Tonight marks the return of Games of Thrones, where the primary villains are the White Walkers, a marching army of undead. Today, the man most responsible for making the word “undead” part of the zeitgeist, the Godfather of modern zombie culture, George A. Romero, has died today at 77 after a brief fight with lung cancer.
You can’t look anywhere without seeing the impact the Bronx-born filmmaker had on the modern world. From Game of Thrones to The Walking Dead, to iZombie, television is as full of zombies as the Monroeville Mall was in 1978. In 1968, Romero along with a small band of colleagues created one of the most iconic and influential films of any genre in history, with Night of the Living Dead. In the film, a rag tag group are thrown together in a farmhouse while undead zombies gather outside hungry for human flesh. Hilariously, Romero hated the word “zombie” which he would of course become synonymous with.
The film would influence other great horror writers and directors, as well as spring countless knock-offs. It’s impact has not gone away. The word “zombie” is instant box office across all mediums, from movies like World War Z to television, to the world of literature and graphic novels. Romero just co-edited a zombie horror anthology book called Nights of the Living Dead featuring stories written himself, as well as a who’s who of horror fiction.
After leaving the Bronx and graduating from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, he directed his legendary classic Night of the Living Dead in 1968 and followed that with horror films, Season of the Witch (1972), The Crazies (1973), and Martin (1978) before returning to the world he created with his masterpiece, Dawn of the Dead (1978), in which the zombie outbreak has continued and survivors stake out the above mentioned abandoned shopping mall for refuge. Romero’s films were more than the gore shown on screen. His Dead films were steeped in political commentary and satire. Romero also was a pioneer by casting a black man as his lead protagonist in NOTLD. He claimed he never wrote the character of Ben with race in mind, casting Duane Jones because he was the best man for the job. Ten years later, another man of color, Ken Foree, again was a lead protagonist in Dawn of the Dead.
He continued making horror films into the 80s and 90s including Creepshow (1982) and The Dark Half (1993), working alongside horror writer and legend Stephen King, and Day of the Dead, the third part of his zombie saga in 1985. The last three films he directed were Dead films: Land (2005), Diary (2007), and Survival (2009). He wrote and produced countless others.
The world lost a visionary today, a man whose influence continues to impact pop culture on a daily basis. I was honored to have met him at a Monster Mania convention years ago, and he was sporting a “Fast Zombies Suck” shirt. Never one to keep his opinions to himself, Romero, whether he hated the word or not, will always be the Lord of the Zombies.
RIP George A. Romero
February 4, 1940 – July 16, 2017
[Source: George A. Romero official FB]