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A Tribute To George Romero

My Opinion

George A. Romero has the uncanny ability to take ideas that had come before and mold them into something completely new. From a distance there is nothing all that original about "Night of the Living Dead", but up close you realize it is no less than the starting point for a whole new sub genre and a new way of looking at horror movies in general. Although there were films prior to "Night..." which hinted at the modernity to come in the horror genre, "Night..." dragged the genre, kicking and screaming, into the modern age. Keep in mind this movie was released in an era of Roger Corman, and "The Monster That Ate Cleveland" kind of atmosphere. Famed movie critic Roger Ebert said this about the effect the movie had on an audience of preteens expecting something more in line with "Die Monster, Die": "I don't think the younger kids really knew what hit them. They were used to going to movies, sure, and they'd seen some horror movies before, sure, but this was something else. The kids in the audience were stunned. There was almost complete silence. The movie had stopped being delightfully scary about halfway through, and had become unexpectedly terrifying. There was a little girl across the aisle from me, maybe nine years old, who was sitting very still in her seat and crying."

The innocence of the horror movie was forever lost and nothing could ever quite be the same. No it wasn’t the first horror movie to appeal on such a visceral level, it wasn’t the first to make such a symbolic comment on American society, it wasn’t the first zombie movie, it wasn’t the first cannibal movie, it wasn’t the first to invoke such a feeling of paranoia and helplessness, it wasn’t the first to explore man’s alpha-male tendencies, it wasn’t the first to explore racial roles in society, it wasn’t the first to try and make the impossible seem all too real, etc. etc. But it was the first to combine all of these elements successfully and thereby setting the bar impossibly high for all serious horror to come. Directors had a couple of choices. Try and at least match Romero in impact, up the ante by upping the gore, or do an about face and make the material comedic rather than all out horror. Many stepped up to the plate some succeeded, some failed, but Romero never let up. No, everything he did after "Night..." wasn’t as great, but whenever he came back to the genre he basically created, he never failed to produce both on the visceral horror level and on the social commentary level.



He was born in New York City to a Cuban American father and a Lithuanian-American mother. His father worked as a commercial artist. Romero attended Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University. After he dropped out of the university, he began his career shooting short films and commercials. One of his early commercial films, a segment for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood in which Mr. Rogers underwent a tonsillectomy, inspired Romero to go into the horror film business. He and friends formed Image Ten Productions in the late 1960s, and they chipped in roughly $10,000 apiece to produce what became one of the most celebrated horror films of all time: Night of the Living Dead (1968). The movie, directed by Romero and co-written with John A. Russo, became a cult classic and a defining moment for modern horror cinema. Romero updated his original screenplay and executive produced the remake of Night of the Living Dead directed by Tom Savini for Columbia / Tristar in 1990.

Romero's films during the years after 1968's Night of the Living Dead were less popular: There's Always Vanilla (1971), Jack's Wife / Season of the Witch (1972) and The Crazies (1973). Though not as acclaimed as Night of the Living Dead or some of his later work, these films have his signature social commentary while dealing with primarily horror-related issues at the microscopic level. The Crazies, dealing with a biospill that induces an epidemic of homicidal madness, and the critically acclaimed arthouse success Martin (1977), a film that strikingly deconstructs the vampire myth, were the two standout efforts during this period. Like almost all of his films, they were shot in or around Romero's favorite city of Pittsburgh.

In 1978, Romero returned to the zombie genre with Dawn of the Dead (1978). Shot on a budget of just $500,000 (the producers gave a false figure of $1.5 million to help their negotiating position with distributors), the film earned over $55 million worldwide and was named one of the top cult films by Entertainment Weekly in 2003. Romero made a third entry in his "Dead Series" with Day of the Dead (1985), which was less popular at the box office, but has since gone on to gain a cult following thanks to VHS and DVD releases.

During this period, Romero also made Knightriders (1981), another festival favorite about a group of modern-day jousters who reenact tournaments on motorcycles, and the successful Creepshow (1982), written by Stephen King, an anthology of tongue-in-cheek tales modeled after 1950s horror comics.

Throughout the latter half of the 1980s and 1990s, Romero made various films, including Monkey Shines (1988) about a killer helper monkey, Two Evil Eyes (1990), an Edgar Allan Poe adaptation in collaboration with Dario Argento, the Stephen King adaptation The Dark Half (1992) and Bruiser (2000), about a man whose face becomes a blank mask.

Romero had a cameo appearance in Jonathan Demme's Academy Award-winning The Silence of the Lambs in 1991 as one of Hannibal Lecter's jailers.

In 1998, Romero returned to the horror scene, this time with a commercial. He directed the live action commercial shot (promoting the videogame Resident Evil 2) which was shot in Tokyo, Japan. The 30-second advertisement was live action and featured the game's two main characters, Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield, fighting a horde of zombies while in Raccoon City's Police Station. The project was a natural for Romero, as the Resident Evil series has been heavily influenced by Romero's "Dead" projects. The commercial was rather popular and was released in the weeks before the game's actual release, although a contract dispute prevented the commercial from being shown outside Japan. Capcom was so impressed with Romero's work, it was strongly indicated that Romero would direct the first Resident Evil film. He initially declined, stating in an interview, "I don't wanna make another film with zombies in it, and I couldn't make a movie based on something that ain't mine", although in later years he reconsidered and wrote a script for the first movie. While many were impressed with the script (which garnered positive reviews), it was eventually rejected in favor of Paul W.S. Anderson's far less faithful treatment.

Universal Studios produced and released a remake of Dawn of the Dead in 2004, with which Romero was not involved. Later that year, Romero kicked off the DC Comics title Toe Tags with a six-issue miniseries titled The Death of Death. Based on an unused script that Romero had previously written as a sequel to his "Dead Trilogy", the comic miniseries concerns Damien, an intelligent zombie who remembers his former life, struggling to find his identity as he battles armies of both the living and the dead. Typical of a Romero zombie tale, the miniseries includes ample supply of both gore and social commentary (dealing particularly here with corporate greed and terrorism - ideas he would also explore in his next film in the series, Land of the Dead). Romero has stated that the miniseries is set in the same kind of world as his "Dead" films, but featured other locales besides Pittsburgh, where the majority of his films take place.

Romero, who still lives in Pittsburgh, completed a fourth "Dead" movie, Land of the Dead (formerly known as Dead Reckoning), in Toronto, Canada, with a $16 million production budget (the highest of the four 'dead' movies). Actors Dennis Hopper, Asia Argento and John Leguizamo star in the film. It was released on June 24, 2005 to generally positive reviews.

Some critics have seen social commentary in much of Romero's work. They view Night of the Living Dead as a film made in reaction to the turbulent 1960s, Dawn of the Dead as a satire on consumerism, Day of the Dead as a study of the conflict between science and the military, and Land of the Dead as an examination of class conflict.

Romero is married to Christine Forrest, whom he met on the set of Season of the Witch. They have two children together.

From Wikipedia


Night of the Living Dead (1968)
There's Always Vanilla (1971)
The Crazies (1973)
Jack's Wife / Season of the Witch (1973)
The Winners (1973, TV Series)
O. J. Simpson: Juice on the Loose (1974)
Martin (1977)
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Knightriders (1981)
Creepshow (1982)
Tales from the Darkside (1984, TV Series)
Day of the Dead (1985)
Monkey Shines (1988)
Two Evil Eyes (1990)
The Dark Half (1993)
Bruiser (2000)
Land of the Dead (2005)
Diary of the Dead (2007)

My Reviews

Night of the Living Dead (1968)- Another of my all time favorite flicks. The recently deceased are rising up and eating the living. Yeah they're slow and stove up with rigormortus but there's so damned many of them. Definitely influenced by "The Last Man on Earth" which was an adaptation of Richard Matheson's novel "I Am Legend", and by "Carnival of Souls", this is still an original take on what amounts to the vampire legend. Ignore the flimsy explanation as to why this is happening. Great beginning, incredibly tense, well-directed middle, and a great non- Hollywood ending. Some great performances too. A+.

Season of the Witch (1973)- Officially released as ‘Jack’s Wife’, this flick is about Jack’s wife. That’s pretty much it. OK, there’s a little more to it than that. Jack’s wife has a lot of bad dreams. They symbolize her isolation as her husband works constantly, and is occasionally abusive towards her. Her daughter is going to college and no longer needs her ‘stay at home mom’ and her friends are alcoholic, depressed, and shallow. Jack’s wife is looking for something, she really doesn’t know what as, one review I read stated, she’s caught between her generation’s boring shallow bourgeois society and her daughter’s superficial answerless counter culture mores. She has a couple flings with her daughter’s substitute professor, who spouts off goofy pretentious counter-culture bullshit but what really intrigues her is when she finds out a friend of a friend is a witch, not just witch who dabbles in it for fun and a but a real witch. So Jack’s wife dives into witchcraft full on, and guess what, it works! This would’ve made a great half hour Twilight Zone, or maybe even an hour long Night Gallery, but at a little over 90 minutes (full Anchor Bay addition) it is WAY too long. Lots of piss poor dialogue and too many dream sequences weigh it down, but sadly don’t really take it anywhere either. Typical early Romero bad camera and editing come at no extra charge. I found myself thinking ‘come on already, something has to happen here’. Having said that, Romero was still able to get enough tension built up to keep me watching, and although some hated the end, I have to admit, it tied it together nicely if you’re paying close attention. But bottom line is it wasn’t worth the wait. D-.

Crazies, The (1973)- Romero's 3rd film it delves a little deeper into themes he had touched on in "Night of the Living Dead". Where that is about a society of consumers and isolation, this is about mistrust in the military and the government. A government plane carrying a man made biological weapon (a virus) crashes near a small Pennsylvania town and leaks the weapon into the water supply. The town is quarantined by the military and misinformation, lack of preparation, and general disarray cause a black comedy of errors that all but ensures the spread of the virus, which effects different people in different ways, causing some to act 'high' and some to become very violent. It is a typical Romero film with a cast of no names, some of which are really good and some, well, not so good, fairly shoddy editing and camera work, which isn't a bad thing in Romero's case and makes for a better film (I think he has been a huge influence on the look and feel of horror movies today with the over exposed and shaky shots, which now often seem forced but in Romero's hands give the film an edgy documentary feel). This is a good movie with an obvious and still very relevant message but it doesn't hold up, in my opinion, to Romero's Dead films. For me it just doesn't quite capture that elusive 'atmosphere' many of his other films capture. B-

Martin (1977)- Martin is a vampire, or a twisted serial killer from a twisted family. He has gone to stay with his cousin, who is curiously older than him (Martin looks to be around 18 or 19 but claims to be 84) and who is a very religious man who plans on saving Martin’s soul, and destroying his body constantly referring to him as "Nosferatu". From the beginning there is no doubt Martin is a killer who drinks blood, but he uses sedatives and razor blades to get his victims, no fangs, no hypnotizing eyes. He’s also frustrated at what Hollywood has done to the vampire. Garlic, crucifixes, holy water, this magic simply doesn’t work in real life according to Martin on one of his late night calls to talk radio (and he proves it to his religious cousin as well). Romero does to the vampire mythos what he did to the zombie mythos, breaks all the rules and severs all ties to the past (just as Romero’s flesh craving zombie hordes had little to nothing in common with the voodoo witchdoctor created zombies of the past, Martin is about as far from the Dracula stereotype vampire as you can get). While throwing away the past Romero examines the generation gap, old vs. new, magic vs. science, superstition vs. reality, old ideas in a new world, and tosses in objectification of women and relationships to boot. And it works pretty well. Yeah, it is very low budget and has a very 1970s look so in that regard it may not hold up well, and if you’re expecting lots of blood and guts a la his zombie films you will be disappointed. This is a subtle, slowly paced psychological thriller about a serial killer/vampire (we never truly know which it is) as he tries to deal with life and acceptance (or the lack there of). A strong A.

Dawn of the Dead (1978)- Romero's follow up to "Night of the. Living Dead". Sometime has passed since the problems with the living dead began. Inner cities are becoming unlivable. Some members of a SWAT team, after a botched raid, decide to get out of town. They hook up with a reporter and a news helicopter pilot and fly off to safety, but little safety is to be found. They wind up barricading themselves in a shopping mail. The rest is zombie movie history. Romero likes his horror with a message, like we are a consumerist society bent on consuming everything, including each other. What better way to symbolize that than cannibal zombies at a shopping mall? This a great zombie flick and one of my favorites, some of the effects are a little dated and I don't understand why the mall never loses power but still great story with great direction and a great Romero ending. A.

Creepshow (1982)- A classic pairing of Stephen King and George Romero that works. King is a fan of the old horror comics from back in the day and Romero has the perfect black humor camp meets horror style to direct and it works, bringing to the screen in omnibus movie form the feel of those classic comics without going totally overboard like Tales From The Crypt was apt to do. The stories: In "Father's Day" an old man who really wanted a cake for father’s Day and got murdered instead, comes back for his cake many years later, and he gets the cake too. Although not much really happens it is good to see Romero able to kick the flick off with a zombie tale! B+. In "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill" Stephen King plays a country bumpkin who finds a meteorite on his property, dreams of getting rich selling it to the university soon turn bleak as a green moss starts growing and spreading from anywhere the meteorite has been, and I mean anywhere. Great FX in this one with the day glow grassy moss growing everywhere, but King’s performance is a little too campy, but considering the material it passes. C+. In "Something to Tide You Over" a filthy rich Leslie Nielson isn’t about to let his wife leave him for Ted Danson so he buries the couple up to their necks in the sand on his beach and waits for the tide to do them in. Great suspense, acting, and directing on this one, and of course, water logged zombies soon show up. Predictable but as Hell but it is still a classic very well done. A-. In "The Crate" a janitor finds an old crate under the stairs at a university and calls the professor to check it out, one thing leads to another and it turns out there is a living monster inside the crate. Maybe the professor’s best friend could help him out, and could also use the monster to help him with his horribly obnoxious wife. A really good segment with great effects and a great mix of horror and camp to boot, kind of ‘Lovecraftian’ in feel.. A. And in "They're Creeping Up On You" an old Mr. Scrooge business man type is obsessed with cleanliness, especially when it comes to bugs, specifically roaches, and the roaches decide they don’t like him either. A classic and perfect closer to the omnibus, genuinely creepy and well done. A+. Final grade is a strong A.

Day of the Dead (1985)- Many consider this the weakest of the original Romero trilogy and Romero himself was disappointed that he couldn't get the budget to make the movie he wanted (an all out war between humans and zombies). Personally though, I like this movie a lot. Another great mix of camp and horror as scientists 'protected' by soldiers, try and figure out what is causing the cannibal zombies. No one really trusts anyone and the two sides soon are at war with each other, especially when it's discovered that the lead scientist is using dead soldiers as experiments. 'Dr. Frankenstein' is one of the great horror movie characters and is one reason I like this movie so much. Another well-directed Romero movie, although the acting isn't as strong as his last two zombie films, the pacing and the story work in the cramped, paranoid, claustrophobic surroundings. A.

Monkey Shines (1988)- I should start by saying I hate monkeys. Some people hate snakes, some spiders, whatever, but I hate monkeys! Anyway, Romero and a big studio, not always a great mix! Still, this flick is pretty good, depending on how much empathy you can muster for the protagonist. A college track star is hit by a truck during an early morning workout and is paralyzed. His life begins to fall apart until a close friend of his, who is experimenting on injecting monkeys with human brain cells, gives him a monkey to do his daily basic daily tasks. The monkey is trained (under false pretenses as she doesn’t know about the brain cell injections) by a lady who winds up falling for the quadriplegic. Toss in an arrogant doctor who might have missed the actual cause of the paralysis, an ex-girlfriend who left due to the paralysis (and is now dating the doctor), an over-protective mother, an under-protective nurse, and a monkey that is capable of basic human emotion and reasoning and ESP and you have chaos! If you’re looking for raw Romero like ‘Night of the Living Dead’ or gore Romero (and Savini) like ‘Day of the Dead’ then you will be disappointed. None of that is there, and while the characters remain pretty shallow and there is nothing great about this one, I liked it OK. I’ll give it a B since I hate monkeys anyway and the monkey was a great actor!

Two Evil Eyes (1990)- What?!? Argento and Romero both direct a short based on a Poe story?!? What’s not to love?!? Right?!? Well, not quite. This is a pretty good flick, but not nearly as good as it would seem on paper. Tale 1 by Romero has a woman who married a rich old man bilking him for his money as he dies. She is in cahoots with the old man’s doctor who uses hypnosis to make the old man basically sign everything over to the lady, things go downhill when the old man dies before everything has been transferred, but the bigger issue is the old man was hypnotized when he died, leaving him in a nether world between living and dead. Not a bad concept over-all and it was executed fairly well, just too long, you could tell it was being stretched a tad too much, I’ll give it a B-. Tale 2 is Argento’s take on The Black Cat. A crime scene photographer, who happens to also be a published art photographer (?) living with a famous violinist, is loosing his mind from all the bizarre crime scene photos he has to take. He kills his girlfriend’s cat (while taking pictures of it for a book he then publishes almost instantaneously) , she wants to leave him ,he has a very bizarre dream, and things spiral out of control. This is really typical Argento, all style, but not much substance. I’ll give it a C+, I’d grade it higher but the dream sequence was ill-conceived. Tough to average a B- and C+ so I’ll say over-all it was a strong C+ effort.

Dark Half, The (1993)- Romero directs a Stephen King novel. I’m not a big Stephen King fan, he’s hit or miss, but I do like Romero a lot and the two worked together well in “Creepshow” so what about here? It’s typical King fare, a boy has migraines, it turns out his body didn’t fully absorb what would’ve been his twin, the “tumor” is removed (a la “Basket Case”) and the boy grows up to be a not-so-famous writer, however he does become famous under a pseudonym and when he is blackmailed he decides to let everyone know that he is both writers. Naturally his ‘dark-half’ doesn’t like that plan and begins making mayhem. So does it work? For the most part, yeah; some things fell flat for me (like the sparrows), and the ending, as is often the case with King material, just took it over the top (more sparrows), but as a horror flick it was OK. I’ll give it a B.

Land of the Dead (2005)- The 4th in Romero's Zombie Trilogy... um. Anyway, people have learned to live with the zombies, or at least have learned to keep the zombies outside the gates of a well-fortified city. They have to occasionally go into the surrounding towns, which are filled with zombies, and get supplies though. It's on one of these outings someone realizes the zombies are learning and evolving. It isn't long before the zombies realize where the raids are coming from and attack the city. Romero gets his war between man and zombie and gets to symbolize the plight of the lower class (Zombies), the squeeze on the middle class (regular people in the city made to do the dirty work), and the greed of the upper class (the rich who live safely in the skyscraper). Great effects compliment a good story combined with Romero's great directing and finally a budget to match the vision. And there in lies the rub. Maybe too much of a good thing. I feel the actors come off as action heroes more than the "ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances" feeling I got from the other Romero zombie flicks. Also the truck Dead Reckoning is just over done and seems dumb. Not to get too geeky but the zombie plague began in 1968 so when did they invent all that technology in that truck, like flat panel infrared monitors? They were still driving old Army Jeeps though, nice touch. Also, Dennis Hopper is great as the wealthy leader of the city. Despite the above mentioned weakness I am still compelled to give this an A because there was still so much good about it. A.

Dairy of the Dead (2008)- Romero is back with another zombie movie entry, this time taking a cue from "The Blair With Project" and "Cloverfield" by making a point-of-view film about zombies. It is sort of a retelling of "Night of the Living Dead" set today. A group of college film students/actors are making a horror film for their senior project when suddenly and for seemingly no reason the dead begin to rise up to consume the living. The student director becomes obsessed with turning his fake mummy movie into a real documentary on what is happening. So the group gets together in a Winnebago to head home. I guess they all live in the same direction and/or don’t own their own cars. Bottom line, Romero is the master, but even the master can have a bad game. Maybe Romero’s directing doesn’t lend itself to the point-of-view style, maybe the dialogue was just too clunky, maybe the acting was just too bad, maybe the plot holes were just too deep, maybe some sequences were just too unbelievable, maybe the message this time was just too heavy handed, maybe the camp parts seemed out of place, maybe it was a combination of all of the above, but I have to admit, as much as I don’t want to, I was very disappointed in this flick. It just felt like I was walking through a haunted house with a zombie theme. Here’s the outside scene, here’s the dorm scene, here’s the hospital scene, here’s the house scene, here’s the warehouse scene, here’s the panic room scene. This could’ve been so good, the idea was there, some of the parts were great (the opening with the police at the apartment complex, the team clearing out the apartment building with the old people, some parts of the hospital scene), but some were just bad (Deb’s house, the cameraman not doing anything when a zombie walks right in front of him to bite someone at the hospital, the mummy/zombie camp part). Also, from a realism point regarding the point-of-view- style, love it or hate it, the camera work and editing is supposed to feel bad and amateurish, here it was just too slick with the security camera angles edited in, the double cameras, and the soundtrack playing almost throughout. It just totally lost that ‘shot on the run vibe’. I know I know these were film students and had editing gear, they show that, still... And George, I dig my horror with a message, always respected you for your abilities in that respect, but crap man, I don’t need it hitting me like a baseball bat. Information overload indeed. I can’t believe this but I’m forced to give the Master a C-.

Deadtime Stories (2009)- Omnibus hosted by George Romero doing a Cryptkeeper stale ‘keep an eye out’ type of setups between shorts. Story 1 revolves around a woman whose husband was lost in the jungle working for a pharmaceutical company. She mounts an expedition to finish his work, but is really just searching for him. She really has no idea what she’s doing and winds up pretty much getting everyone killed for what might be the fountain of youth. Terrible acting and bad effects drag down an already weak plot. F. Story 2 is about a man who sells junk. He finds something he knows is valuable but the local antique dealer doesn’t want it as he says it is dangerous and to leave these pieces alone. Instead the junk seller digs up more and of course everyone regrets the decision. Not a bad entry, a tad slow moving as suspense is reached for and missed, but it was interesting and at least somewhat original. I’ll give it a C-. Story 3 is about a boy who insists he is a vampire. His mother calls the local doctor who does some tests and recommends a psychiatrist, or does he? I liked this one a lot, well filmed (all by candle and fire light) and pretty well acted, I’ll give it a strong A. Wow! Those are some varied grades, I’ll average it to a C.

Survival of the Dead (2009)- I wanted to like this one after I felt Romero had fumbled pretty bad with the painful ‘Diary of the Dead’ so maybe I was biased going in but dammit I did like it. Some soldiers decide that they would be better off on their own (a la the SWAT team in ‘Dawn...’) so they head out on some adventures (including a forced nod to ‘Diary...’) and wind up heading for an island where they believe they will be left alone, but find a Western in waiting, with cowboys trying to tame the zombies rather than Indians. Romero really didn’t cover any new ground and didn’t manage to whip up that ‘we’re seriously screwed now’ atmosphere that made his original trilogy so raw and powerful, but this isn’t a bad entry and almost redeems him in my eyes after the ‘Diary...’ debacle. The lines between right and wrong, good and bad were blurred enough to keep me interested and the social commentary, while obvious, was relevant. B.

Deadtime Stories II (2011)- Romero returns with 3 more tales of terror, sort of. This is pretty low brow stuff. Story 1 is called ‘The Gorge’, get it? 3 friends go cave exploring and a rock slide traps them and injures one very badly. After about a month of eating bats they decide their friend’s leg needs to be amputated, and eaten. Eventually other parts apparently need amputation. The gore is so over the top as to be camp, especially the sound effects of the tearing of bone and flesh. Oh, and now do you get the name? I’ll give it a C+, pretty obvious stuff with a goofy ending, but not all bad. Story 2 revolves around a college professor who has his life planned out perfectly. His only weakness is he likes the college girls and gets one pregnant. When she commits suicide right in class his perfect life quickly unravels. This one is pretty well done and I’ll give it an A. As you may know, these anthologies often try and save the best for last, well story 3 is about a lab worker who discovers that soil from Mars may have healing qualities. He confides in a security guard whose wife is dying of cancer. The guard steals some soil and it works. His wife is fine, and it might be noted, horny as hell. The lab worker is none too happy when he finds out and he must be killed, taken home, and hidden in the freezer, and more Martian soil procured. Pretty campy and a tad too long but done well enough, in a hokey camp sort of way. This should have been the first with The Gorge following. Anyway, I’ll give it a B- which averages to about an even B.

Living Proof