Remembering George Romero.


Yesterday brought us the sad and surprising news that George Romero passed away at age 77 after a bout with lung cancer. As far as I know, his illness was kept quiet and out of the press until his passing. I was shocked at the announcement, as recent news indicated he was working on an adaptation of his comic Empire of the Dead for AMC.
George is most famous for being the father of the modern zombie film after unleashing the mighty Night of the Living Dead in 1968. He followed up with two loosely related sequels Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, which formed what came to be known as his “Dead Trilogy”, the core entries of the series. Later in the 2000’s he’d surprisingly make three more Dead films: the ambitious Land of the Dead in 2004, Diary of the Dead in 2007, and Survival of the Dead in 2010.

creepgifWhile his zombie films were the the gateway through which most of his fans entered, I first came across George as a kid through Creepshow, the ode to EC Comics that Romero wrote along with horror maestro Stephen King. Creepshow was the first film to really scare me, and I loved it. The main theme from composer John Harrison was nightmare fuel for me as a kid. Also, there was so many terrifying moments! The worst of them being Ted Danson being drowned slowly by the incoming tide, and E.G. Marshall being eviscerated by cockroaches (with the FX being done by Tom Savini). Creepshow is arguably Romero’s best film.

Romero wanted to make Creepshow into a TV show; however their was a rights issue. This lead to the creation of Tales from the Darkside, the anthology show which ran from 1983 — 1988.  I didn’t have cable when the show originally aired, so I’d have to rent VHS tapes of episodes. The show, as with all anthologies, was hit and miss.  What stood out though, was the amazing intro and outro of the show. The legendary opening has nightmarish organ music playing over a montage of a barren bucolic landscape, while a creepy narrator warns us about “the dark side”.  The series was followed by a film adaptation in 1990, directed by the before-mentioned Romero composer John Harrison, in his directorial debut. He did a good job, too.

martinIn those dark times before the internet, horror fans had to rely on magazines (such as Fangoria) and books to learn up on horror films. In those publications, I learned about Martin, an oddball quasi-vampire movie Romero directed before filming Dawn of the Dead. At the time, I couldn’t find a copy of it. Years later when I was in college, I would come across Martin thanks to the Anchor Bay release with the horrible day-glo cover. Martin has been described as the “ultimate outsider film”, and I can’t disagree, and it’s because of this that it resonated with me. While I feel Creepshow is his best film, Martin is my personal favorite

Back in the day, the VHS covers for Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead were compelling to me as a kid. It wasn’t until the summer before my sophomore year in high school (1998) that I finally saw both of them, and to my shame I  didn’t really “get” them at the time. The same thing happened with Night of the Living Dead, which I tried to watch several times but could never get into.

It wasn’t until around 2004, when zombies came back big time with the release of Shaun of the Dead, Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake, and Romero’s Land of the Dead that I gave the original trilogy another look. I worked my way backwards from Day of the Dead (a great entry point in the series for modern fans) back to Night of the Living Dead. And I was blown away by the original Night of the Living Dead! Finally, these films “clicked” with me.

george_romero_01When it comes to his filmography, Romero had a great run over a forty some year period. Some of his later output was disappointing, and all of his work was off-putting to the masses (but they sure will watch The Walking Dead, won’t they?), but there is no doubt that Romero made the films he wanted to make. There was little compromise and perhaps that’s what stifled him from getting more work, but it ensured his output was quality over quantity. I even liked 2001’s revenge fantasy Bruiser, which I fell should get more love.

Prayers go out to Romero’s family, and loved ones during this loss. Thank you George, for the memories. The memorial artwork at the top of this post was created by Gary Pullin. The image of Romero’s notorious spectacles on the Dawn of the Dead background is a fitting tribute. Rest in peace, George.



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