White House of the Dead [Nonexistent Movies]

Day of the Dead hands on

This is the test run for a new feature I’m thinking about making a regular thing. I got the idea several weeks ago when I was thumbing through old Fangorias and noticed how inaccurate their “Terror Teletype” column could be. Sometimes the upcoming movie news was right on the money, sometimes it got the details wrong, and sometimes the movies mentioned there never entered production at all. The column mostly existed in the age before internet, so I assume the editors employed a mixture of credible sources and wild rumors. Yet some would-be movies, however unlikely, are too thought-provoking to forget. From John Carpenter’s Escape from Earth to Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash, it’s just fun to wonder what could have been.

Case in point: an unmade sequel to George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, my favorite horror film of all time. Prefacing a 1979 interview with Romero, Roger Ebert wrote: “Romero calls ‘Dawn’ the second film in his Zombie Trilogy. In the third, zombies will control the White House.” The article was the first time I ever heard of such a possibility. Unfortunately, these are Ebert’s words and Romero himself never makes mention of the third entry in this interview. (I’m reminded of a long-standing—and mostly debunked—rumor regarding an unmade Re-Animator sequel which places Herbert West in the White House.)

So where did Ebert get his information? Was Romero at one point developing a story which would have far exceeded the scope of Dawn? Lee Karr’s The Making of George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead refers to a 1978 television appearance (one year before the Ebert interview) in which Romero discusses tentative plans for the followup: “The zombies are a little more sympathetic. We see them organizing slightly now and if there’s ever a third film that’s what it will be about.” (In Day of the Dead, we see more of this sympathy and ability to organize in the zombie nicknamed Bub, but not to the degree which the filmmaker has suggested here or in the earliest draft of the script available to the public.) “Dario Argento, who we’re co-producing this film with, an Italian director, said that the third one has to be ‘Zombies in the White House’. And maybe that’s what it will be, I don’t know [smiles].”

MakingOfDayOfTheDead

It’s good to know Ebert didn’t pull the rumor out of his ass; Romero possibly told him off the record or perhaps the critic read this fun Rolling Stone article. (Somehow, I feel I should have known Argento had a hand in the sapling of an idea.) While it’s not 100% clear whether or not there existed an earlier draft involving Romero’s early plans (according to a questionable passage on Wikipedia, which doesn’t include references, the early draft on the internet is not the first draft of the script), I think it’s safe to say there probably wasn’t a “White House script” considering the scope of Dawn was noticeably reduced in Day. We might have seen such a movie if Romero hadn’t stuck to his guns when bigger studios offered him distribution (and bigger budgets) in exchange for R-ratings. But honestly: who the hell would want that? Sure, director’s cuts would have surfaced eventually, but would his films had had such a tremendous impact upon release had they been so safe and squeaky clean?

For me, the version of Day we got is a fine picture which manages to trump its predecessors’ special effects if nothing else, but it’s clear Romero’s ambitions have been held in check (or downright tortured) by the financial realities of filmmaking ever since. It’s also my opinion that each of his zombie films since Dawn have been a little less watchable than the last, but I actually enjoyed Land of the Dead even if I’ll (probably) never watch it again.

Day of the Dead in the White House could have been a blast, though, and perhaps a little more meaningful than the version we got.

Day of the Dead title card