15 July 2024

The undisputed master of the modern zombie film, George A. Romero was born on February 4, 1940 in New York, NY. The son of a commercial artist, Romero attended Pittsburgh's prestigious Carnegie Mellon University before launching into an early career of commercials and short films.

With his first full-length feature, Night of the Living Dead in 1968, Romero hit the ball right out of the park. One of the most influential films in modern horror, Night is a stunning classic no matter how you view it. A midnight drive-in movie? Check. A sociopolitical commentary on Vietnam? Check. A gut-munching, bone-crunching undead flick? Check. A statement on cultural race relations in America? Check.

Inspired by Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend (1954), Night is an inherently subversive horror film, racheting depictions of onscreen violence to the next level, while at the same time retaining the elements of the best monster movies that had come before. With its success as an independent feature, George Romero inspired a generaton of filmmakers to work outside of the studio system.

Night was to be Romero's ticket into the movie business. He next two pictures were 1971's non-horror There's Always Vanilla and the low key Season of the Witch (1972).

The tale of a bored housewife who gets involved with the occult was certainly less visceral than either of Romero's two previous horror films - Witch functions better as a dramatic study in character development.

He then made his apocalyptic horror tale The Crazies (1973). The story of a small Pennsylvania town infected by a military biochemical weapon, Romero paints a bleak picture of the post-industrial world...and skewers the military in the process.

In 1977, Romero offered up Martin. One of the most marginalized and esoteric of all Romero's films, it tells the story of Martin Mathias (played to perfection by John Amplas) who fancies himself a vampire. He sedates young women...and then slices their wrists with a razor blade so he can feast on their fresh blood.

But is Martin really a vampire? Or is he a deranged psychotic who needs physical confinement and psychiatric help? A modern vampire tale, Martin works the ambiguity angle to the max. And it pays off. One of Romero's least-mentioned horrors, it's a revelation with each repeated viewing, serving up different nuances and colors.

Ten years after the release of the original Night of the Living Dead, Romero directed the splatastic sequel Dawn of the Dead in 1979. Italian maestro Dario Argento co-produced the effort in return for international distribution rights.

Utilizing a now bigger budget ($500K for Dawn compared to $114K for Night), Romero laid on the gore in an over-the-top fashion. Fans took a bath in the red grue he offered. And they rejoiced!

As with his previous efforts, Romero offered up another swipe at the establishment: setting the action in a popular shopping mall, the director made Dawn a not-so-veiled attack on hollow American consumerism and disposable buying trends.

In 1982, Romero helmed the fan favorite Creepshow. Boasting five short stories all scripted by Stephen King, and headlined by a first-rate cast, Creepshow was a modest commercial success. The segment entitled "The Crate" proved to be the strongest: a mild-mannered professor (Hal Holbrook) gets retribution against his loud-mouthed, abusive wife (Adrienne Barbeau) by unleashing an ancient monster on her!

Romero directed his third entry in the iconic Dead series in 1985, this one titled Day of the Dead. A commentary on the military industrial complex, Day is set in an underground bunker where the military is conducting research experiments on the undead.

Over the years, George Romero has continued to return to his favorite subject of zombies. There have been six "of the dead" films: the aforementioned three...and the more recent entries Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2007) and Survival of the Dead (2009).

The Crazies 1973
Creepshow 1982
Dawn of the Dead 1979
Day of the Dead 1985
Martin 1977
Night of the Living Dead 1968
Season of the Witch 1972
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