With three Dead movies premiering and a remake mini-industry humming along, all since Zack Snyder’s 2004 Dawn cover, George A. Romero’s comeback is complete. But is he content? 2007’s Diary of the Dead saw Romero explode the model of his relaunched brand, showing he was still the same iconoclast who followed Night of the Living Dead with a stab at romance. Diary was also, incidentally, god-awful. BAM’s weekend-long series, which includes Survival of the Dead (officially opening May 28) and some of the director’s less-screened works, highlights Romero’s range—and his limitations.
The Dark Half (1993) was a near career-killer, a pretentious doppelgänger horror story with Timothy Hutton as both highbrow writer Thad Beaumont and his pulpy alter ego George Stark (playing off the idea of Donald Westlake’s pen name, “Richard Stark”). Featuring literary mumbo-jumbo, symbolic violence with pencils and typewriters, and Hutton wearing a drawl and cowboy boots in the Evil part of his double role—about as scary as Randy Travis—The Dark Half was a product of the ’90s deluge of Stephen King adaptations, when even his most a-cinematic tome warranted a bidding war. The atmospheric shots of massing sparrows are all that works here.
A happier King-Romero meeting was Creepshow (1982), a five-episode anthology film paying homage to E.C. Comics—and allegedly the next Romero remake on the way. The most effectively disturbing of the vignettes stars E.G. Marshall as an OCD tycoon beset by roaches despite his vacuum-sealed penthouse, predicting 2005’s eat-the-rich Land of the Dead. Screenwriter King leaves no reaction shot unturned in playing a gormless Yankee yokel who gets drunk on Ripple while turning into a fern.
The proverbial overlooked gem, though, is Monkey Shines (1988). Full of opportunities for the suspense built from minute physical detail that Romero does so well, it’s humid with the frustration and acrimony of Jason Beghe’s from-the-neck-up central performance as a paralyzed ex-athlete, while Capuchin “Boo” gives unnervingly intelligent close-ups as Beghe’s helper monkey-turned-accomplice in revenge on the world. Billed as an “Experiment in Terror,” it’s nothing if not experimental, an Every Which Way but Loose in the Rue Morgue that risks a hot quadriplegic sex scene with shrieking simians in the background. No remake announced.
Romero will appear for a Q&A after the 8 p.m. screening of ‘Survival of the Dead’ on Saturday night