Alright, kids. Settle down, and take your seats. It’s time for me to explain to some of you why the man above was extremely fucking important not only to the modern zombie film as we know it, but to the entire horror genre.
George A. Romero was born on
February 4, 1940. He passed away today, on
July 16, 2017. This man was truly the godfather of the modern zombie. In 1968, George Romero and John Russo unleashed upon the world a little film called Night of the Living Dead. This one film forever changed what a “zombie” meant in terms of horror. Prior to this, zombies in cinema were relegated to mere background villains, and were more closely associated with their spiritual origins in Haitian
Vodou. They did not consume the brains and flesh of the living. They did not infect others. They did not amass into formidable hordes.
Romero imbued the creatures in his film with traits from the “ghoul” of Arabic mythology to form the template for the modern zombie, and invented the Western trope of the collapse of society under the feet of the undead. Additionally, he was the first director to truly utilize zombies as a parable for the common tensions that separate us in our society.
Night of the Living Dead is also incredibly important to horror due to its casting. In choosing the talented Duane Jones as the male lead, Romero had done something completely unheard of at that time: He cast a black male hero, and had him taking the lead of the situation over his white counterparts. Such casting would continue to be a signature of Romero’s zombie films, and would help pave the way for future black actors and actresses to be considered for leading roles.
With Dawn of the Dead (1978), the “zombies in a mall” trope was first created, spurred on by a visit to the Monroeville Mall (at this time, malls were an entirely new concept to the public, so many theatergoers hadn’t even seen one yet), and a passing mention by friend Mark Mason that it would be a great place to survive in if an emergency occurred. In the process, Romero added to the plot a subtle, underlying jab at American consumerism (pretty impressive, given that he hadn’t even planned a follow-up to Night until contacted about it by Italian horror maestro Dario Argento). It was with this film that Romero also gave a then-up-and-coming effects artist by the name of Tom Savini the opportunity to not only act, but to serve as a stuntman–both of which he would continue to do throughout his now-legendary, multi-faceted career.
By the way, if you pay close attention to the background during the “pie fight” scene in Dawn, you might catch a glimpse of George running around in a Santa Claus outfit.
While not as revered, Day of the Dead (1985) can take a great deal of credit for creating the concept of the sympathetic zombie that still holds memories of its past. This notion would be even further explored in Land of the Dead (2005), where the zombies are, in actuality, the true “heroes”–seeking and fighting for a place where they can find peace away from the living.
George would go on to make two more zombie films later in life: Diary of the Dead (2007), and Survival of the Dead (2009), but neither would reach the same level of reverence as his previous efforts. In addition to his flings with the undead, Romero directed The Crazies (1973) (a very anti-military piece that can be seen as a bridge between Night and Dawn), the powerful and highly-underrated Martin (1978), and the much-applauded horror anthology Creepshow (1982).
He became a zombie boss in a DLC pack for Call of Duty: Black Ops. He even had a cameo in a zombie-themed episode of Disney’s kid-friendly animated series, Phineas and Ferb. George A. Romero will always be rightfully remembered as a horror icon that shaped an entire subgenre. Like the cinematic hordes he helped birth into the modern age of horror, he shall live on long after his passing.
In celebration of Halloween, I’ve compiled a list of horror films from several different sub-genres along with links to their respective IMDB pages. Please note that the films listed below may contain scenes that some find triggering, disturbing, or upsetting; if you have any concerns over a film’s content, I highly encourage you to research it prior to watching in order to make as informed a choice as possible.
HORROR: films that inspire fear and tension by creating an unsettling