In Memoriam: George A. Romero
What’s a zombie?
If you answered ‘an aspect of Haitian mythology wherein a corpse animated through magic to work as a slave and will break the spell by killing it’s master if you give it salt’ then welcome to 2017! You’ll find the future a strange place, but when we teach you to Google you’ll be fine. Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt.
If you answered ‘an undead monster who attacks in hordes and eats people, spreading their disease through bites and injections and a mainstay of modern horror and action in all forms of media’ then you can thank George A. Romero.
The man who invented the modern zombie was born in The Bronx, New York, to Cuban and Lithuanian parents. Romero was always fascinated by cinema, and would ride the subway into Manhattan to rent film reels to view at home. He began work shooting short films and commercials immediately after graduating university.
In 1968 George Romero wrote, directed and produced his first film, the cult classic Night of the Living Dead. In his debut feature Romero not only created the concept of the modern zombie as a infectious shuffling living corpse driven to feast on human flesh but the tropes of what would become a massively popular sub-genre of film, television, books, comics and video games. The film revolves around a small group of trapped survivors whose internal conflicts become more of a danger than the horror lurking out doors. Arguments about the best way to defend themselves, whether they should dig in or attempt an escape, the downfall of society as a whole and the classic plot thread of a loved one being bitten and needing to be dealt with all appeared in Night of the Living Dead. In one film Romero delivered a fully formed concept that would remain popular for 50 years and counting.
Romero continued his work in horror with Season of the Witch, The Crazies and Martin and whilst many of his other films are popular in horror circles they weren’t hits. After ten years Romero returned to his original concept on a grander scale with Dawn of the Dead, a massively successful follow up that benefitted from what many saw as a scathing social commentary and grotesque effects work by Tom Savini (who would have done the first film if he wasn’t drafted into the Vietnam War). Romero would explore new approaches to horror with films like Creepshow and Monkey Shines, but would often return to his break-out concept with Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead, as well as being involved with various remakes, spin-offs and tributes. He even featured as himself in Call of Duty: Black Ops alongside Michael Rooker, Danny Trejo, Robert Englund and Sarah Michelle Gellar.
George Romero’s legacy and influence far outweighs whatever box office his films achieved. Shaun of the Dead, The Walking Dead, World War Z (the book, not the stupid film), 28 Days Later, Zombieland, Return of the Living Dead, Braindead, Z Nation, the Resident Evil franchise, Dead Rising and countless others all owe some credit to Romero and brilliant debut.
If you haven’t seen Night of the Living Dead, you can watch it on YouTube for free right now. You’ve got no excuse.
George A. Romero died in his sleep on July 16th, 2017, following a battle with lung cancer. He was reportedly listening to his favourite film soundtrack – The Quiet Man – at the time. Rest in Peace. If he doesn’t, shoot ’em in the head.