George A. Romero is an American landmark.
His films, beginning with Night of the Living Dead and ending with his continued critique of society civilised only when convenient, not only helped shape a genre but also the thoughts of those eager to delve deeper into his motive. He showed that it was OK for horror films to contain socio-political subtexts and have endings as bleak as the subject permits, and his contemporaries, most notably Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter soon followed.
A giant of a man, brandishing his iconic square-rimmed glasses and long hair tied-back, Romero might’ve looked intimidating were it not for his contagious laugh and friendly nature. He will be remembered not only as one of America’s finest, and most important film-makers, but also one of the most hard-working and earnest.
Behind the Scenes footage of Land of the Dead (2005) shows Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s excitement at the director allowing them a cameo in the third sequel of their hero’s defining series, and this is perhaps his most underrated adventure; showcasing his intelligence in introducing villains that aren’t as defined as they would first appear. Dawn of the Dead was driven by the nightmare of society’s consumerism eating it whole, Day of the Dead explored the human impact of escalated unrest and Diary of the Dead pointed the camera firmly back at exploitive media in a violent world. His films offered so much to explore and appreciate.
His living dead films are his trademark, but dig deeper and there is a wealth of reflective genius to be found among the other classics in his oeuvre. Martin was ahead of its time; a bleak, personal tale of a young vampire who may or may not be the creature he appears. This was Romero’s favourite of his own work and it’s not hard to see why. Knightriders is an absurd, heart-felt plea to freedom being a state of mind with touching performances and a moving ending, and Bruiser is arguably his most angst-ridden creation.
Born in New York, renowned for his affiliation with Pittsburgh and responsible for making millions of fans dream of visiting Monroeville Mall, George A. Romero was a once in a lifetime, humble visionary whose imprint on cinema will, like his infamous zombies, shuffle on forever.
Below are each of his feature films in appreciation.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
The birth of zombies as we know them today, a protagonist who would prove a social statement and a bleak tone that suffocates any hope our heroes would be afforded; Romero’s first feature film is one of the most important and influential of all time. It is also proof that great ideas drive successful and long-lasting cinema.
There’s Always Vanilla (1971)
Horror film-makers are often mistakenly viewed as less capable of portraying human drama, when in fact the auteurs understand better than anyone what makes us uncomfortable both emotionally and subliminally. There’s Always Vanilla, though an unexpected sophomore film, showed Romero’s ability to understand the machinations of a relationship tested by unplanned events.
Season of the Witch (1972)
Stylish and fun (and also rather kooky), Season of the Witch unfolds like no other film Romero would go on to make and left his audience no clearer upon release as to the direction his career would take.
The Crazies (1973)
The Crazies paints an extremely negative picture of the Western powers that influence the lives of the lower middle-class. It’s a powerful, explosive film that angrily depicts the coldness of and inhumanity of that lays inside the heart of man and war.
Martin is an exquisitely made vampire tale that was decades ahead of its time. The titular young man uses razors on beautiful women to satisfy his cravings, and has us ponder if his condition is truly immortal or mentally unhinged. Striking cinematography captures Romero’s most personal script, crystallising Martin a significant milestone in it’s directors career.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
While Night of the Living Dead is his most influential, and Martin his most absorbing, Dawn of the Dead, with its epic scope and execution is his best film. The cast, location, music by Italian progressive-rock group Goblin in collaboration with Dario Argento and themes of America crumbling as it literally consumes itself as an extension of its insatiable superficial hunger are instantly iconic and wholly unforgettable. One of the greatest of all American films.
Knightriders is a true original. It speaks to the idea of freedom in a manner unlike any other film I’ve seen, with a narrative that involves the internal factions of a travelling motorcycle-jousting troupe and their meditative leader. Like Martin, this feels rich with earnestness and is such an unexpectedly satisfying story.
Creepshow is almost a rite of passage for horror aficionados: a horror comedy directed by the genre’s master and written exclusively for the screen by the scribe of Carrie and The Shining.
Day of the Dead (1985)
The higher octane excitement of its predecessors is foregone in favour of emotional anxiety and complexities in the conclusion to the original trilogy. Tensions are frayed, innocence threatened and a zombie totes a gun in a high concept, unanticipated fan favourite.
Monkey Shines (1988)
A movie about a manic helper monkey that threatens those close to its paralysed owner has no right to be a qualified psychological thriller, but that’s just what Monkey Shines is. Tense and terrific.
Two Evil Eyes (1990)
It’s fair to assume that fans of Romero in the late 80’s were also in awe of what Dario Argento was achieving in Italy and held an adoration for the works of Edgar Allan Poe, which made the release of Two Evil Eyes a significant event. The Facts in the Case of Mr Valdemar is a grizzly nostalgic treat for the initiated.
The Dark Half (1993)
The Dark Half is one of the most faithful Stephen King adaptions, following a self-conscious author whose pseudonym for base thrillers takes on a violent life of his own. Romero and King had a strong respect for each other, and this collaboration represented their eagerness to explore the impact of fictional horror in reality.
Bruiser was Romero’s first feature film in seven years, and though seen by fewer people and less discussed, it has the same incendiary energy and anger as his seminal The Crazies. Asking what we’re capable of when not answerable to our actions, it certainly highlights the ugly aspects of human nature which it’s director was never to shy away from.
Land of the Dead (2005)
The fanfare surrounding the release of the first new entry in the undead series for 20 years was deservedly immense, and though it lacked the shock and surprises the originals offered, more than those it rewards examination beneath what first appears. Romero’s critical eye targets the Bush administration and finally reversed the roles of cowboys and Indians with a focus on the determination of the dead to stay alive.
Diary of the Dead (2007)
Diary of the Dead is more a thesis than a feature; a contemporary piece on the unethical media and questionable journalistic techniques in a world where bad news is consumed like the flesh on a hapless student victim. It’s these thoroughly detailed views and technical attention to detail that elevate Romero’s new vision of the beginning of the end of civilisation to thought-provoking heights.
Survival of the Dead (2009)
It’s often stated that all great American directors of an older era dream of making the grand Western. Survival of the Dead is Romero’s Western.
Thanks for the memories.