RIP George A. Romero: 1940-2017

Contributing Editor; Dallas, Texas (@HatefulJosh)
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RIP George A. Romero: 1940-2017

The L.A. Times is reporting that filmmaking legend George A. Romero has died peacefully in his home after a short battle with aggressive lung cancer at the age of 77. According to Romero's producing partner Peter Grunwald, he passed in his sleep with his family by his side.

George A. Romero was one of the pioneering voices of modern horror, from his low budget beginnings as an industrial filmmaker through in the early-mid '60s all the way through to his death, he never stopped attempting to make socially conscious films that appealed to fright fans.

He is undoubtedly most famous for the series of zombie films he made beginning with Night of the Living Dead, the film that has come to define the modern idea of cinematic zombies as flesh-eating, undead ghouls. Over the next 45 years he continued that series with Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead, and Survival of the Dead. The films were more than simply gorefests - though he never shied away from the gooey stuff - they also tackled hot button topics like racism, rampant consumerism, income disparity, and many more, proving that horror could do more than just make the viewer jump, it could also provide a mirror to make people think about themselves and their own actions in the world he shared with them.

Romero's legacy is forever tied to the Dead film series, but it was far from his only contribution to the horror cannon. While his non-zombie work is often neglected, Romero made substantial contributions to the ouevre with films like Martin, which addresses addiction in a way that would be repurposed years later by filmmakers like Abel Ferrera, as well as popcorn films like Creepshow (a personal favorite), the bonkers Knightriders, Stephen King adaptation, The Dark Half, and many more. His place in cinema history is definitely secure.

In the later part of his career, Romero struggled to find financiers for his original films. He had just announced a project titled Road of the Dead which was scheduled to take part in the Fantasia Frontieres film market in Montreal next week. As a result wasn't very prolific over the last decade, often having been relegated to making zombie films as that's what financiers were willing to produce with his name attached. However, he never publicly complained and I never saw him at an appearance with anything other than his trademarked beatific ear to ear grin.

As a small aside, this one hits me pretty hard. I've seen and spoken to Romero a few times at horror conventions over the last fifteen years and he was always very kind to me. In fact, I'm not an autograph hound, but Romero's is the only one I've ever paid for. It is on a Night of the Living Dead 40th anniversary t-shirt that I've never dared to wear. I know that I speak for legions of Romero fans when I say that my thoughts are with Romero's family, and I know that there's no better way to celebrate his legacy than to watch his films for the millionth time and be glad that I was able to share his world for a little while.

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George A. Romero 1940-2017

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YojimboJuly 16, 2017 6:25 PM

I wonder if he asked for his body to be cremated?

Ben UmsteadJuly 16, 2017 9:20 PM

When considering radical art work in 1960s America, Night of the Living Dead, with its potent and powerful political, cultural and racial allegories and realities, without a doubt stands alongside the songs of Bob Dylan and the writing and lectures of James Baldwin. When considering other cinematic works, Romero's film has, arguably, less in common with horror films of the day (though plenty of inspiration is drawn from TV's The Twilight Zone and Outer Limits), and feels at its humanist core more akin to things like Haskell Wexler's doc-fiction hybrid Medium Cool. To say all this and then consider that 1978's Dawn of the Dead is just as influential if not more so, may be unprecedented for any genre of cinema.

And then there is Martin. I'm so glad you cited the film, Josh. Martin deconstructs the romantic vampire myth under the backdrop of an industrial Pittsburgh rotting away from its insides. I consider it to be the director's most nuanced, tragic and elegant work, providing some of his finest political commentary on working-class dreams, the destructive forces of capitalism and industry (namely through disfranchisement and addiction) and the strange and scary hubris of the male psyche and gaze.

wabaliciousJuly 16, 2017 10:29 PM

If not i hope he avoids the indignity of coming back :( RIP

wabaliciousJuly 16, 2017 10:32 PM

A brilliant man who contributed so much to cinema and never really got the recognition he deserved for all the stuff like Resident Evil that copied his ideas. RIP George, thank you for all the zombies. Well, the original trilogy ones and the ones in Land of the Dead. Not Survival of the Dead or Diary of the Dead. Certain bits maybe, like the zombies on the bottom of the pool in Diary and there were a couple of interesting ideas in Survival. I always forgot he did The Dark Half, that was a great King adaption that should have been a hit but wasn't really.

ToryKJuly 16, 2017 11:35 PM

Was JUST comparing Romero to Bob Dylan when my girlfriend told me he'd passed. And much like Bob Dylan, he was very humble about what he did.

He was a great artist, seemed like a great man, and I've got nothing but respect for him and things he did. Specifically, the things his films did and still do for people of color.

R.I.P., George A. Romero.

Unflinching_EyeJuly 17, 2017 8:40 AM

Lovely, insightful comment.

Unflinching_EyeJuly 17, 2017 8:42 AM

I can't believe he's gone. It's surreal. This is the obit I just posted on my blog:

I could write thousands of words on the life of George A. Romero, but frankly I'm feeling too gutted to put the words together. His influence on horror, on cinema, is inestimable. His influence on me personally since 1979 has been profound.

Cultural iconoclast. Cinematic maverick. Rebel. Romero's films held a mirror up to the western world, encouraging us to reflect on and examine some of our ugliest problems: greed, xenophobia, social injustice, militancy, and nationalism. In his life and work he was fiercely independent, never compromising his values, toiling to the end outside of the corporate studio system that he railed against.

And the man was quintessentially cool, a quality that saturates his entire filmography. Countless imitators have tried to equal the badass chemistry of Peter, Roger, Fran and Stephen, but only Romero could have created an elite squad of apocalyptic survivors as perfectly cool as that foursome.

In 1968 the release of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD heralded the modern era of horror cinema. The father of that epoch is gone, but his legacy lives on in every film, every shot, every frame of the genre that he was so instrumental in shaping.

Ben UmsteadJuly 17, 2017 12:21 PM

That's one hell of a way to find out! Though I am sure both men would approve.

Ben UmsteadJuly 17, 2017 12:24 PM

Well, I'd say thank you, but you are an unflinching eye, always knowing, and thus... you already knew.

Wjr.July 17, 2017 4:47 PM

maestro of Zombie horror cinema.......R.I.P.