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Zombie-A-GoGo Interviews

 

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

1:54 PM - Jamie Russell

Interview with
Jamie Russell

By
Kriscinda Meadows


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Kriscinda: What was it that made you decide the world needed this book?

Jamie Russell: About five years ago I was re-watching Romero's (then) trilogy and wanting to read more about zombies - what they meant, what kind of fears they were tapping into. Basically, I wanted to read something intelligent about walking corpses. A quick check of the bookshops and the library proved there wasn't anything like that in publication. So I set out to write the book I wanted to read! Then, in the middle of it, this whole ongoing "zombie renaissance" happened and the publishers and I realized we'd picked the perfect moment to start working on this. What was going to be a niche title of just 2,000 copies turned into the best-selling book in the history of FAB Press. I'm still in the process of picking my jaw off the floor...!

K: Describe your research process.

JR: Basically I watched every zombie movie I could possibly find! I spent a lot of time (and money) on EBay, weird classified listings, swapping bootleg videos and stuff like that. I obviously also spent a lot of time in libraries. The British Film Institute library in London was my second home as I went through back issues of mags like Shivers and Fangoria.


K: What do you do when you're not writing books about zombies and did this adversely affect your social life?

JR: My long-suffering wife told me that if she ever had to watch another zombie movie she'd turn me into one! While I was writing the book most people didn't care about these movies. In fact most people thought I was mad. It was: "Why are you writing about zombies, man?" Until about two years ago, nobody wanted to know about walking corpses apart from a few other weirdoes like me. Now everyone wants to talk Braaaains!

K: There are a lot of zombie films out there at this point. How did you go about figuring out which should be showcased in the book and which not?

JR: It was very personal, really. If it engaged me - intellectually, emotionally, or simply with that visceral thrill you sometimes get from marginal cinema it got more space than stuff that left me cold. Basically, if I flt able to talk about it intelligently in detail, it got the space. Which is why something like Shatter Dead gets more attention than The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires.

K: In the book, you really go into some historical depth regarding the politics of Haiti during the time of White Zombie. How relevant is White Zombie today in light of the current cycle of crisis in Haiti? Do you think Haiti is still fertile ground for zombie movies in the sense of being attractive to modern zombie film fans?

JR: I think Haiti meant more to the genre in the early days, when issues of race and America's imperial mission in Haiti were at their height. The 1930s and the 1940s were the heyday of that kind of thing.

K: Given your knowledge of the zombie film history and its significance, what comments do you have in regards to the current zombie craze and how does it fit within the zombie timeline, socially and/or politically?

JR: The most fascinating thing - and it's something that my book mentions just at the very end - is how the zombie movie has reacted to the War on Terror. A movie like Homecoming (which was released after we went to press) is so intriguing in its use of the zombie as a critique of the Bush administration. Zombie movies have frequently had this leftwing political agenda attached to them (thanks Mr Romero) and it was something I tried to flag up in the book. So to see a movie like Homecoming arrive - with dead zombie soldiers marching on the White House - kind of proved the point I was making. I just wish I could have got it into the first edition of the book.

K: In connection with the last question-the popularity of zombie movies seems to be waning a bit. Do you see any correlation, again, with any current social or political issues?

JR: I don't think zombie movie popularity is waning. Hell, just look at the Hollywood bidding war surrounding Max Brooks' World War Z. Then there's stuff like X-box 36 game Dead Rising, the on-going comic The Dead Walk and Romero's attempts to make another movie (*news of Dairy of the Dead has come out since this interview). The death of the zombie is not yet.

K: At one point in the book, you called Rollins' Grapes of Death (1978) one of the best zombie movies of that decade. Explain?

JR: I loved that movie and I go into great detail explaining why in the book. It's so nasty, so grim - and so unlike your typical Rollin flick.

K: As filmmakers in general (and not just talking about the standards associated with the zombie subgenre), how do our classic zombie directors really stack up?

JR: Across the genre, the standard is very, very poor. We all know this, zombie movies are at the bottom of the horror barrel. They're so cheap to make - grab some friends, slap some ketchup on their faces and film them stumbling around - that every numpty with a camcorder has had a go. Which has really dragged the genre's standard down. At the other end of the spectrum - and I may incur a lot of wrath here - but I don't think Romero is a great director on a technical level. He's very talented, but he's not Martin Scorsese. But then that's not his bag. He's not into pushing the boundaries of cinema. What he is is a writer-director with a fully-realized, unique vision and in that respect he is indeed a director whose name will still be with us in two hundred years time.

K: We'll bring this together with a handful of topical softballs. :)

1. Favorite zombie actor/actress?

JR: Gotta be Howard Sherman as Bub in Day of the Dead. The moment you first realize his moans are actually intelligible bits of dialogue is chilling.

2. Best zombie buffet scene?

JR: The tenement building basement in Dawn of the Dead. Still makes me feel queasy.

3. Funniest moment in a zombie film?

JR: The moment in Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things when Alan sacrifices one of his actors to save himself. Everyone - even the zombies - stop, utterly shocked by him.

4. Most intellectually stimulating zombie film?

JR: Romero's stuff obviously, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (for its sheer nihilism), Dellamorte Dellamore, Fulci's The Beyond (very underrated).

5. Best all around Zombie?

JR: The one who haunts me in my nightmares is the majestic Darby Jones in I Walked With A Zombie.

6. Most effective zombie make-up?

JR: For me, Fulci's Zombi 2.

7. Favorite moment of zombie tool usage?

JR: The zombie bride with a chainsaw in The Video Dead. Rrrrr! Rrrrr!

8. Best dressed zombie?

JR: The buff zombie boys wearing nothing but jock straps and trainers in La Cage aux Zombies.

9. Most memorable line in a zombie film?

JR: "Choke on 'em!" in Day of the Dead.

10. Pick one celebrity you'd like to see come back as a zombie.

JR: George W. Bush. I reckon there'd be a queue of people waiting to shoot him in the head.


K: Describe what you're doing now...

JR: I write for Total Film, Sight & Sound, FHM, BBC Movies and several other publications. And I'm working on a screenplay. Although it doesn't feature any zombies. We're thinking about updating Book of the Dead sometime in 2007, assuming the current flood of zombie movies stops by then.

You can purchase a copy of Book of the Dead: The Complete History of Zombie Cinema at FAB Press!

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