Legendary horror filmmaker George A. Romero passed away in 2017, but it seems like he’s in the news now more than in the last few years before his untimely death. First it was announced earlier in 2021 that a “lost” Romero film called The Amusement Park had been rediscovered and restored, and would premiere this month on horror streaming service Shudder. It’s essentially a 53-minute public service announcement about aging and elder abuse, commissioned by the Lutheran Society back in 1973 and filtered through the filmmaker’s nightmarish worldview, and it’s more than time it sees the light of day.
But then last month, Romero’s widow, Suzanne Romero, told The Hollywood Reporter that her husband had been working on a final film in his iconic Dead series, tentatively titled Twilight of the Dead, before his passing. So when we had the chance to jump on a Zoom call with Suzanne this week, naturally we wanted to hear more about this exciting news.
George had apparently gotten as far as writing a treatment with screenwriter Paolo Zelati, and after his passing Zelati developed a screenplay under Suzanne’s supervision. Writers Joe Knetter and Robert L. Lucas also contributed to the new script. So where is that screenplay now? “In my drawer,” deadpans Suzanne, prompting us to ask if she can open said drawer and hold the script up to the camera for a few minutes.
That gets a laugh. “It won’t leave my drawer until I feel confident that this will have the team that it needs. It’s a bit daunting. How many directors would take on a George Romero [film] like this?”
Certainly for any filmmaker, the thought of bringing George A. Romero’s final vision of his apocalyptic zombie mythology — a vision which birthed arguably the greatest horror trilogy of all time in Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead — would be an incredible challenge.
“I think we’re looking for a young, wonderful director, but with a great executive producer,” Suzanne explains. “And I really don’t want to lose sovereignty, because I’m so afraid that it’ll get exploited and trashed, that I, as his protector, as his estate, will do everything I can to protect the work and to protect him.”
Suzanne nods in agreement when we venture that directors who call themselves Romero “fans” would be easier to find than someone who truly grasps the material and the late director’s sensibility.
“Ideally, you would want George Romero to direct this. Obviously, that cannot happen,” she says. “I would love to get it made, but it has to be right. It just has to be done in a way that respects him, yet lets the director have wings. I’m just looking for someone who can do the work and do right by it.”
As for the script itself, which is now in its fourth draft, Suzanne says, “It’s exciting. It’s great. It’s dark, but great. And I’m excited about it, but at the same time, it’s nothing until it’s something.” She also confirms that the script picks up right from where Romero’s fourth zombie film, 2004’s Land of the Dead, left off, bypassing his last two efforts, Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead.
“It’s a very dark piece,” she reemphasizes. “It doesn’t end well, but it’s Romero all the way. I’m excited about it, but I need to tread softly.”
While the original Dead trilogy was produced independently and released without MPAA ratings, Land of the Dead was picked up by Universal Pictures. Because it was through a major studio, it was forced to go out at the time (back in 2004) with an R rating, which in turn made George pull back to a degree on the series’ trademark visceral gore.
But now with venues like Netflix, Shudder and other streamers all in the mix, Suzanne says all options are on the table for Twilight of the Dead. “I’m open,” she says. “I’m not closed in any way. I just need to make sure that it’s just done right. So depending on the team and how it gets developed and how it gets exposed, I mean, it’s all to be determined.”
Whatever happens, the thought of George A. Romero’s zombie saga — which has influenced everything from 28 Days Later to The Walking Dead to Army of the Dead — getting a proper conclusion as a major motion picture is a thrilling one for fans of the master’s work.
Meanwhile, The Amusement Park debuts on Tuesday, June 8 on Shudder, so come back here in the next days for more with Suzanne Romero on this important missing chapter from the Romero filmography.