Yesterday Sunday July 16, 2017, I found out one of the all-time masters of the horror genre, George A. Romero passed away. I know there is going to be hundreds if not thousands of eulogies written about the late filmmaker, but I owe it to the man to share a few of my own thoughts about what his work meant to me.
Thinking back, the first time I ever came across one of Romero’s films, it was his ground-breaking classic Night of the Living Dead (NOTLD). I didn’t see it in the theaters, I was just a month away from turning 3 years old when it came out in October 1, 1968.
I caught NOTLD on late night public access Television with my dad in the early 80s. My guess is sometime in 1982 because shortly after, I had to see the sequel, Dawn of the Dead when it was playing at a special showing at Everett Community College, when my family was living in Snohomish, Washington.
But let’s get back to NOTLD. I had never seen anything like it. Black and white, with a story where a brother and sister get attacked by a zombie in a graveyard, leading to the sister taking refuge in a farmhouse. Only to get stuck there with a singular strong minded man on the ground floor and a family with a weasel-like father hiding in the basement. Throw in flesh eating ghouls and you have a smorgasbord any horror fan like myself would automatically treasure.
What struck me about the way NOTLD was its simplicity. I don’t mean that as an insult but rather a charm. It had no extraneous filler or pompousness you sometimes find in independent films. In fact, it had surprising amount of social commentary, brilliant strokes in characterization and gutsy casting all done with brilliant control, which is obviously a reflection of the film’s maker, George A. Romero.
Dawn of the Dead was the second film from Romero I saw (see above) and it blasted me straight back in my seat from the first minute. I’ll never forget the super intense beginning at the TV Production Studio with all sorts of people yelling, arguing, while the world within the movie seemed to being coming apart at the seams. I have to be honest, this opening scene inspired the way I wrote & directed the first scene in my upcoming segment “The Devil’s Five” (aka The Wraparound) in the feature film Devil’s Five. I tried capturing this kind of organized chaos that will hopefully grab the viewer the same way Romero’s film took hold of me.
Then Dawn follows it up with the powerhouse scene at the apartment complex building with the SWAT team freely using profanity so much, that as a teenager it hit me almost like one of the shotgun blasts to the zombies that followed.
Speaking of the zombies in the apartment, who could ever forget the 70s style décor, drifting smoke bomb haze floating about while Special Make-Up Effects Artist Tom Savini went nuts creating realistic carnage unlike the world had ever seen. People were getting their flesh ripped right off their shoulders, forearm bites that made blood ooze and heads getting completely eviscerated by shotgun without cutting away.
Machette to the head. Helicopter blade slicing off the top of a zombie’s head. Pistol shots sent blood careening across the screen, I had never EVER experienced onscreen gore in such potent, show stopping way. It floored me.
Add the unforgettable filming locations scattered about the Pittsburgh/western Pennsylvania area and Italian Cinema Rockers Goblin adding their iconic score and Romero’s use of library music it just made Dawn of the Dead a true masterpiece of horror filmmaking. It’s my favorite film from his illustrious career and fully displayed the man’s filmmaking arsenal.
Those films made such a deep lasting impression that in 2006, my wife and I made the pilgrimage to visit many of the movies locations (Especially the Monroeville Mall) and I made it a point to go north to Evans City Cemetery to see where it all began.
Looking back at George A. Romero’s legendary career I believe Creepshow is his best overall film.
There’s something about Martin that makes it probably his most fascinating film (storyline, surreal editing, off-kilter tone, Savini’s early effects, his first film working with cinematographer Michael Gornick).
There’s never been another movie like Knightriders and Day of the Dead featured some absolutely terrific acting and Tom Savini’s best work of his career.
George A. Romero was a uniquely American filmmaker. There’s something about the way he photographed (mostly use of static camera), cut (edits) and always seemed to be saying something deeply personal about we operated as a society. I believe Romero stuck to his guns, not giving in to Hollywood mentality and approached making movies the way he wanted to.
In the tough business of moviemaking this is rare, admirable and worth every bit of adulation the man received. I know I look at him as one of the big three horror directors of my formative years (Carpenter, Craven and Romero).
Thankfully I had the pleasure once of spending a few minutes with George A. Romeo, when in the late 90s, he was coming back from lunch (I presume) and I caught him walking on the same sidewalk outside the New Yorker Hotel in Manhattan. We were both there at Fangoria Convention. Spending those few minutes talking to him was a real treat. He was large in stature, standing well over six feet tall but I couldn’t help but feel comfortable speaking to such a down to earth, affable man. You’d never know he single handedly launched the independent horror film and was one of the biggest horror filmmakers of all-time.
George A. Romero, thank you for your incredible body of work, tremendous talents as a writer/director and the way you treated your fans. May you Rest in Peace.