Arts: Magic Details

Keeping a fantasy alive

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This vintage photo is from a film shoot in which George Romero dressed as Santa to run through the background during a zombie mayhem scene. Photo courtesy of Tina Romero.

“My dad always told me, ‘You can make people believe anything,’” recalls filmmaker Tina Romero, daughter of the legendary writer/director George Romero, creator of Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and several others. “My dad knew that if you can dream it up, and you can commit to and believe in your own idea, you can convince them of anything. You can convince them that the dead are rising from their graves and coming to eat their brains. The impossible can become reality, if you commit to it enough—and you pay attention to the details.”

Tina Romero, of New York City, has won awards for her short films and music videos, and has made a name for herself as a prominent DJ (she goes by DJ TRx), primarily spinning at LGBT parties and queer nightlife clubs in New York. She’s currently at work on her first feature-length film, a decidedly Romero-esque horror movie about the zombie apocalypse, seen through the eyes of the patrons at a drag nightclub.

“It’s called Queens of the Dead,” reveals Romero, adding that her father, who passed away in July of 2017, talked with her at length about the project before his death. “I’m going into the zombie genre with my dad’s blessing, though I’m doing it my own way. My films tend to be more musical than scary, so we’ll see.”

I spoke with Romero just before Christmas, and her father was very much on her mind.

“My dad was the ultimate Santa Claus,” Romero says. “It’s funny, because people know him for his horror work, but in real life, he couldn’t have been more of a teddy bear. He loved all kinds of magical kid stuff. He had a dark mind as well, obviously, but he would find these great ways to make Christmas all about the magic.

“Instead of just putting a lot of presents under the tree, Dad would be inventive,” Romero says. “We’d come downstairs on Christmas morning, and Santa would have replaced our carpet. Or changed the flowers in all the vases, putting them in some sort of Christmas-themed arrangement. And Santa would always have these obstacles he’d encounter.”

One Christmas when their family was living in Florida, there was no fireplace in their home, and when the kids came downstairs on Christmas morning, there were no presents waiting for them.

“We kids didn’t know what had become of Santa, but then we noticed that, sticking down from the attic, there was this piece of red cloth,” she says. “And when we pulled down the attic door, this big red stocking fell down with all these gifts in it, with a note from Santa, saying, ‘Sorry guys, I couldn’t find the chimney!’

Another year, everything was outside on the back patio, along with Rudolph’s reindeer harness, which had somehow been left behind. “The best was the year Santa lost his wallet,” Romero says. “[It] had currency in it, from all over the world. There was a frequent-shopper card for the Hallmark store, and one for the Rothschild Big and Tall store. There was a reindeer-feed business card. There was an international driving permit, a Humana health insurance card. There were postage stamps. The details were amazing.”

Santa’s wallet contained a number of photos with notes on them—things like, “Me and Martha, Leningrad, 1991” and “Dasher on his 90th birthday.”

“It just really kept the fantasy alive,” Romero says. “I loved it! I loved the crumbs left on the cookie plate after Santa had been there, all the little details of magic. Whatever project my dad tackled, he went full force.”

It’s a tradition that Tina Romero continues, though hardly to the degree her father did.

“On Christmas, my girlfriend and I will sign things ‘From Santa,’ and do a little bit here and there,” she says, “and it always makes me think of my dad, and how special he made everything.”

Asked whatever became of the wallet, Romero is ready with the answer. “Oh, I still have it,” she says with a laugh. “I have a tiny fireproof box with the deed to my apartment, my social security card—and that wallet.”

Romero’s one regret is that her father never had a chance to write and direct a movie about Christmas.

“Unfortunately, he really got pigeonholed in the horror genre,” she says. “They wouldn’t let him make anything other than a horror movie. But if he had, I’m pretty sure it would have been the greatest Christmas movie of all time.”

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