Revisiting George A. Romero’s Forgotten, Abandoned Zombie Film

George A. Romero smiles as he gives a talk.

George A. Romero – 1940-2017

2004 tech made for some grainy-ass .JPG artwork.

There is no denying the influence that the late George A. Romero has had on cinema, horror, and storytelling. From humble beginnings working on Iron City Beer commercials and helping out with early episodes of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood in his hometown of Pittsburgh, PA to creating an entire genre with the all-time classic Night of the Living Dead and everything in between, Mr. Romero is a true legend. His death on July 16, 2017 shocked and saddened us all, and he will be fondly remembered for generations.

However, even Michael Jordan sometimes had an off night. While the quality of several of Romero’s movies is debatable at best, there is one peculiar project that never quite got off the ground and has mostly been forgotten that we can all probably agree might have been the strangest film Romero ever worked on.

Around 2004, Romero and his son Cameron came up with the ridiculous idea to combine comedy musicals and zombies for the big screen. In collaboration with Richard Hartley, composer for The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the seeds for Diamond Dead had been planted. The approach taken by the creators was a fully transparent, almost open-source film, the first of its kind at the time. It was so transparent, in fact, that each draft of the original script for the film, from the first draft by Brian Cooper to the final known draft by Romero himself were posted publicly on the web for anyone to see.

What Was Diamond Dead?

Without sugar coating it, Diamond Dead was a terrible idea. After two decades, George A. Romero’s gore-loving fan base wanted to see the master get back to the genre that he created. Remakes and reboots and rip-offs of his original, beloved “Dead” trilogy (Night, Dawn, and Day) were seemingly popping up out of nowhere, but the true legend of the genre was never involved. Resident Evil producers considered using Romero, but the film didn’t fit his vision of what a zombie apocalypse would be like. Dawn of the Dead got a 2004 remake, right around the time when George and the team were developing Diamond Dead.

While that’s what fans wanted, for some reason (perhaps via influence from his son, who rumor has it thought quite a bit of himself and his ideas) Romero worked on this instead. Diamond Dead told the story of a 1980’s hair metal band who was killed in an unfortunate accident and came back as undead zombies, only to rock even harder than ever. Seriously. This project was endorsed and to be directed by George A. Romero. This was real. There were scripts. Professional people were on board. If Kickstarter existed at the time, we would’ve got this instead of Land of the Dead. Can you even imagine?

What Happened to Diamond Dead?

Qute frankly, Universal Pictures happened. While Romero was flourishing in development hell on a project that

While not as universally loved as his other zombie flicks, Land of the Dead may have saved history.

may be the single most ridiculous film concept in history, the zombie craze was beginning. As mentioned, zombie projects were coming out of the woodwork and doing big business. It just made sense for a major studio, for the first time, to back a Romero-helmed zombie project. Deals were made and production swiftly began on Land of the Dead, the fourth living dead flick in Romero’s catalog. Land was released in 2005 to a lukewarm reception, but at least it wasn’t about a popular zombie rock band.

After that, the project seemed to have simply been abandoned. No updates were posted after November of 2005, and the website eventually disappeared completely with little or no fanfare. There were no press releases, and there is very little information out there regarding exactly what happened. By the end of 2006, the Diamond Dead website simply forwarded to Cameron Romero’s “online presence building” business, CamOp.

In less than two years, the world’s first fully transparent, open-source online movie was as dead and buried as the corpses who were set to rock out on the big screen.

This Movie Would Have Changed History… For the worse.

Imagine this. It’s 2005. The major zombie movie release for the year is a poorly-funded shtick genre film masquerading as an honest-to-goodness, real-life, aw, shucks, we tried b-movie with the goal of becoming a kitschy cult classic. It’s Diamond Dead, and it goes straight to video, perhaps playing in some art houses around Pittsburgh. It is directed by George A. Romero, progenitor of the zombie film. It flops miserably.

Character concept art from Diamond Dead

Romero’s legacy is ruined. Land of the Dead never happens, and subsequently, the money is not there for any of its self-produced sequels. We never get that Super Mario Bros. reunion between John Leguizamo (Luigi) and Dennis Hopper (Koopa).

With one less mainstream zombie flick being churned out by a major studio and the creator of the genre having given a major, embarrassing black eye to horror in general, but specifically zombies, TV networks are far more gun shy about pulling the trigger on optioning a rather obscure comic series by Robert Kirkman, which started in 2003 and rode the subsequent zombie wave all the way to television legend. Yes, it is quite possible that had Diamond Dead been completed, there would be no The Walking Dead as we know it today.

Fortunately, potential financial backers and studios saw the writing on the wall, knowing what a horrible concept Diamond Dead was. All we ultimately had to show for it was a short-lived 2009 musical which ran at the NYC Fringe Festival based on the original script and the musical work of Hartley. Other than some off-the-wall (and, frankly, terrible) concept art, we are all fortunate that the universe decided against allowing this abomination to ever exist.

Rest in peace, George A. Romero.

For more discussion on the life and legacy of George Romero, tune into the Adult Podcast for Kids on Friday, July 21, 2017 for a very special retrospective on this international film legend.

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