Horror legend George A. Romero died yesterday at the age of 77. Today, two members of the AiPT! crew want to take some time to look back on his influence and what he meant to them.
Maybe it was because it was in the public domain, and thus shown literally everywhere from the local Fox affiliate to reruns of Roseanne, but Night of the Living Dead was the first scary movie I saw as a kid. It wouldn’t be for another few years before I would learn to appreciate it more as a piece of artwork than a schlocky black and white monster movie.
In addition to being a showcase for how to make a movie on a shoestring budget, its satirical take on “the monster lives next door” mentality of the McCarthy era was a revelation. Social commentary became something of Romero’s signature: Dawn of the Dead (his best work) on the hyper commercialism of the 70s and 80s, Day of the Dead on the burgeoning military industrial complex of the Cold War era, Land of the Dead on the gentrification wave that is homogenizing America’s city, and even his later works like Diary of the Dead on the over-sharing culture popularized in the post-YouTube world. Romero showed that you can take a blunt instrument (and admittedly pretty dumb story conceit) like zombies and use it to create artwork. For his contributions to film and American satire, I salute George Romero!
Also, who could forget the iconic “They’re coming to get you Barbara!” scene:
R.I.P. George. If there was anyone in the horror field who had more impact on my young soul, it might only be Robert Englund. Romero was the man who made horror the jump and clutch your date movie, while still finding quite a bit of room to work in social messages.
Look back at some of the 1960’s horror movies. Rosemary’s Baby, The Birds, Village of the Damned and Little Shop of Horrors are all classics in their own ways, but man are they tame. At the time, they were scary as hell (or so my Mom tells me), but once George had reanimated flesh, eating chunks of parents in basements, all bets were off. The psychological scares, and rubber suited monsters had been replaced with US. WE were the horror of George’s world, in far more dangerous ways than shambling biters.
Look at the ending of Night – the protagonists have survived against all odds through the night, only to have the white police rescue squad arrive and shoot the black protagonist dead. Casting a black hero was interesting in itself, but killing him at the hands of a scared and trigger happy cop? That feels a bit eerie considering the current climate we live in today.
Dawn of the Dead, my favorite VHS movie to look at in the rental store, showed Us again as the enemy – only this time it was our late 70’s and early 80’s slavery to malls and Orange Julius that ended up in the crosshairs. There’s almost a manic glee at the end of the world in Dawn, as the heroes go on a massive shopping spree in the now abandoned mall, to scratch that consuming itch we all were given in those most commercial of decades.
As a young boy in 1988, my friends and I used to gather at my house to marathon movies, stay up all night, and play videogames. My parents – very 70’s and free with content – figured that scary movies were not going to kill me, and allowed us to rent quite a few odd titles. Romero was a mainstay of that rotation, all throughout his career. Monkey Shines? The best psycho monkey movie ever? Creepshow? Proving to us all that Stephen King should stick to writing?
A few years back, I found myself trying to meet the Halloween Challenge – namely watching a horror movie every night, all of October. I failed miserably because it’s hard to watch a busty woman being smashed against a tree by a hockey masked freakshow while trying to rock your newborn to sleep. Still, one of the movies I managed to see was Land of the Dead – one of George’s last directorial gigs. Not the best movie of all time, but watching the old man still out there, showing us all how zombies should be (slow), and managing to tell us about the social and economic world we live in was quite fun.
I’ll miss you George. You invented a genre, and you are forever the Father of Zombies. Rest in pieces.
Are you a Romero fan? Do remember closing your eyes as a kid while zombies attacked? Share your thoughts and memories in the comments below!