You’ve probably already heard this news, but a busy weekend and Monday meant that only now have I been able to post any news on the website, plus it was a real shock to me considering I only posted some news about him planning to make another film a couple of weeks ago. Writer and director George A. Romero has died in his sleep two days ago following a “brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer”, according to a statement by his longtime producing partner, Peter Grunwald. Romero died while listening to the score of one of his favorite films, The Quiet Man, with his wife, Suzanne Desrocher Romero, and daughter, Tina Romero, at his side.
Romero is credited with creating the modern zombie film, and his influence can still be seen in many films and TV series like The Walking Dead. 1968’s Night Of The Living Dead remains one of the most important horror films in the development of the genre, though to me his masterpiece is 1978’s Dawn Of The Dead, the best of all zombie films and a genuinely great movie. Day Of The Dead in 1985 and Land Of The Dead in 2005 may have been a bit less impressive but were still full of the ferocity, the tension, and the social commentary that marked the first two films and are hallmarks of all of Romero’s best work, along with strong characterisation. Sadly the last two in the series Diary Of The Dead and Survival Of The Dead weren’t too good though far worse zombie films come out constantly, and conceptually at least they were interesting.
Romero never really escaped his image of a zombie filmmaker even though the years in between his living dead films produced some fine and interesting works, some of which failed to find much of an audience and consequently have never really got their due, though what’s the betting that there will be some major reappraisals of his work now. While The Crazies was undeniably similar to Night Of The Living Dead, There’s Always Vanilla‘s adding of a feminist subtext to a semi-horror story would probably grant the film much praise and attention today if it were released, while Martin is an astonishing, radical reworking of the vampire myth. Romero’s early films are often rough around the edges, giving them an almost cinema verite feel, but his work change a bit in style and got slicker as time went on. My favourite non-zombie Romero movie is the still rather obscure Knightriders, about a group of modern-day jousters who reenact tournaments on motorcycles – it’s fun, it’s funny and it’s rather moving – though his biggest non-living dead hit was the tongue-in-cheek horror anthology movie Creepshow. Monkey Shines was decent, and I preferred his half of Two Evil Eyes to Dario Argento’s, while the much later Bruiser from 2000 had an interesting David Lynch-type feel to it, as if Romero was attempting to reinvent himself, but Romero sadly seemed to spend much of the second half of his career trying to set up projects which failed to happen. Just imagine what his versions of The Stand and Resident Evil would have been like! I feel that his eventual return to zombies was rather reluctant, something which sadly shows after Land!
The tragedy of most horror filmmakers, even those who produced works of undeniable intelligence like Romero and the also recently deceased Wes Craven, a director who brought pleasure to so many yet also tended to put much thought into his work, seems to be that they aren’t recognised by the establishment and especially by that out of touch, snobbish Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In recent years, there does seem to have been more appreciation of horror films and their creators, but does anyone really expect to see Get Out, despite the rumours, on the Best Picture nominations list? An article by The Guardian has suggested that there should be a posthumous award in Romero’s honour and I think that it’s something that the Academy can do.
Still, like many of the characters in his films, Romero’s work will continue to live on, to frighten, shock, challenge and entertain us.
RIP George A. Romero.