While the horror community mourns the loss of a legend, we fondly remember the lasting legacy of the great George Romero
By now you’ve all heard the news that we lost a true icon in George A Romero. I, like all of you, am truly devastated and heartbroken over his passing. This is a huge loss for not just horror fans, but for the world. George’s contributions to horror and pop culture way back in the 60s created a ripple effect that is still going today.
And it all started with a low budget horror film that had a simple premise. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD would go on to be the most successful independent horror film of it’s time. He singlehandedly created a sub-genre and new movie monster in horror that is still (and will always) be relevant, Zombies. The zombie would go on to have a pretty healthy life in horror and pop culture as that all goes back to Romero’s film. If that film wasn’t a success, you would not be watching THE WALKING DEAD to this day.
That film and it’s sequels inspired many filmmakers, artists, video game developers, special make-up effects artists, clothing companies, toy manufacturers, the list is endless. With NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, Romero made an African-American the hero of the movie, which at the time was still a taboo thing to do, yet he has stated numerous times that Duane Jones “gave the best audition”. Since then, African-Americans have not only headlined horror films, but have also headlined all types of film from drama to comedy.
DAWN OF THE DEAD and DAY OF THE DEAD are just as equally beloved, if not more so than NIGHT.
What made the DEAD TRILOGY stand out was not just the innovative gore scenes or great scripts. What made these films different from your average horror film, was the social commentary with each film. That is all a credit to Romero’s keen sense of staying current with the times. If most of you have not figured out that DAWN is actually a play on American Consumerism, then please go back and re-watch that film. Realize that our heroes are not holed up in a mall for the simple fact that it’s a “safe haven”. He is not alluding to the fact that as Americans we are driven by consumerism. In fact, it’s a pretty blatant wink to the audience. That is a credit to the genius of his writing.
DAY OF THE DEAD is my favorite of the 3, and my all time favorite zombie movie. It is in my Top 10 of all time favorite horror movies. It has 2 of my favorite characters in a horror movie, Rhodes and Bub. In different twist, Romero switched up the character traits. Bub, a zombie, is painted in a more sympathetic light and a character the audience should be committed to throughout the film. Rhodes, a human, is the actual villain of the film, as a cruel and sadistic military Colonel, who the audience should be licking their chops to see get his comeuppance…and does he ever get his due!
Again this is all because Romero had the foresight to see that real monsters are human. It is a theme that is important to this day.
One interesting note about this project, a young Greg Nicotero assisted on the film’s make-up effects, as well as having a small role. THE CRAZIES and MARTIN furthered his status in horror, so it should’ve been no surprise that Stephen King wanted to team up with Romero, for what would be considered one of the greatest horror movies of all time.
King had an idea to pay homage to the old EC Comics horror titles: TALES FROM THE CRYPT, THE VAULT OF HORROR and THE HAUNT OF FEAR. The idea was to tell these morality tales as a living, breathing horror comic book come to life. King knew that Romero was just the man to direct his script, and while this was a horror match made in heaven, there was still one ingredient missing to complete the recipe. Tom Savini, a fellow Pittsburgh native like Romero, was brought on board to handle the film’s grislier scenes.
Savini cut his teeth with Romero on DAWN OF THE DEAD and was fresh off of FRIDAY THE 13TH, THE PROWLER and THE BURNING was quickly gaining a reputation as the Godfather of Gore. Not only did it have the benefit of the Scream Team, it also boasted an all-star cast that included Ed Harris, Ted Danson, Leslie Nielsen, E.G. Marshall, Adrienne Barbeau and Stephen King himself. Interesting side note, Adrienne Barbeau was actually going to turn down the role of Wilma aka Billie, and her then husband convinced her to take it because of Romero’s involvement. Barbeau’s spouse at the time was none other than John Carpenter.
CREEPSHOW premiered in the fall of 1982 and was the #1 movie at the box office that weekend, besting Sylvester Stallone’s FIRST BLOOD. While the script, acting and make-up effects were heavily praised, it was Romero’s attention to detail that helped make the film memorable. While it is a film captured on celluloid, it actually FEELS like we are reading a comic book. From the panel boardings, animated interstitials, and the incredible use of mood lighting for key scenes.
Of course, eagle eye viewers can spot the infamous ashtray in each story of the film. While not the first anthology horror film, it is widely considered the best of that sub-genre, with THE CRATE being a huge fan favorite. Once again, Romero helps to show the ignorance of man, by having Fluffy The Crate Monster be the true victim of the story. CREEPSHOW is not only a cult classic, it is extremely beloved by horror fans all over the world, and is my second favorite horror movie movie of all time.
THE DARK HALF, TWO EVIL EYES, TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE, LAND OF THE DEAD, DIARY OF THE DEAD, the list goes on and on for all of the projects Romero has directed or produced. Cult classics in their own right, Romero continued his trend of having social commentary in all his films. LAND OF THE DEAD in particular about Upper Class greed and how we are all looking for a place to call home, which is even more appropriate now with what’s going on in the world today.
Anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting George A Romero, can attest that he made you feel important and it was one of the best celebrity encounters anyone could have at a convention.
I would like to share my experience meeting this wonderful man..
It was August 2013 and I was finally attending my first horror con ever, Monster Mania. The line-up was stacked, from Danny Glover, and Gary Busey, Christopher Lloyd, Dick Warlock, Dave Sheridan, Tracie Savage, Timothy Balme and the late, great Carrie Fisher. I was overwhelmed and excited to meet everyone, but there was person I was the most excited to see. In what was billed as his last appearance at the Cherry Hill show, I knew I had to meet the legend face to face.
The line was wrapped outside the hotel and my buddies, J.T., Steve and Rose, were kind enough to hold a spot in line for me while I was off getting autographs from the other guests. I came out to smoke a cigarette (I’ve since quit and am now 4 years smoke free) and by happenstance, a volunteer came out and asked who had a smaller group to meet Romero. Quick thinking I flicked my cigarette, grabbed my friends and brought them to the volunteer. We were lead in and there he was…the ponytail…the height…the iconic glasses.
I knew that I was getting CREEPSHOW stuff signed but I regret not getting anything DAY OF THE DEAD signed by him. When I finally got up to him, he was the friendliest person of the entire show. He shook my hand and we had one of the warmest conversations I think I’ve ever had with anyone. I will keep that conversation private now, but I will say that he agreed with me about DAY being the best of the DEAD TRILOGY and gave some key advice about filmmaking that I will never forget.
That was one of the greatest days of my life, I was able to meet one of my heroes and inspirations. For those not in the know Romero was of Cuban descent and the fact that he made it was a big inspiration to me as a person of Puerto Rican and Mexican heritage.
I’m deeply saddened by the loss of this truly iconic artist. He has given birth to a sub-genre that like his creation will never stay dead. His work spoke with a purpose and had meaning, it wasn’t just Gore for Gore’s sake. Often dubbed THE GODFATHER OF ZOMBIES (and rightfully so), I would like to remember by a few other names…ICON, TRAILBLAZER, LEGEND, INSPIRATION.
Thank you for the gifts you bestowed upon us with your films, your legacy will live on forever. In your own immortal words we will always…STAY SCARED!
R.I.P. GEORGE A ROMERO