Here at HorrorRated.com, we were greatly saddened to hear last night of the passing of one the true icons of the horror genre, George A. Romero. George Andrew Romero got his start in filmmaking, as many directors do, by producing commercials and short films in the early 1960’s. But in 1968 he released his full directorial debut which would change cinema and popular culture forever. While 1968’s Night of the Living Dead was not the first zombie film, it was the one that gave birth to the “living dead” we are so familiar with today.
Night of the Living Dead
It wasn’t just the molding of a modern movie monster that his 1968 debut deserves credit for since Night of the Living Dead was laden with subtext regarding the civil unrest which causing much turmoil in the USA at the time.
Indeed, it was also one of the first horror movies to feature an African-American (Duane Jones) in the lead role which showed a progressive side to Romero’s work that would continue throughout his career.
Romero stayed close to his roots with 1973’s The Crazies which focused on a small town being overrun by deranged humans infected by toxic sludge and this was followed by his 1978 pseudo-vampiric film, Martin, that remains a firm fan favourite from the director to this day.
However, it was his continuation of his Living Dead series in the same year that produced the film he is most likely to be remembered for, Dawn of the Dead.
Dawn of the Dead
Dawn of the Dead (1978) was lauded by critics as a masterpiece of the genre as Romero widened the scope of his post-apocalyptic world and he took aim at the subjects of consumerism and partisan discourse with sniper-like precision. The director would later complete his trilogy with Day of the Dead in 1985 which, although it is regarded as a lesser work to its predecessors, still had plenty to say on the issues of American warmongering and the rejection of scientific thinking that give the concluding chapter an uncanny prophetic quality.
Romero’s Movies Outside of the Zombie Genre
Romero also produced notable horror works outside of the zombie genre such as 1982’s Creepshow (the first of his collaborations with Stephen King) which provided the template for a slew of horror anthology movies and TV shows like Tales From The Crypt, Cats Eyes, and Tales From The Darkside. Even his occasional misfire like 1988’s Monkey Shines have gained a cult following over the years demonstrating the undying love that horror fans have for the horror maestro.
What must be most heartening, though, is that the man who was the progenitor of the modern zombie genre lived to see his influence reach a level of fruition that few creatives ever get to witness in their lifetimes. The zombie genre in the 21st century went mainstream in a big way thanks to likes of 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, [REC], and, of course, the massively successful remake of Dawn of the Dead in 2004.
But perhaps the biggest celebration and elaboration on Romero’s work came in the form of AMC’s gargantuan TV hit, The Walking Dead, based on the comics of Robert Kirkland which returned the zombie genre to Romero’s vision of the living dead being a shuffling, unthinking menace. Even audiences who will be greeting the return of HBO’s Game of Thrones with glee today will bear witness to Romero’s extensive influence as the White Walkers lead their army of the dead towards Westeros in one of the opening shots in the latest episode.
Although Romero did return to the fold with a new Living Dead trilogy beginning with 2005’s Land of the Dead and culminating in 2010’s Survival of the Dead with mixed results and reception, his legacy was long since secured thanks to other filmmakers, writers, video game developers, and artists in general owing so much to the man who gave life to the dead.