As we fans of pop-culture know by now, time moves inexorably forward, and the creative influences that we love and who shaped our formative years do pass away. Sadly, we have recently lost another genre icon, as seminal horror film creator and “Grandfather of the Zombie” George A. Romero has passed away. The news is made all the more difficult by the fact that not only was he part of the pantheon of horror gurus but he was a kind and gracious man to fans near and far. I had the opportunity to meet Romero at a horror-themed convention in the early 2010s, and he was simply a delight – someone whom you could tell truly enjoyed not only the creative work he did but also interacting with fans so routinely at cons and other events.
According to a statement by his manager, Chris Roe, “[Romero] died in his sleep following a battle with lung cancer.” Romero was born in New York on February 4, 1940. He attended Carnegie Mellon University for college and soon became enamored with the Pittsburgh area, where much of his creative film-making took place, including the work he is most well-known for, 1968’s ‘Night of the Living Dead.’
Shortly after college, Romero, John A. Russo and several of their friends created Image Ten Productions. As the stories go, they all put up $10,000 apiece in order to produce ‘Night,’ which has become one of the most well-known and well-loved horror movies of all time. The success of their film, which likely even they couldn’t have predicted, sparked a phenomenon that is still prevalent in 2017: the love of zombie stories.
‘The Walking Dead,’ ‘World War Z,’ ‘Shaun of the Dead,’ and countless other zombie films, TV series, and novels owe a huge debt of gratitude to the brilliant mind of Romero. The realistic way that ‘Night of the Living Dead’ was shot, along with the performances of the unknown cast and additional directorial guidance from Romero, makes the situations in the film believable. The “news reel” that opens the film reminds many viewers of the same kind of reality-based effect that Orson Welles created decades prior with ‘The War of the Worlds.’ Even though viewers knew that ‘Night of the Living Dead’ was clearly fiction, the depth of the storytelling planted the seed of doubt in their minds. Could something like this really happen? It’s a question that many, many other zombie filmmakers and story-tellers have ran with for 50-plus years now. Romero captured that same subtle sense of underlying panic, just like Welles did with his vision of ‘War of the Worlds.’
Romero continued to work in TV and film, and not always on zombie- or horror-themed projects. In the 1970s he directed a documentary about prominent sports figures of the times. Horror always seemed to be what he shined at most, however. During the 1980s, he collaborated with Stephen King and directed the wonderfully wicked and darkly humorous film ‘Creepshow.’ In the 1990s, he once again worked with a King property to bring ‘The Dark Half’ to life on film. For most of the 2000s he worked as both a director and an executive producer, helping bring to life such horror ventures as ‘Deadtime Stories,’ ‘Survival of the Dead,’ and ‘The Crazies.’ He also dabbled in other types of projects, including written horror anthologies and comic book adaptations of his stories.
Very recently, Romero was working on creating a new zombie film, titled ‘Road of the Dead.’ He was serving as executive producer, with his longtime film collaborator Matt Birman set to direct. While the immediate plans for the future of this film remain unclear, it’s definitely a hope that the project will get to carry on to see the light of day, in Romero’s honor.
This is a difficult loss for the horror community and one that will not be forgotten anytime soon.