Tag Archives: Night of the Living Dead

George A. Romero

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.

George A Romero Quote

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.

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 VanillaJack’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.

George A Romero 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

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…

George A Romero Silence of the Lambs

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 DeadDiary 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.

George A Romero Call of the Dead

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.

George A Romero Road of the Dead

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.

George A Romero

“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

An Incomplete History of Horror Films Part III.

My Incomplete History of Horror arrives in the swinging 60s.

The movie going trends have changed again. The post-war fears of the late 40s and 50s gave way to a new horror. Aliens, nuclear power and giant insects were fading fast. Some of the classic movie monsters were still around thanks to Hammer films and their continual reinventions and sequels. But things were changing and while movie monsters still had a place, audiences began to fear something more grounded and realistic, the human. The 1960 saw the rise of the boy/girl next door just going a little mad, as after all… “we all go a little mad sometimes.

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Peeping Tom (1960): Many horror fans will debate and discus which film was the first ever ‘slasher movie’. This is the film that is often cited as being at least the first film that put in place many of the tropes we now consider to be part of the ‘slasher’ sub-genre. Directed by Michael Powell, the film tells the story of Mark Lewis, an amateur film maker who murders women with the aid of a hidden blade on his camera stand as he films their last moments alive at the same time.

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Upon its initial release, Peeping Tom met with huge controversy and was slammed by critics. But today, its often considered a classic and even a masterpiece of British film making. The film has become a cult classic and much loved among horror fanatics and even respected film critics today. In 2004, Total Film magazine named Peeping Tom as the 24th greatest British movie of all time. Then in 2005, they listed it as the 18th greatest horror film ever. Peeping Tom may have been a disaster in 1960, so much so that it even ended the career of its director; Michael Powell. But it has since become one of the most respected and praised films in its genre.

psycho

Psycho (1960): Of course Psycho was going to make this list, it is one of my all time favourite films. I love Robert Bloch’s novel, I love this film and I even love the trailer for the film. Directed by the legend that is Alfred Hitchcock, this film is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. A tale about a young secretary, Marion Crane, who steals $40,000 from her boss so she can run away with her boyfriend. After making off with the money, she pulls into a motel to rest for the night but regrets the theft and decides to return the money the next morning…

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There really is very little I can say about this film that hasn’t already been said a thousand times over already. This is Hitchcock’s finest work, his opus. Everything about this film just works from its directing, the tight screenplay, the amazing acting and of course… the music. This film is so iconic and famed that even if you have never seen it, you know of the infamous shower scene. Psycho became such a popular and influential movie that is was imitated for years to come…

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Homicidal (1961): Directed by the gimmick master himself, William Castle. This film follows the young and beautiful but mysterious Emily who is an outright murderess and whose presence in town could unearth deeply guarded secrets of a well to do family.

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Homicidal was one of the first Psycho rip-offs that tried to ride on the coat-tails of Hitchcock’s masterpiece. The film lacks the quality of Hitchcock’s far superior film… but it still is a very well put together horror/thriller none the less. Its has some pretty scary scenes and decent acting throughout. And of course, this is a William Castle picture so it featured a gimmick. Just before the film’s climax, a 45 second countdown called a ‘Fright Break’ appeared on screen and would warn the audience of the horror that was about to be shown. The voice-over tells the audience that they can claim a full refund if they were too frightened to stay until the end. But that was not all William Castle had up his sleeve. If you were stupid enough to walk out before the end and claim your refund, then you would have to wait in what was called ‘Coward’s Corner’, which was a yellow cardboard booth. Then a ‘nurse’ would offer a blood-pressure test while a recording would repeat, “Watch the chicken! Watch them shiver in Coward’s Corner!”. Then finally while you waited in ‘Coward’s Corner’ you would have been forced to sign a yellow card stating, ‘I am a bona fide coward.’ So you could claim a full refund if you wanted, but William Castle would make you pay for it.

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The Last Man on Earth (1964): Directed by Ubaldo Ragona and Sidney Salkow, starring Vincent Price. This film follows Dr. Robert Morgan who finds himself to be the last man alive after everyone else has been infected by a plague that has turned them into undead, vampire-like creatures. If any of this sounds familiar, then that is because this is the first film adaption of Richard Matheson’s novel; I Am Legend.

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Vincent Price is amazing as the lonely and desperate last man alive. The film is a low budget picture and this does show as some of the post production work is a little ropey. But at its heart, its a great and well told horror/thriller and some consider this the best film version of the novel. It can be quite dark and depressing at times which all adds to the mood of the overall film.

kwaidan

Kwaidan (1964): An anthology horror film from Japan, directed by Masaki Kobayashi. Based on the book “Kwaidan: Stories and studies of strange things” by Lafcadio Hearn. A collection of four stories including; The Black Hair which tells the story of a poor man who divorces his wife to marry a wealthier woman for money, but soon regrets his decision. The Woman of the Snow is a tale about a woodcutter who becomes stranded in a snowstorm where he comes across a ghostly spirit. Hoichi the Earless where a blind singer who is tricked into singing for ghosts who want more than just his voice. In a Cup of Tea is the final story and features a writer who writes a story about a samurai who keeps seeing a haunting face in a cup of tea.

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This is not an all out ‘scary’ film, but it is more of a slow paced and tension building collection of creepy ghost stories. The film is beautifully shot and shows of some amazing set design and scenery. Each of the four stories are intended to represent the four seasons of a year. Kwaidan went on to win the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and was even nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. A tremendous and atmospheric picture that will stay with you long after you have finished watching it.

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Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965): Another anthology film, this time from British production company, Amicus. Directed by Freddie Francis and starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. A collection of five stories including; Werewolf, Creeping Vine, Voodoo, Disembodied Hand and Vampire. There is also the connecting and wrap around story.

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I’m just very quickly glossing over this one, not because I don’t like it (I love this film), but because I covered every Amicus anthology film earlier in more detail which you can read here. This was the first of the Amicus anthology films series that became very popular in the 60s and 70s.

carryscream

Carry On Screaming! (1966): The Carry On films were a British comedic tradition and they covered a myriad of topics. For this one, they poke fun at the Hammer Horror style films. Directed by Gerald Thomas, the film stars; Kenneth Williams, Jim Dale, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims, Harry H. Corbett and Fenella Fielding. The evil Dr. Watt is kidnapping beautiful young women and turning them into mannequins.

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I’m a big fan of the Carry On films and this one is a riot. Very tongue in cheek and full of laughs that lampoon the great Hammer Horror films perfectly. Not a scary film, more comedy heavy as a Carry On film should be, but the film still has some great light horror moments and the film really looks the part too. This was filmed using the actual Hammer Horror film sets, which is why it looks so authentic. Well worth checking out if you want a few chuckles.

draculaprince

Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966): Hammer Horror are back with the third entry in their Dracula series. Directed by Terence Fisher and of course starring Christopher Lee. Two couples go on a holiday in the Carpathian Mountains and soon find themselves at Dracula’s castle. Dracula’s loyal servant, Klove greets the quartet and tells them that his master has been dead for 10 years and offers them shelter for the night where they will be perfectly safe…

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While the third film in the series, the second; The Brides of Dracula (1960) didn’t even feature Dracula at all. So this film is often considered the first true sequel to Hammer’s original Dracula (1958). Christopher Lee is just as amazing playing Dracula as he was in the first film. One interesting fact is that Dracula does not have a single word of dialogue in the entire film. There are conflicting stories as to why this is. According to Christopher Lee, he refused to speak the dialogue written for him as it was terrible. But writer Jimmy Sangster claims he never wrote any dialogue for Christopher Lee’s Dracula to begin with. This picture is what Hammer Films does best, its dark, gothic and scary in all the right places. It was very well received by critics with some even claiming this film is better than the original.

picmommy

Picture Mommy Dead (1966): Directed by Bert I. Gordon. This was another of those Psycho rip offs that popped up through the 60s. Recently released from an asylum, Susan Shelley returns home to her father who she suspects killed her mother in a fire. Susan begins to believe her father and new wife are conspiring against her.

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While nowhere near as well made or respected as Hitchcock’s Psycho, this is not a bad effort. The acting is a little overdone for the most part and the whole thing feels a little ‘campy’ today, but its still an effective horror/thriller. Made on a very low budget (and it shows) but worth at least one viewing.

coffinjoe2

Esta Noite Encarnarei no Teu Cadáver (1967): AKA; This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse is the second film in the ‘Coffin Joe’ trilogy. The first being; À Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma/At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (1964) followed by; Encarnação do Demônio/Embodiment of Evil (2005). A Brazilian film from director, writer and actor José Mojica Marins. Coffin Joe terrorises the residents of a small town with his sadistic practices while he searches for the perfect woman to bare his son.

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The ‘Coffin Joe’ trilogy are a little known collection of gory and brutal horror movies, from a country not really famous for its horror films, that posses a very bizarre atmosphere. This one is often cited as the best of the three pictures and I have to agree. Its not an easy watch though as the film is not shy in showing gruesome rituals and sadistic tortures. While most of the film is shot in stunning black & white, there is one sequence that takes place in Hell which is shot in full colour… and what a great sequence it is too. If you think your stomach can handle this one, give it a go. In fact, give all three ‘ Coffin Joe’ films a view.

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Night of the Living Dead (1968): There were several good horror films released in 1968, but this one is the only one worth mentioning. Directed by the grandfather of the zombie film, George A. Romero. While visiting her father’s grave, Barbra is attacked by a strange man. She escapes to a farmhouse where things just keep getting worse and worse.

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While not the first ever zombie film (not even close), this film is regarded as THE definitive zombie picture. Before this, zombies were often depicted as people under some kind of voodoo curse. Yet it was George A’ Romero who created the zombie persona we all know know, that of a reanimated dead corpse that feasts on flesh. This film was a revelation when it was released and changed horror cinema forever. A low budget production, but a well shot and scary film none the less. The film had undergone several revisions over the years including a colourised version in 1986 as well as other coloured versions through the years. And in 2009 a colorized 3D version of the film wa salso released. Night of the Living Dead: 30th Anniversary Edition was released in 1999 which added an all new soundtrack and even had newly filmed scenes added too, this version is often considered pretty terrible as it tampers with a classic. There was even an animated version called; Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated in 2009 which used a wide variety of animation styles by artists from around the world all laid over the original audio. There was also a remake released in 1990 directed by horror make up genius, Tom Savini. There are plenty of other versions of this film too that I have not mentioned, I could do a separate article just on alternate Night of the Living Dead versions/remakes/reboots and spin offs. Night of the Living Dead is an all time classic and deservedly so…due to a lack of copyright, its also in the public domain so can be viewed completely legal and free. “They’re coming to get you Barbra!

I think its time to say goodbye to the 60s. There were some notable horror films released in 1969, but after Night of the Living Dead, everything else just seems to pale in comparison. So I may as well end on one of the very best of the 60s. Next up in part IV its the 1970s and this is where things get really, really amazing…

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