The Dead Will Rise: Steve Niles talks 'Dawn of the Dead'

[Dawn of the Dead]When making a list of classic horror films, one that inevitably ends up on that list would have to be George A. Romero's "Dawn of the Dead," the 1978 sequel to the ultimate classic, "Night of the Living Dead." Those familiar zombies were back terrorizing our heroes as they tried to escape them, travelling from a television station to a suburban mall, with the gore levels heightened quite a bit since the original.

"Dawn of the Dead" is a movie that's not been forgotten since it's original release. For one, there's a remake coming out at the end of March starring Ving Rhames and Sarah Polley. While the original hasn't been available on DVD for some time, Anchor Bay Entertainment will be re-releasing the original film on DVD this April. As if that wasn't enough, there's a new three-issue comic book adaptation of the film coming in April from Steve Niles, artist Chee (who was recently named Artist of the Year by Rue Morge Magazine) and IDW Publishing.

"Dawn of the Dead, at the time, was already a long awaited sequel to Romero's 'Night of the Living Dead' which he did in 1968," writer Steve Niles told CBR News Thursday afternoon. "You could say fan anticipation for 'Dawn of the Dead' was the horror equivalent of the response the first 'Star Trek' movie received. Romero did this as an independent production in Pittsburgh in exactly the same way he did 'Night of the Living Dead' and one of the things it was going to be well known for was this time around he had a guy with him named Tom Savini, who was like this unbelievable and, at the time, unknown make-up artist. That was the big excitement when the movie came out because the level of gore was so much higher.

"It's a sequel, even though it jumps many years in time, where for some unexplained reason the dead are rising. We follow these four characters through trying to escape the mayhem of the East Coast being taken over by the living dead.

"There are two groups, two swat team members and a husband and wife who work for a television studio. That's how they get the helicopter because he's the traffic reporter. They use the helicopter to try to find some way of getting out of this and wind up landing on the roof of an abandoned suburban mall and find some refuge there."

While the remake hits theaters this March, this comic book is an adaptation of the original, not the new film. Niles told CBR News that he's working directly from the film, trying to be as faithful to the original as possible and purists need not worry about Niles taking too many liberties with this adaptation.

"I don't think what I'm doing is taking liberties at all," said Niles. "What I'm really trying to do is sort of pick-up where I feel like maybe they couldn't pull it off quite right [in the film] due to budget constraints. For instance, take the scene when they pull up over the mall. They say in dialogue, 'Oh my God, they've over run the place.' Then you look down and there's a few hundred down there. What we're going to do, because we can pull off amazing special effects with comic books, is there will be thousands of zombies everywhere. Hordes of them. The thing I want people to understand is why they're evacuating, because you kind of had to take them at their word in the movie, but I want to be able to show it. When they escape from the TV station, I want people to see the zombies are in the street like herds of cattle.

"I'm going to up the special effects, but the story's going to be very faithful. Chee and I are going to try ways of retelling the same moments from different perspectives or slightly different timing."

Those who've seen the film will recall numerous classic special effects moments. There's the famous head explosion early on in the movie as well as the helicopter decapitation scene. Niles plans on hitting those moments, but giving them a bit of a twist.

"There's a lot of special effects moments and then there are the story moments. I will absolutely hit every story moment. Taking a moment that I'm really pulling off the top of my head because I haven't reached the helicopter scene yet, but what I would probably do with the helicopter scene is do what they couldn't do in the movie, which is make the head proportionate to the human. Remember when you see the zombie? He's got like this four inch prosthetic and it's like, 'Here comes the leader!' You just think to yourself, 'Yeah, he's getting the top of his head cut off!'

"Also, I have this thing where after he gets his head cut off, he actually manages to walk and crawl and die and literally dies at the guys feet and his brains spill out over his boots! It's the same gag, but make it a little worse. Stuff like that, give it a little punch."

Niles says the reason why "Dawn of the Dead" still holds up, now 26 years later, is because the story is character driven. While everyone remembers the zombies, they're just one of the characters that inhabit the film. We have our four heroes, Francine, Stephen, Roger and Peter, that we learn to care about or get really pissed off at. That's why Niles believes this film still has legs.

Landing the license to "Dawn of the Dead" happened after Niles was approached about doing the adaptation.

"They contacted me," explained Niles. "Richard Rubinstein's company, he's one of the original producers, contacted me about doing this and I hooked them up with IDW. They wanted to do a comic, but didn't know where they were going to go beyond that. So, everyone got together and we brought in Chee, who's coming off of 'Wake the Dead.' He's a big fan! Everyone working on this fan is a great fan. That excitement is going to show through."

When Niles was asked about doing the adaptation, there was no trepidation. He was eager and excited to get on board this project.

"I'm so excited that I've been asked to do this. This was such an important movie in my life. I was one of those people who heard George Romero was going to make a sequel ten years before he actually did it. I picked up that issue of Fangoria that had that first look at the special effects shot of the head exploding. I've still got that!"

Niles noted that Romero is not involved in the production of the comic.

When asked if "Dawn of the Dead" would make his Top 10 list of best horror films, Niles said it would definitely be up there and shared the story of his first vieiwing of the film.

"'Night of the Living Dead' would [make it on the list] and 'Dawn of the Dead' would have to be in there, too. They go together. 'Night of the Living Dead' is always in the top three. With 'Dawn of the Dead,' my Dad took me to the premiere in Washington D.C., in one of the worst neighborhoods in D.C. There were people throwing up in the aisles! I actually saw somebody run up the aisle and throw up. It was one of those things when they're throwing up and running, so they were just making it worse! My Dad said, 'Never again!'"

Niles will be appearing this Sunday at the Media City Convention in North Hollywood, California beginning at 1:00 pm.

Special thanks to Homepage of the Dead for background information and photos.

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