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Stephen RomanoDeath Becomes Us: Celebrating the Dead in Austin
By Christopher Head

Death is all around us. Most of us don’t really want to admit it, but death surrounds us as much as life. There is not one without the other.

Do you ever wonder how you are gonna die? Is death lurking around the corner from you right now? Will you meet a sad ending with a butcher knife at work or in the fryer from slipping on the wet kitchen floor on the way to dump the fries? Or will you die stumbling across Red River Street with too many Lone Stars in your belly, getting run over by a big red pick-up with a headache rack and a guy named Billy behind the wheel? Will your ex-girlfriend's medication run out, and will she, all of a sudden, remember all the mean things you did to her only to find herself with a nice warm pistol to your temple? Or will you die the traditional way of disease and slip away from your body slowly and painfully? Will it be funny to you if you die while on the toilet? (The coroner report stated that Elvis died “straining at stool.”) Do you take a moment to giggle at the thought?

Let’s face it, we are all gonna be confronted with that moment. Is that why we are so intrigued by it? I realize that I am asking a lot of questions here, but how the hell will any of us live if we don’t really realize that one day the reaper will come a-knockin? It’s all just a matter of how and when. The entertainment world is full of celebrations of death, but entertainment never really conquers the fear of death. The entertainment industry only markets death to teenagers.

All that being said, I realize that there is a purpose to all this death talk. In Mexico, Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead, which is the day after Halloween) is celebrated by going to the graves of relatives, communicating with them, drinking and celebrating the lives of ancestors.

Stephen RomanoPagans have been known to celebrate Samhain, which is dedicated to the idea of eternal life and our connection to the ones past. They say that on Samhain the veil connecting the two worlds (the living and the dead world) is so thin that the two can come together in celebration, worship and even work.

Here in the States and in our current cultural maturity, or lack thereof, we celebrate with plastic costumes and candy. But there are exceptions to that, even though I know that this year will prove to have more mulltetheads, pimps, whole cast of The Royal Tenenbaums and maybe even another Papa Smurf. Luckily, we live in Austin, and we have a city that celebrates this holiday with a passion.

Yes, Halloween is upon us yet again, and the city of Austin is getting ready for another night of ghosts, ghouls and all the other creative death-appreciative costumes that the fine, sick and warped minds of this weird city can offer. Ok, most of the costumes have nothing to do with death, and some even make you wish you were dead. You gotta appreciate the spirit that this town emits when the dawn of the Day of the Dead approaches, though. Maybe one day we will come to celebrate the true tradition of Halloween instead of just another day to make bank.

I was on a mission to find a guru of sorts. I was looking for someone who could fill me in a little on the horror world. So, in honor of this upcoming celebration, I met up with a man who has become much acquainted with the different facets of our American appreciation of death, carnage, blood, gore and the like. What I wanted to do was get some references to this highly celebrated subject. I don’t know if I was really ready, but once I opened the gate, there was no getting the images of darkness back into their cages.

In this encounter, I came in contact with a vast array of plain driven horror. I won’t be able to sum it all up in a nutshell or anything, but I have definitely been introduced to the gates of hell and was let in for a look around. Ya know, it really ain’t all that bad. The Devil’s homies are just like you and me.

I had to call someone who could really give me some access to the dark side. From several telephone conversations and a sit down discussion with this usher of the underworld, I got the impression that his fascination of horror goes a little deeper than most. My perspective of when Stephen Romano sits down to write is that he doesn’t want you to just get the shivers. He also wants to feel responsible for what is haunting you. Scary, huh?! There is no pretty, innocent little girl getting slashed to pieces. If there was, it would probably be her fault somehow, because no one is innocent.

I sit down with Romano at the “kingdom” and talk about where he comes from and why he does the things he does. The walls are covered from floor to ceiling with every imaginable comic book and horror movie image. The TV screen flashes trailers from what I can only assume to be every single horror movie ever made, because new images flash on the screen throughout the entire evening. This man seems to know a thing or two about a thing or two about killing and dying phenomena. You can take a tour of the colorful array of blood splatters and demon effigies on his walls with a special pair of 3-D glasses.

Stephen RomanoFrom opening up for Otis Day and the Knights at the age of thirteen at the pretty well- known Houston nightclub Fitzgerald’s to major litigation with a major music network over creative copyrights (and winning), Romano doesn’t really know when to quit or when he started. Who the hell does he think he is? I mean this is that guy that for years I have seen walk around town dressed all in black and with that mysterious black briefcase. (I now know that briefcase has been filled with books, comics and illustrations from various local artists for different projects that he worked on.)

Romano has an imagination that intends on bringing death to your doorstep. He has worked on many different comics including The Gates of Hell (based on a Lucio Fulci screenplay), Phantasm (based on the movie by Don Coscarelli) and the Invasion of the Mutanoids, a full 350-page book full of sci-fi carnage filled with the most creative and dark images of the underworld of life versus complete carnal war. Word is that there is a new Phantasm movie coming soon.

Also, Romano was the promoter and organizer behind the Austin premier of the newest movie by Coscarelli, Bubba Ho-tep, starring Bruce Campbell and Ozzie Davis, which is being self-released by Coscarelli. Anyone who made the special Austin premier knows that this is one of the most weird and ingenious zombie films to date. Our hero of horror, Mr. Romano, also put together the Fulci fests that ran from 1999 through 2001 at the Alamo Drafthouse.

Stephen Romano still loves Motley Crue, and, by looks of his resume and the traffic that comes through the “kingdom,” he still lives the rock and roll lifestyle. Well, I mean, between 30-day fasts and completely throwing off of the cliché of the rock star, he can binge drink with the rest of them.

Mostly, though, Romano is concerned with work. He has at least five major projects in the works all at one time. So, as a writer, drummer, producer, figurehead and supervisor for the Xmachina comic book label, this 33 year-old dreamer has been involved with a collage of different artistic endeavors where he has been everything from the go-to guy to the mastermind of the whole damn operation.

Romano has done quite a few drugs, and he is not ashamed to tell you about it. When I asked Romano if his chemical-induced journeys help him, he told me that it helped him see things better. And see he did. Romano’s fiction weaves in and out of reality with the precision only a few hits of acid and a bottle of vodka can conjure up. This is not to say that this man is a lush—just a binge addict. I believe he has tossed the acid these days, but I know I have seen a cocktail or two get thrown into his gullet.

Romano told me how he came to Austin to begin his genius, “I was born in the asshole of the world, which is Houston, Texas—where you can cut the fungus with a knife out of the air. I hated that place. I really did. I moved up [to Austin] when I was eighteen because I had no scholarship, no money. I didn’t have nothing. I decided I was gonna cast my bread to the water and see what happens.” And ever since then, Romano has done just that.

From my perspective, it looks like Romano has cast his bread like a kid on the river surrounded by ducks and geese with a loaf of bread in his hand all while trying to get the geese to stop nibbling his toes. It seems to be working. He has made friends with Coscarelli, Bruce Campbell and the “Tall Man” from Phantasm and intends on maintaining and cultivating more relationships with these cult classic icons.

I was promised an interview with Campbell but did not get one in time for the deadline of this article. So, we’ll just have to wait a little while to get our fix. However, if you want to see the Army of Darkness hero playing as Elvis on the big screen in Bubba Ho-tep you can check out the official premier Friday, October 24. (Check Alamo Drafthouse listings for more details). In this movie, you get to see Elvis (Campbell) and JFK (Ozzie Davis) kick the living shit out of a zombie.

Stephen RomanoOn Halloween weekend there will be a convention in Pasadena, California for the 25-year reunion of the movie Halloween (directed by John Carpenter). This was the movie that set the horror formula we all know—the guy with the knife that you can't kill. Romano and his associates put together a comic especially for release at the convention called Halloween Returns to Haddonfield. Though I have not yet had a chance to glimpse this comic, it promises to reassess the sport of murder. I believe that there will be a new movie coming out next year.

If you are interested in finding out more about the convention, you can go to www.halloweenmovies.com for more info.

There is so much going on here in our world of life and death. I am glad that we can all come together and celebrate our fascination of decay with no shame. Yes, we are all going to die. So, during our fixation with the epitaph and sling blade, maybe the only part that we are missing is that this Halloween thing is not only frickin’ pimp costumes and Superman outfits.

It is that pumpkin-headed man waiting with shiny blade to slit the breath out of your throat. It is your dead relatives still calling you from the grave trying to give you a message that they forgot to tell you when they were still alive. It is all the souls that died in lonely prison cells never to reach the light of day that will haunt our little planet. They all want you to remember them. If you keep running away from their voices, they will haunt you forever. If you keep your ears and eyes closed to the ones who came before, then on your day of death, will you be lost forever? And if so, who would you come back and haunt?

BOO!

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