Fantastic Fest: Paramount Premieres

George Romero and John C. Reilly takes the stage as part of FF's four premieres in three nights

If Fantastic Fest wasn't already big enough, it went all kaiju-size and stomped its way into avenue with enough cinema history to hold four marquee-worthy premieres in three nights: The Paramount.

Gentleman Broncos kicked off the whole shebang (Marc Savlov survived the party experience, antlers and all) on Thursday, clearing the way for this season's comedy splatterthon, Zombieland, complete with appearances by director Ruben Fleischer and stars Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Woody Harrelson. Let's just say the last time this distinguished institution of moviedom heard laughs like this, Groucho Marx was playing with an invisible mirror. The Q&A portion kicked off with the perfect question ("Why is this movie so awesome?"), but Harrelson took the time to apologize to the zombies in the audience. "You may see some things that I hope you won't hold against us," he announced sheepishly.

There were also some questions about the film's special guest cameo (for the sheer joy of their appearance, that will not be spoiled here). Eisenberg (who joked he may, with this and Adventureland, be appearing in the world's weirdest and accidental franchise), explained how they got a major, major star. "He said yes."

Getting people to say yes may be how FF got a major double-header on Saturday night, with premiers of Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant and George A. Romero's latest, Survival of the Dead.

If you don't know the Cirque du Freak books, ask your nearest literate tween. Darren Shan's modern vampire series has a major cult following, which meant the first question attending star John C. Reilly had to face was about why there was much more humor than in the books. Of the books, Reilly said, "I really enjoyed them. They sucked me in" (cue stage boos from crowd), but said he understood the reader's fears, because he'd been a Lord of the Rings reader as a younger man. As for the injection of comedy amidst the bloodsucking, he added, "The darker things are more exciting when there's a little relief once in a while." It was a little strange being in one of the PG-13 films at Fantastic Fest ("There were times I wished that Crepsley could have dropped a couple of F-bombs," he noted, wistfully) but, he added, "It ain't Goosebumps."

This first film amalgamates elements of the first four books of the 12-book cycle, and the hope is four a four-film sequence. So will this be the next Harry Potter series, or the next A Series of Unfortunate Events? "Time will tell," Reilly said.

Of course, this all lead to the bloody main course: The premiere of Survival of the Dead (read Marc Savlov's review right here) complete with in-person appearance by the king of all zombieland, George A. Romero. As befits a distinguished gentleman of cinema who had been traveling all day, he was given the courtesy of a Q&A before the screening.

Explaining how this latest undead outing fits into his zombieverse, Romero explained, "Once again, it's the humans who create the problems. Poor zombies, it's like a minor annoyance for them." However, with this one, he's "trying to open some new doors here." If it succeeds, then it will set the new direction for the franchise.

So does that mean he'll keep making movies? Absolutely, and they'll be on his own terms. He told the rapt audience, "I've made two studio films, both for Orion. Actually, that's not true. Land of the Dead was Universal, but it was produced by an independent producer and Universal got involved." However, he was pretty blunt about the studio experience. "I never enjoyed any of that. It's all by committee and it's not as much fun." Fortunately, he's got Artfire Films backing him financially, who give him the "freedom to do exactly what [I] want to do."

So what will Romero do when the inevitable zombie apocalypse happens? "I'll call up my crew guys and see if they'll come out with some cameras."

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Fantastic Fest, Fantastic Fest 2009, Paramount Theatre, George A. Romero, John. C. Reilly, Woody Harrelson, Zombieland, Cirque du Freak The Vampire's Assistant, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Darren Shan

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