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Festival Seating: George Romero's gore with guts

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According to George Romero it's no coincidence that his 1968 zombie epic, Night of the Living Dead, became a hit just as the antiwar movement was peaking. "It's a film about revolution, a revolutionary mass taking over a resistant one, which we were hoping the 60s would be," says the 64-year-old director, who, along with fellow cult filmmaker Jack Hill (Spider Baby, or the Maddest Story Ever Told), is the guest of honor at a Movieside Film Festival program this weekend. Romero later followed up his low-budget black-and-white masterpiece with two color sequels, Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Day of the Dead (1985). The former--recently remade on a big Hollywood budget by Zack Snyder--can be read as a subversive parable about rampant consumerism, the latter as a satire on American militarism. "My films aren't about a guy with a knife in a hockey mask," says Romero. "I try to add a little substance."

Romero started making 8-millimeter movies as a teen. He always loved the horror genre and cites the 1950s EC Comics series Tales From the Crypt as an early influence. He repaid his debt to the comics with his 1982 film Creepshow, a compendium of five stories from EC's vault of horror.

Romero, who's based in Pittsburgh, is presently at work on a new feature, Diamond Dead, about a female rock singer who accidentally causes the demise of her favorite underground rock band. She brings her idols back from the grave by cutting a deal with Death that requires the undead musicians to kill 365 people. The film, says Romero, "is about people trying to live around their tendency to become turtles and think that everything's going to be OK, ignoring the problem. The protagonists are people who go out and get stuff--who go out and get the liquor."

The three-day homage to the two filmmakers will include screenings of the first and third parts of Romero's zombie trilogy, Creepshow, his 1973 film The Crazies, and several of his music videos and television commercials. Jack Hill's oeuvre will be represented by Spider Baby, Switchblade Sisters, the blaxploitation classic Coffy, and The Host. Both directors will take questions from the audience after the screenings.

Movieside founder Rusty Nails, who organized the event, calls Night of the Living Dead "one of the first films that inspired me to make films. It relied heavily on the screenplay, characters, and atmosphere, as opposed to a large budget. It had a beautiful look and a challenging concept." Nails has also scheduled a screening of Acne (2003), a zombie-esque feature he wrote, directed, and starred in, in which a mysterious industrial contaminant transforms teenagers into hideous walking pustules. The black-and-white film, which has just been released on DVD, will be introduced by Mark Borchardt, the subject of Chris Smith's American Movie and director of Coven.

"Indie Film Masters: George Romero & Jack Hill" runs from Friday, May 14, to Sunday, May 16, at the Biograph, 2433 N. Lincoln. Tickets are $10 on Friday, $12 on Saturday and Sunday; passes good for all screenings are $25. For a complete schedule of events, see sidebar in Section Two. For more information call 773-907-8513 or visit www.movieside.com.

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