Saturday, July 24, 2010

Three Days of the Dead, Part II

The second day of the Dead series was dedicated to Dawn of the Dead.  For this panel, the speakers were Tom Savini, the make-up effects guru for the movie who also appeared as one of the biker gang members, and four of the more famous zombies from the movie.  With Romero's niche in the industry now safely filled, the guerilla film making could be abandoned for a bigger budget picture.  Rather than use an old farmhouse about to be torn down and renovated, as Romero did in Night, this time he got permission to use the Monroeville Mall just east of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the first indoor mall in the country.  But even fame and fortune had its limitations, because the cast and crew needed to vacate the location before the mall before opened in the morning.  Savini noted that they were usually out by seven AM because that was when the mall's muzak system turned on, and because senior citizens used the mall for their morning walks.  According to the panel, no seniors suffered heart attacks after stumbling across a pack of rampaging zombies, but several did come back to make cameos as the living dead.  (The Monroeville Mall is still in existence, but has been heavily renovated since Dawn was made in 1978 and is no longer recognizable with the movie; however, there is a zombie museum on the premises.)

Cast members from Dawn of the Dead, from left to right : Tom Savini (make-up guru and biker gang member); Jim Krut (helicopter zombie); Leonard A. Lies (machete zombie); Sharon Ceccatti (nurse zombie); and Mike Christopher (Hare Krishna zombie)

Mike Christopher hamming it up for the fans.

Day three was dedicated to the Day of the Dead.  I have to admit that for years this was my least favorite of the original Romero trilogy -- until I sat in on the panel.  Listening to the actors discuss the movie and their interpretation of their characters was eye opening.  This movie is much more than just a film about the zombie apocalypse and the total collapse of society.  As described by the actors, the movie is also about each person's ability (or inability) to cope.  Gary Klar, who played the bully Private Steel, discussed a nuance that I had never noticed before.  Throughout the movie he's the muscle man for the military unit, threatening the civilians in almost every reel and venting his anger on the zombies, whom he despises with a vehemence bordering on irrational, until you feel his character has no redeeming quality.  But in his final moments on screen, when he's about to be overrun by zombies and opts to take his own life rather than come back as one of them, Steel crosses himself with his pistol before eating a bullet, an act of religious piety hinting that maybe this man was once a descent guy in the pre-zombie days.  (On a personal note, Gary is one of the nicest guys you can meet at these conventions.  We had a sidebar discussion after the panel during which, after he learned about my own aspirations in the genre, he offered some unsolicited nut much appreciated support.)

Cast members from Day of the Dead, from left to right: Michael Gornick (cinematographer), Terry Alexander (John), Gary Klar (Private Steel), and Joe Pilato (Captain Rhodes).

A reproduction of the Dr. Tongue zombie from Day of the Dead on display in the exhibit room.

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