Horror legend George A. Romeo is arguably best known for his Night of the Living Dead movies, the first of which brought zombies to the forefront of pop culture in 1968. He was a prolific creator, however, and for every zombie, vampire, or cryptid that made it to the big screen, there were several projects of his that fell to the wayside.
The University of Pittsburg Library System’s Horror Studies Collection has an archive of Romero’s work, which includes scripts, photos, and production documents for his known films as well as 114 unrealized projects. In a virtual presentation this week, attended by SYFY WIRE, University of Pittsburg’s Visiting Researcher Adam Hart and Horror Studies Coordinator Ben Rubin shared some of their favorite findings from the archive with the general public.
One of the items shared included the first description of zombies in an early Night of the Living Dead script: “They are dead things…the flesh on their faces is rotting and oozing…their eyes bulge from deep sockets…their hair is long, and their clothing rotten and in tatters.” Another detailed a vivid description of the end of Day of the Dead: “This is it, gore fans. The gross finale…the intestine tugger….Balthazar and his court get torn to shreds as the blues and the whites get their supper.” And there was also a note with Romero’s advice on how to get said intestines from the butcher: “All he needs is a little advanced notice as he only slaughters on certain days.”
Other findings included scripts from projects that sadly never saw production, like Nuns From Outer Space (“They’re not really nuns. People just think they are.”); Whine of the Fawn, his first script about a sheltered young lad living in the Middle Ages (“He finds friends. He finds love. He finds torment.”); Mickey B., described as Macbeth with robots; and Monster Mash, a monster hospital themed like the M*A*S*H* television show.
Another fun script the archivists found in the collection was a 1994 one titled Jacaranda Joe, which involved a Big Foot-like creature running amok in Florida and centered around a Geraldo-like daytime television show. “We're digging through the storyboards on this, and there are all these concept maps and concept drawings of what the creature would look like…it seemed like just another one of these things that really seemed like he’d put a lot into it and it didn't seem to have gone anywhere,” Rubin said. “And then there was casting, and the casting call revolved around Valencia Community College in Florida, which is just outside of Orlando. So we did a little digging into that, and going through some of the film elements we realized that, lo and behold, we discovered a lost Romero film, Jacaranda Joe.”
The archivists were able to play a short clip from the 20-minute short during the presentation, where it appears that Romero was further exploring whether he could use found footage or a documentary format to scare people. Sadly, Romero, who passed away in 2017, never made the 20-minute film into a longer piece, although it appears he intended to at some point. The Archive collection does have a workprint of it, however, so what we do have of Romero’s Jacaranda Joe will be preserved for all of horror time.