A chat with Greg Nicotero, make-up and effects wizard of “The Walking Dead”

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With 124 make-up credits and 64 effects credits to his name so far, Greg Nicotero is one of the busiest and most respected make-up and effects professionals in Hollywood. Originally inspired to take up special effects after seeing “Jaws,” he broke into the business working for the legendary gore-effects maestro Tom Savini on zombie-master George Romero’s 1985 splatter opus, “Day of the Dead. ”

A few years later, Nicotero had decamped from Romero’s Pittsburgh’s to show-biz’s Los Angeles and formed the multi-award winning KNB Efx Group with friends Robert Kurtzman and Howard Berger. Aside from his intimate involvement in such effects heavy films as “Sin City,” “Kill Bill,” “Minority Report,” “Serenity,” “Spiderman 3” and, yes, “Ray,” Nicotero has also branched out into directing, helming the second unit on Frank Darabont’s “The Mist” and making his own short subject, a funny and endearing homage to several generations of classic movie monsters, “United Monster Talent Agency.”

When I met with Nicotero and last Summer’s Comic-Con, however, it was to promote the already highly buzzed new AMC series, “The Walking Dead,” which reunites Nicotero with writer-director Darabont in an adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s Eisner Award-winning comic book series. Premiering Halloween night, the show will be taking a more dramatic look at the cannibal zombie mythos originally created by George Romero in his 1968 “Night of the Living Dead,” combining slow-moving zombies with the kind of in-depth characterization and complex yarn-spinning that’s making the onetime “vast wasteland” of television into something more like the last refuge of classical storytelling.

There’s only one problem. I’m kind of scared to actually watch the thing. You see, much as I admire the craft of someone like Greg Nicotero, I’m not exactly the usual gorehound media-fan for whom the more, and more realistic, cinematic gore he can create, the better. There was no point in hiding it.

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Day of the Dead

First Look Studios is one crafty little company. Attempting to piggyback on the success of Zack Snyder’s “Dawn of the Dead,” the indie label greenlit a remake of George A. Romero’s third zombie flick, “Day of the Dead,” and even went so far as to cast Ving Rhames in a supporting role. It was all done in the hope that fans would believe the film was a follow-up to the 2004 remake of “Dawn,” and since it’s a pretty shady move on their part, I have no problem spoiling the fact that Rhames (playing a completely different character) dies within the first 20 minutes. The rest of the film is spent following a group of soldiers (led by Mena Suvari and Nick Cannon) around a small Colorado town trying to escape a virus outbreak that has turned certain people into flesh-eating zombies. Passed around like a bad cold, the new virus angle may sound like an interesting twist to a familiar tale, but it’s actually much worse. Somehow, this outbreak is only affecting one city, and though some victims turn into zombies after being bitten, others don’t. WTF? As for the zombies themselves, director Steve Miner has decided to stick with the newer, faster versions, but in order to produce their superhuman speed, he resorts to amateurish tricks like speeding up the tape. It’s all pretty lame stuff, and though an action sequence midway through offers gory headshots aplenty, it’s the only shining moment in a poorly made cash grab more than deserving of the direct-to-video treatment.

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