It hasn't inspired any nightclubs to use its name. It hasn't been turned into a Broadway musical. It hasn't even spawned a sequel, yet. But over the past year, the slapstick African comedy "The Gods Must Be Crazy" has slowly and steadily earned money, and last week it passed "La Cage aux Folles" to become the highest-grossing foreign film ever in the United States.
These things are relative, of course: The record-breaking total for "The Gods Must Be Crazy" stands at about $22 million, which is terrific for a low-budget foreign affair made several years ago and released without fanfare, but which pales when you compare it with Hollywood productions. "Teen Wolf," for example, has made nearly as much money in just three weeks, and both "St. Elmo's Fire" and "Silverado" -- neither of which is considered a hit -- have made half again as much. But then, they have to earn more: It costs a lot more to hire Kevin Kline and Rob Lowe than to make a film starring an African bushman . . .
Another film that certainly won't make big money -- and isn't expected to -- is the new outing from George Romero, who directed "Creepshow" and "Knightriders" but is now returning, you might say, to his roots. Romero is best known for "Night of the Living Dead," the low-budget 1968 horror film that found its way into the permanent collection at New York's Museum of Modern Art and later prompted the more graphic 1979 sequel, "Dawn of the Dead." And Romero has now made a third chapter, "Day of the Dead" -- a film that, like its predecessors, won't receive the wide release or attention of most films because its stomach-churning gore is too strong for an R rating.
"It's real Grand Guignol for the hard-core fans," admits Romero, adding, "though on a whole other level I think this kind of fantasy stuff is less upsetting than the violence in something that imitates life more closely, like 'Scarface,' which I find to be a lot meaner and nastier in tone.
"But this is ugly stuff to look at," he admits with a laugh. "I don't know what audience it will attract. Historically, the other two films have attracted a hard-core horror audience, and they open small and have a long life. 'Creepshow' opened with 1,500 prints; this is 500 at most."
But then, Romero isn't looking for big box-office totals when he makes his zombie movies -- if he were, he'd cut out a few scenes of dismemberment, collect an R rating and go head to head with competitors like "The Return of the Living Dead" (which is related in name only). Instead, he chose to make an unrated movie -- the equivalent of a self-imposed X.
"I envisioned this movie ending with an army of zombies coming over the hill," he says, "but that would have cost too much money. The financiers said they'd put up the extra money if I delivered an R picture, or they'd give me $3.5 million and I could do whatever I wanted. I opted for that, even though it meant I couldn't end it the way I wanted."
Does that mean he's leaving room for another sequel -- that now that the dead have had their night, dawn and day it's time for "Early Evening With the Dead"?
" 'Dinner With the Dead'?" he laughs. "I don't have any plans for it, and I don't even want to think about it at this point. But that's what I said after the first movie, too" . . .
When he made "Thief" four years ago, director Michael Mann was, briefly, the director everyone in Hollywood was talking about, mostly because of the stylish, high-tech visual style he gave to that film. But Mann's movie-business reputation suffered when he made the occult movie "The Keep," which was released to little fanfare and prompted less interest. This week, Mann starts shooting "Red Dragon," which MGM describes as "a terrifying detective story," starring stage actor William Petersen -- and which will be getting plenty of attention. This time, though, the spotlight isn't due to Mann's other films, but to his role as producer of and mastermind behind "Miami Vice," the cops-and-robbers television show whose stylish, high-tech visual style is more than a little reminiscent of "Thief."