Zombie King Back With 'Land of the Dead'

Famed horror director George A. Romero (search) is hoping his brand of zombies can once again scare up big business at the box office this weekend.

"George A. Romero's Land of the Dead" (search) is "Night of the Living Dead" director Romero's 13th fright film — and this time, the zombies are in the majority, with human survivors barricaded inside a city, the wealthy living in a skyscraper.

"My films are — I think it is what they expect — sort of a little bit of a gore fest," Romero told FOX News.

As for making a horror movie, "Land of the Dead" star John Leguizamo (search) said it's not as easy as it looks.

"I think there is a secret and I think that there is a real art to it. It's not as simple as you think it is," said Leguizamo. "Have anybody try to do a horror movie — you have to be really clever about suspense, surprise, because people get smart and they start catching on to your game."

Zombie king Romero's 1968 chiller "Night of the Living Dead" established an entire horror subgenre; "Land of the Dead" is his first big film in 12 years.

Along with 1978's "Dawn of the Dead" and 1985's "Day of the Dead," Romero's films include the '70s cult flicks "Martin" and "Season of the Witch" and bigger studio fare such as 1982's horror anthology "Creepshow" and 1993's "The Dark Half," both in collaboration with Stephen King.

But zombies have been his calling card. Countless imitators have adhered to the rules Romero laid down.

The creatures move slowly and stiffly, as if struggling with rigor mortis. They hunger for living human flesh. If bitten, a person inevitably dies and comes back as a zombie. And the only way to kill a zombie is to shoot it in the head.

"There were zombie films prior to George, but he pretty much invented the cannibalistic aspect," said Edgar Wright, director and co-writer of the affectionate British Romero homage "Shaun of the Dead." "What we now think of as zombies really are Romero zombies."

For all the larger-than-life terrors such as Dracula, the Wolfman and Frankenstein's monster, Romero's zombies arguably are the most frightening because they're just plain folks, albeit decomposing ones.

"Land of the Dead" features one zombie in a cheerleader outfit. Three zombies holding musical instruments hang out on a bandstand, one brainlessly tooting its tuba. Another zombie in a gas station attendant's outfit has a vestigial desire to pump fuel for vehicles that will never arrive.

"It's the neighbors, man," Romero said. "That's the scariest thing in life, the neighbors. Who am I going to move in next to?

"I don't think metaphysically about this," he added. "It's not about death or an afterlife or anything like that. This is a new situation, it's a change. A new species that just happens to be related to us."

After "The Dark Half," film after film fell through for Romero. The only movie he had managed to make was 2000's low-budget thriller "Bruiser," which virtually no one saw.

The recent onslaught of zombie copycats — including the "Resident Evil" flicks, "28 Days Later" and a remake of Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" — made the time ripe for the creator himself to resurrect his franchise.

The new movie is the most expansive of Romero's zombie tales and features his biggest cast yet, both living and dead.

When it comes to directing his zombie players, Romero continues to take a hands-off approach.

"George is a great believer of not giving you too much direction when you turn into a zombie, because he wants you to find your inner zombie," said Leguizamo. "He wants you to really find your own tics and mannerisms ... So everybody's not doing the same thing."

"Land of the Dead" is a have and have-not story — timely, given the current focus on the chasm among classes in the United States. An elite few live the good life in a skyscraper while the masses suffer in squalor. Mercenaries scour the suburbs, gunning down zombies and foraging for groceries for the urban privileged.

The wealthy use fear of zombies to control the living population, an angle Romero uses to comment on the post-Sept. 11 world.

"Since 9/11, a fear came into it, and people have capitalized on how productive fear can be as a device," co-star Simon Baker said.

Romero doubts he ever will do a movie resolving his zombie-vs.-human scenario, but he thinks his films have been moving toward some degree of peaceful co-existence between the living and the dead.

"When you think about 'How do you solve this problem?', there has to be some degree of that," Romero said. "But the zombies also have to cooperate with that. I think one of the things is, they have to learn to eat something else."

The Associated Press and FOX News' Anita Vogel contributed to this report.

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