, Thriller! Chiller! is getting a head start on the celebration this year by hosting the cult classic, "Night of the Living Dead," on Saturday, February 4, 2012.

Presently, it's raining outside - drizzling really - and dusk has comfortably settled in with its cast of mischievous shadows; odd weather for a Michigan January, but there is still a nipping cold outside, reminding me that Winter still has us in it's grasp. Rivulets of water trace down the glass of my bedroom window as I peer out into the nearing darkness, wondering if my eyes are just playing tricks on me or if there really is something moving just beyond the edge of darkness, hidden beneath a leafless frame of towering oaks.

As I sit down in my recliner, and drape a warm blanket over my chilled legs, I think back on my childhood and how the simplest of fears were often compounded by the books I read and the films I often watched; a feeding frenzy of horror and the macabre, etching dark grooves into my
young psyche. Later in life, my own fears would bleed into my love and passion as a filmmaker and special effects artist, but no master of the silver screen has left as much of an impression on me as one man from Pennsylvania: George A. Romero.
 
When I was ten years old, I began playing with my mom's old make-up, using lipstick to create cuts and gashes, and blush for bruises. I watched every Hammer Horror and Universal Monsters film that graced my Saturday afternoons. When Halloween rolled around, I begged my mom to buy me tubes of Dracula blood and cheap packages of fake skin, trying to mimic Jake Pierce's Frankenstein make-up or transform myself into the vampire made famous by Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee. It was not until I was fourteen, vacationing with my family at my cousin's house in Marcellus, MI, that I was officially introduced to the horror masterpiece, "Night of the Living Dead" (1968); Romero's greatest classic, to date.
 
And though I never made it through Night of the Living Dead that first night, I eventually bought a used copy on VHS - one which I still have to this day - and delved into a world of flesh eaters, social commentary and artistic license. Romero's direction was highlighted with frequent glimpses into the mind of a man who not only wanted to paint a colorful story for you in black & white, but he also wanted his audience to empathize with the film's characters and share in their terror as the farmhouse they had taken refuge in, was besieged by a horde of walking corpses. Night of the Living Dead was an assault on the senses and I did not want anything more than to make... zombies.
 
As I graduated from my mom's make-up purse to liquid latex and toilet tissue, I also found my way to Romero's sequels, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead. I literally watched Dawn every day - sometimes several times a day - for months on end; I seemed to find something new every time I watched it. At that point, not only did I want to do special effects make-up for film, but I also wanted to make the same kind of movies as George.
 
Finally, in 1993, the year that I worked on my first film, I was given the opportunity to meet my idol. Traveling down to Pittsburgh, PA, I attended the 25th Anniversary of Night of the Living Dead: Zombie Jamboree. Mingling with genre greats, such as Gunnar Hansen, Tom Savini and David Prowse, I impatiently waited to meet the man who had influenced my nightmares. And when Mr. Romero entered through the convention doors and stepped out into the showroom, I am happy to say that I was the first person to approach the six-foot-four man with the gentlest of smiles. Kindly, I asked George if I could take his picture and he graciously removed his signature glasses and posed for a picture which I had printed later that same day and autographed by the "Godfather of All Zombies".
 
Over the years, many filmmakers have been influenced by Romero's zombie series, as well as remaking a number of his other classics. Re-releases of Martin, Creepshow and Day of the Dead have thrilled life-long fans, as well as attracting a newer, younger crowd. So, when film festival directors, and friends, Anthony E. Griffin, Chris Randall and Keith Golinski invited me to the first Thriller! Chiller! Film Festival in 2006, I felt it was my opportunity to pay tribute to Mr. George Romero. Armed with my brush and several cases of Ben Nye make-up and Karo syrup
blood, I gave a make-up demonstration - joined by fellow make-up artist, Ken Clark - where, together, we created a zombie. But what really highlighted my weekend - and a tradition that has continued over the years - was the presentation of Romero's Night of the Living Dead.
 
So, now, as Mr. Romero's 72nd birthday approaches, I look back on all of the fond memories I have of the man who had such an influence on my dreams and desires. And as the wind begins to pick up and I can hear movement just outside of my window, I force myself to remember.... They aren't always shadows. They're in the shadows. Among the shadows. The are the shadows.
 
Happy birthday, George!

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