Wotta great book. Since I first picked up this book upon its first printing in 1987, I have closely guarded it as if it were a precious gem. The book went out of print all too quickly, so it's since become something of a collector's item, and deservedly so. True, "The Zombies that Ate Pittsburgh" has been accused of being an ingratiating and ass-kissing overblown account of George Romero's film career, and perhaps that's at least semi-correct. Still, it's the finest, and most exhaustive (up to '87) account of the ups and downs of Romero's remarkable history.
Paying equal attention to Romero's lesser-known (non-horror) early works like "There's Always Vanilla" as he does to bigger-name works like "Dawn of the Dead" and "Creepshow", Gagne admittedly does his share of ass-kissing, but it's all very effective and informative ass-kissing nonetheless. This book is simply a must for those interested in how independent films are made, and clearly illustrates the pitfalls that Romero and company encountered on each and every film they made. One gets the very clear impression from Gagne's writing that Romero is the hardest working, toughest fighting indy filmmaker out there, and it may be true. This guys' movies have made tons of dough over the years (though mainly from video/dvd rentals and sales), and still he can't seem to get a production off the ground without some serious headaches, if at all. It's a hard-knocks story, to be sure, but like any good story, there always seems to be a silver lining on those largely financial storm clouds; everything seems to work out just fine in the long run. That "underdog" perspective makes for an interesting read. Many books like this simply rehash the plots of the films, but Gagne digs much deeper than that, seeking to expose the often harrowing stories lurking beneath the surface.
There are times, certainly, where Gagne lapses into supreme ass-kissing mode, and at those times he tends to portray Romero as a sort of working-class film godhead. The guy deserves respect, of course, so it's easy to take this gratuitous schmoozing with a grain of salt. The best chunks of the book tend to be the ones that focus on Romero's perspective; how he made it all work out through thick and thin. Still, there is a wealth of information here, covering everything from the old Latent Image Company TV Commercials and sports-figure documentaries (including an unintentionally humourous one highlighting OJ Simpson) to the work Romero did on the "Tales from the Darkside" TV series, to "Day of the Dead", and everything in between. Other great sections of the book include a chapter called "I Was A Zombie in 'Day of the Dead'," wherein Gagne describes his experience as one of the "appliance zombie" extras in that film. It's pretty funny stuff, and it really does provide some perspective on what must have been a pretty rough shoot for all concerned.
Another great segment of the book is a mini-biography and dissection of one of Romero's more famous and important frequent collaborators, namely, Tom Savini. Gagne goes a little deeper into Savini's work and past, and desperately attempts to avoid the standard battery of answers that Savini seems to give. You can't fault Savini for that, however...if people would stop asking him the same fuckin' questions, he would stop giving the same fuckin' answers that we've heard over and over for the last 15 or so years. I digress. It's a nice chapter that neither overemphasizes nor downplays the importance of Savini's effects work in some of Romero's more memorable films. The middle of the book, a section containing numerous full-color shots from Romero's films, also seem to focus on Savini's effects, so you insufferable gorehounds who wouldn't be happy without at least a few pictures of exploding heads or oozing guts won't be disappointed.
All in all, "The Zombies that Ate Pittsburgh" is a damned near perfect genre reference work; it would be absolutely required reading for horror fans and Romero fans alike if not for the fact that it's been out of print for about 10 years. Still, if you can procure a copy of this sucker, you'll love it. It's definitely a must have, so go out there and find a copy today!