Legendary film director George Andrew Romero, more commonly known as George A. Romero, passed away July 16th, 2017, after a short battle with lung cancer. He was 77 years old, and was considered by many as the Father of the Zombie Film.
Beginning with directing commercials and a few short films, it wasn’t until his 1968 film Night of the Living Dead, that his career began to take off. Romero’s ‘Dead’ films, including the sequels Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Day of the Dead (1985), completing his original “Trilogy of the Dead” series, made him a household name across the world. Not only were the films truly frightening, with groundbreaking special effects on somewhat modest budgets, but they are known for their scathing social commentary about the human race, covering topics such as rabid consumerism, capitalism, and racism. Romero cast unknown African American actor Duane Jones as his lead for Night of the Living Dead, considered somewhat of a controversial decision in 1968. Made for a budget of around $114,000, Night of the Living Dead has gone on to make over $30 million dollars, making Forbes Top Ten Best Low-Budget Horror Movies Of All Time list, and is listed with the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry.
While in between filming his trilogy, Romero went on to direct some of the horror film genre’s more polarizing films, such as The Crazies, Martin, and Knightriders before hitting a major score with his collaboration with Stephen King, Creepshow (1982). Over the years, these films are now considered cult-classics and fan-favorites. Romero’s first studio film, Monkey Shines (1988) was so mired with rewrites and cuts it prompted Romero to return to independent filmmaking. Romero and Stephen King would meet up again later for Creepshow 2, and his masterful adaptation of King’s The Dark Half. Seven years after The Dark Half, Romero returned to the director’s chair for Bruiser, starring Jason Flymyng and Peter Stormare, proving he could roll with the times and still deliver socially relevant commentary while making intensely personal horror films.
It wasn’t until 2005, when Romero was firmly cemented as a legend in the horror genre, that he finally returned to the series that made him famous. With Land of the Dead, Romero made a grand re-entry to his zombie apocalypse world, now set years after the initial outbreak. With the largest budget for any film in the series, Land of the Dead went on to become a success, reinvigorating the stagnant horror market, and pushing the zombie to the front of cultural relevance. A string of sequels followed, including Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead, while other filmmakers revisited his earlier films in remakes that were either critically acclaimed hits or terrible misses that should have never been green-lit.
Known as a kind and caring man, Romero leaves behind a legacy that is hard to miss in the horror genre. He single-handedly created a whole genre while holding the mirror directly at his audience so they could see that sometimes, the survivors of such apocalyptic events are indeed the very monsters we should fear the most. Without his contributions, we would never have had the campy knock-off series Return of the Living Dead (directed by Dan O’Bannon), or even Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. Though not associated with either, it’s quite obvious Romero’s influence is deeply embedded there, shambling with the masses of the dead. Often imitated, but never duplicated, there was only one George A. Romero. May his memory live on, forever immortalized as the Father of the Zombie Film.