Strangely enough, last night I was watching Night of the Living Dead when the news of the legendary George A. Romero’s passing popped up onto my news feed. And I do mean ‘legendary’, a word that is often thrown around when talking about writers/directors/actors, etc and one often misused – but what else can you call the person who invented the modern zombie?
Right here, I’d like to take a look at Romero’s amazing career in films and even games, his massive influence and how he changed the horror genre forever.
Born George Andrew Romero on the 4th of February, 1940. Romero was born in the New York borough of The Bronx. He started his career filming short films and commercials and in the late 1960s, he formed a production company called Image Ten Productions. In 1968 Romero wrote, produced and directed quite simply one of the most seminal and influential horror movies ever – Night of the Living Dead.
Originally called Night of the Flesh Eaters and even given a copyright under that title. The film’s name was later changed to Night of the Living Dead, yet the original theatrical distributor failed to include a new copyright under the new name and the film became public domain. Romero never made a single penny form the movie as it became the most popular horror film of 1968 meeting with rave reviews and high critical praise.
There are pluses and minuses to the film being in the public domain. The negatives mean anyone can do anything to the film… and they have – from colourised versions and alternate cuts with newly added scenes and music to endless remakes and reissues. As of writing, there are six different remakes/version of this movie and countless alternate cuts and variations. The major positive about this being in the public domain is that the movie can be seen completely free and legal pretty much anywhere – including right here…
Night of the Living Dead created what we consider the modern zombie. Yeah sure, there had been zombie flicks before it, but they were zombies created by mind control or curses, etc. It was George A. Romero who changed zombies into the re-animated dead corpses that eat flesh that we now know. The film’s influence can still be felt today and zombies are more popular than ever now. Big fan of the TV show The Walking Dead? You can thank George A. Romero for that, even The Walking Dead creator, Robert Kirkman has stated how much of an inspiration Romero and Night of the Living Dead was to him.
The Simon Pegg/Edgar Wright modern classic Shaun of the Dead was massively inspired by Romero’s work and chock full of hidden jokes and references for the hardcore Romero fan to find. The influence this movie has continued for decades and still remains today.
Romero may have never made any money from his first major film, but the high praise the movie did get allowed him to make more movies (this time with copyrights). He continued to make more movies including There’s Always Vanilla, Jack’s Wife / Season of the Witch and The Crazies. None of the films really made any impact in the way Night of the Living Dead did previously. Then in 1978, Romero directed Martin.
Martin is a vampire film with a lot of heart, a stylistic flick that modernised the vampire lore. Often overlooked and forgotten about, Martin is a film I can’t recommend enough.
It was also in 1978 when Romero released what many (including myself) consider the greatest zombie film ever made – Dawn of the Dead. Released a decade after his first foray into the zombie film, this is not a sequel to Night of the Living Dead but more so just another zombie picture that may or may not exist in the same universe. Romero then followed this up with another zombie movie – Day of the Dead in 1985 which rounded off his then ‘Dead trilogy’ of films.
It was in 1982 when the trifecta of horror royalty of the 80s came together to make what is considered one of the all time great anthology horror movies…
Creepshow. Three of the finest in 80s horror teamed up to bring this flick to the big screen. So you have George A. Romero directing stories written by Stephen King with the awesome Tom Savini doing the special effects/make-up work. Three of the best of the best of the best all in one fantastic movie. Creepshow is a great mix of gore, scares, macabre and very, very black humour. One of my all time favourite anthology films that any horror fan should watch.
Romero was at the top of his game through the 80s and most of the 90s too. Films like Monkey Shines, Two Evil Eyes and The Dark Half (written by Stephen King) ensured Romero kept himself busy. And in 1990 , he updated his original screen play for Night of the Living Dead to be remade by his long time friend and collaborator – Tom Savini, a remake I definitely recommend as its great. But Romero didn’t just stay behind the camera as he made a easy to miss cameo in The Silence of the Lambs in 1991 as one of Lecter’s jailers…
Romero not only plied his talent to movies, but also video games too. In 1998, he directed an advert for the then new Resident Evil 2 game. A game franchise that is very heavily influenced by Romero’s ‘Dead’ series of films. He was even asked to direct a whole movie based on the game franchise but declined saying:
“I don’t wanna make another film with zombies in it, and I couldn’t make a movie based on something that ain’t mine.”
But the time the 2000s rolled around, Romero’s film career was drying up. His influences were still felt throughout the film-making world, and his ‘Dead’ film series started to see numerous remakes as zombies became hugely popular once more. Both Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead saw remakes in the 2000s. As the zombie genre was gaining popularity, Romero decided he was not yet done with his ‘Dead’ series and directed a few more films – Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead.
Romero also made a cameo as a main boss in the game Call of Duty: Black Ops. He appears as a zombie version of himself in the add-on Call of the Dead zombie map.
Romero was joined by other horror TV and movie icons, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Danny Trejo, Michael Rooker, and Robert Englund.
On the 13th of July this year, Romero announced yet another film in his ‘Dead’ series – Road of the Dead and even released an official poster.
He described the movie as…
“Set in a sanctuary city where this fat cat runs a haven for rich folks, and one of the things that he does is stage drag races to entertain them. There’s a scientist there doing genetic experiments, trying to make the zombies stop eating us, and he has discovered that with a little tampering, they can recall certain memory skills that enable them to drive in these races. It’s really The Fast and the Furious with zombies.”
Just three days later and he passed away. What is going to happen to the movie now is (as of writing) unknown.
George A. Romero’s influence has lasted almost fifty years, from his breakthrough classic Night of the Living Dead in 1968 right up to today. He has had a hand in creating some of the best and most recognisable writers and directors working in horror today. Romero also influenced the video game world and I’m sure he will continue to influence the horror genre in any medium for many more years to come too.
George A. Romero passed away in his sleep on the 16th of July, 2017 following a brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer.
“If I fail, the film industry writes me off as another statistic. If I succeed, they pay me a million bucks to fly out to Hollywood and fart.” – George A. Romero