George A. Romero’s Zombie Films: From Worst to Best
When approaching films or directors, it is often important that the writer presents an opinion as apposed to stating facts that many may in fact disagree with. It’s a way to involve a wider readership; provide them with rhetorical questions instead of definitive facts that may ostracize those that hold different beliefs.
In spite of this however, I can confidently declare that due to his reinvention of the zombie film, as well as numerous other high quality films in their own right, George A. Romero is America’s greatest ever horror director. In fact, when you consider the revolutionist aspects of his debut Night of the Living Dead in 1968, the satirical masterstrokes in Dawn of the Dead (1978) and the quiet quality of quasi-vampire film Martin (1976), it can also be stated that he is one of America’s most important directors full stop.
A gentle giant who often imbues his work with the classic structures of a Howard Hawks western and a biting shot of politics, he has also never relented in making his audience wince at the sight of flesh being torn from bones and humans violently turning on each other, and that’s why the entire film world tip their hats to him.
His entire catalog is terrific, but his walking dead films are his brand, and here they are rated in order of quality (according to me):
6. Survival of the Dead (2009)
A gleefully western take on the zombie film, Survival of the Dead was given a very modest release and was subsequently overlooked by many, but offers a plethora of inventive “walker” kills that take place in front of some stunning scenery (Kathleen Munroe included) and while far from his best work is a fine and enjoyable slice of ghoulish fun.
Best kill? Hard to go past the flare gun…
5. Diary of the Dead (2007)
A victim of its late release in the found footage era (although 7 years on and the sub-genre is still going strong), Diary of the Dead showcased Romero at his most scathing, chastising the truth-defiling media and our dependent nature on it. He utilities the hand-held cameras and documentary style approach not as a gimmick, but as the very essence of his story, and while it does have its pacing flaws by the time this diary comes to a close it has solidified itself as a very unique gem that could only be the work of a master.
Best kill? The Amish farmer and his rake take the honors here.
4. Day of the Dead (1985)
Day of the Dead, a high concept idea left somewhat stranded by its meager means, is certainly the least re-watchable of all Romero’s “… of the Dead” entries but earns immense kudos for its harsh, cold themes and the introduction of Bub: his first properly clued-in flesh eater who wins over the audiences heart while his comrades eat those of the living.
Best kill? Captain Rhodes (Joseph Pilato) shouts “Choke on ’em!” as a swarm of zombies disembowel him.
3. Land of the Dead (2005)
Given that the Late Dennis Hopper is one of my all-time favourite actors I may be a little bias here, but before you argue consider that Land of the Dead also stars Asia Argento (the famous daughter of famed Italian director Dario Argento, who produced and edited his own Italian version of Dawn of the Dead), features cameos from Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright and Tom Savini (among others) and presents a startlingly clever indictment of the Bush administration… still keen to argue? Well, all I can say is watch it again, I guarantee it’s a lot better than you remember.
Best kill? If you’re after some proper carnage, just fast-forward to the aforementioned Savini cameo…
2. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
An absolute, unmistakably masterful cinematic classic that not only pushed forward the evolution of an entire genre but independent film-making in general, Night of the Living Dead starts in a cemetery but finishes at a place far bleaker than that. The debut film of George A. Romero should be seen by all film lovers the world over regardless of preferences, as the character of Ben (Duane Jones) and his hellish journey through a night where the dead are returning to life is only getting better with age and that ending is only becoming more hard-hitting and meaningful. Put simply, its an essential film.
Best kill? A daughter. A mother. A spade.
1. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
(The following is an excerpt from my Top 30 Movies of all Time)
‘When there’s no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the earth.’
Armed with that tagline (arguably the best in film history), access to a large shopping mall, the special makeup effects talents of Tom Savini and a fistful of anger aimed at America’s relentless consumerism, legendary filmmaker George A. Romero would make a masterpiece, and unquestionably one of the greatest horror films of all time.
Telling the story of a small group of survivors who take refuge in an abandoned shopping mall while the world crumbles around them, Dawn of the Dead not only paints the ever-hungry zombies as the villains, but also American culture itself. The bloodthirsty lore of Cowboys VS Indians plays out in the third act as our settled heroes go to war with a band of invading bikies, with the ghouls almost seen as part of the mall’s interior during this most western of battles.
Night of the Living Dead is a wholly deserving classic, and arguably marked the commencement of the genre as it exists today, and Martin is one of the most unique and personal vampire films we have; but as you would expect from a production involving other horror stalwarts such as Savini, Ken Foree and Dario Argento, Dawn of the Dead marks the finest chapter in Romero’s glistening career, and is quite simply an astonishing achievement.
Best kill? There are far too many to choose from! But the one that’s stuck with me most has always been the particularly hapless zombie who has the top of his head lopped of by a helicopter blade.
So, did I get it right? Or very wrong? Let us know in the comments below!