R.I.P.: George A. Romero has passed away at the age of 77

George A. Romero

George A. Romero had been booked to appear as one of the celebrity guests at the Days of the Dead convention in Indianapolis last month, which seemed very fitting, given the name of the event. Unfortunately, he had to cancel his appearance at the last minute, citing a "serious health issue". You don't want to hear that anyone is having a serious health issue, but Romero's age, 77 years old, made it even scarier. For the last few weeks, I have been trying to prepare myself for the news that we had lost one of the horror genre's greatest, most influential filmmakers. I hoped he would pull through this illness, it was promising that he was still giving interviews about a project he had co-written and would be producing, GEORGE A. ROMERO PRESENTS: ROAD OF THE DEAD. But it wasn't to be.

Sadly, the day I've been dreading has arrived. It has been announced that Romero passed away today after what is being referred to as a "brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer". He passed in his sleep with his daughter Tina Romero and wife Suzanne Desrocher Romero at his side, the soundtrack from the 1952 film THE QUIET MAN playing in the room.

Born in The Bronx on February 4, 1940, George Andrew Romero was fasincated by films growing up and would regularly rent them back in the days when you had to rent film reels and projectors to watch a movie in your house. His favorite movie was the 1951 opera adaptation THE TALES OF HOFFMANN, and whenever he tried to rent it and the reels weren't available he knew they had already been taken by some guy called Marty Scorsese.

Romero attended college at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and he remained in the city for several decades. He started making short films and commercials there, and he and his production company partners decided it was time to give a feature a try in the late 1960s. That feature attempt, a low budget, black and white indie production, resulted in one of the greatest horror films of all time, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, a movie that created the zombie sub-genre - it was the first film to present the concept of flesh-eating ghouls to shocked audiences.

His first time directing a feature, Romero created a masterpiece that is still loved by a legion of fans to this day, nearly 50 years later. The impact it had on the entertainment world is still reverberating through the multiple zombie films that are released each year and through TV shows like The Walking Dead.

Romero's second and third films, THERE'S ALWAYS VANILLA and SEASON OF THE WITCH (a.k.a. JACK'S WIFE), were more problematic, but he regained his footing with 1973's THE CRAZIES, which marks the beginning of what I find to be the most mind-blowing streak of great films a director has ever had. His next five films rank up there with NIGHT on my list of all-time favorites: the severely underrated "is he or isn't he a vampire?" film MARTIN; the classic, gloriously entertaining DAWN OF THE DEAD; KNIGHTRIDERS, a fantastic movie that is uniquely Romero and was one of his few chances to work outside of horror - watching it is an experience, and it feels like Romero's entire essence was captured on film; the amazing, comic book-style anthology CREEPSHOW, on which he collaborated with writer Stephen King; and DAY OF THE DEAD, another brilliant entry in his DEAD series that has finally started to get some of the respect it deserves in recent years. I don't rank 1988's MONKEY SHINES as highly as those five, but it is another solid film on Romero's résumé. Another huge win in my book is 1987's CREEPSHOW 2, which Romero wrote (based on stories by Stephen King) for cinematographer Michael Gornick to direct.

A massive mistake was made when NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was released. The movie was originally titled "Night of the Flesh Eaters", and when the new title was cut into the film to replace the old one, the copyright symbol that had accompanied the "Flesh Eaters" title on screen was not include with the LIVING DEAD title. Since the copyright didn't appear on the film at any point, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD lapsed into public domain. That's why there are so many different copies of it out there. Anyone can put out their own release of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.

Trying to gain some control of the property, Romero wrote and produced a remake in 1990, with special effects artist Tom Savini directing. That same year, Romero teamed with fellow master of horror Dario Argento for TWO EVIL EYES.

Romero spent most of the '90s bogged down working on various projects that never went into production. He was attached to direct RESIDENT EVIL, he was going to make a version of THE MUMMY, etc. He did manage to make the Stephen King adaptation THE DARK HALF in 1993.

In 2000, Romero made his long-awaited return with the underrated thriller BRUISER, and followed that up with a streak of zombie movies - LAND OF THE DEAD, DIARY OF THE DEAD, and SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD. These films aren't as well regarded as his original DEAD trilogy, but I find that each of them has its charm. I was able to attend the Pittsburgh premiere of LAND OF THE DEAD in 2005, and that's a memory I'll always cherish - I got to see Romero's first DEAD film in twenty years on the big screen with the man himself (and other filmmakers, like Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, and Edgar Wright) in attendance.

The horror genre has a lot of "masters", and fans have their own favorites among those masters. A filmmaker who connects with them more than the others. For me, my favorite master of horror is Romero. I love the majority of his films, and I love the stories behind them. The fact that he was making them with creative freedom, usually in the Pittsburgh area, surrounded by a crew of collaborators he worked with again and again. He was an individual, independent to the core, not too fond of Hollywood business. He even completely reworked the script for DAY OF THE DEAD when the budget was cut in half so he could make it how he wanted to make it, unrated, instead of having to deliver an R-rated cut.

Romero is one of my filmmaking heroes, a true inspiration. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is the film I've watched more than any other. It's my default movie to put on at any given time. I'm in awe when I watch Romero's films and listen to the "making of" stories. Working on that MARTIN to DAY OF THE DEAD stretch of films sounds like pure bliss to me, and I've always said that if time travel were possible I would want to go back and be on the sets of those movies. Since I can't do that, I've done what I could do in the present - I took a trip to meet Romero and see some of his movies on the big screen in Chicago in 2000, attended a marathon where he was the guest of honor in 2003, went to that LAND OF THE DEAD premiere, have made several visits to the Monroeville Mall where DAWN was filmed, even watching the movie inside the mall.

2017 has been a bad year for me, in all kinds of ways. There has been a lot of loss, and this is another big one. I didn't know Romero personally, I just met him a couple times, but he has been a huge part of my life, and through the work he leaves behind he will remain a huge part of my life. Always. The same is true for many other fans out there.

To George A. Romero, I want to send out a heartfelt thank you. To his fans, I'm sure he would say, "Stay scared!"

Rest in peace, sir.

Extra Tidbit: Our sincere condolences go out to George A. Romero's family, friends, and fans.
Source: LA Times



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