Horror maestro George A Romero, who created the modern zombie movie with his landmark 1968 film Night of the Living Dead has died from following what his family has described as “brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer.” The LA Times sites a family statement saying that “Romero died while listening to the score of one his favorite films, 1952’s “The Quiet Man,” with his wife, Suzanne Desrocher Romero, and daughter, Tina Romero, at his side.” The director was 77.
While zombies were not a new idea to movies when Night Of The Living Dead came out, they were primarily helpless victims under the mesmerizing spell of a witch doctor or voodoo priest. It was Romero who pretty much redefined them as reanimated corpses that need the brains of the living for sustenance.
In addition to Night Of The Living Dead, Romero also directed five further installments in his zombie franchise – Dawn Of The Dead (1978), Day Of The Dead (1985), Land of the Dead (2005), Diary Of The Dead (2007) and George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead (2009).
Romero smartly didn’t just use the sub-genre of horror films that he created for just thrills and chills. He also worked hard to infuse a subtext of social commentary into his films whenever he could. Progressively casting a black actor, Duane Jones, in the male lead role of the film, Romero would downplay his action by stating that Jones “simply gave the best audition.” Dawn Of The Dead has been hailed by critics for it’s sly critique of consumerism as a group of strangers fleeing the advances of a zombie apocalypse take shelter in an abandoned shopping mall.
The director was also critical of some modern day zombie properties, saying that they lacked any real thematic depth. When asked if he would ever direct an episode of AMC’s popular zombie series The Walking Dead, he told a British newspaper that he no interest as “Basically it’s just a soap opera with a zombie occasionally.”
Born in the Bronx in New York City on February 4, 1940, Romero attended Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, graduating from their College of Fine Arts. The director retained an affinity for the western Pennsylvania city and its environs, often setting his films there.
Within the horror genre, Romero also wrote and directed 1972’s Season Of The Witch (aka Hungry Wives), 1973’s The Crazies, 1978’s Martin, 1988’s Monkey Shines and Bruiser (2000). He also directed the Stephen King-scripted anthology Creepshow (1982) and directed an adaption of an Edgar Allan Poe story for the 1990 anthology Two Evil Eyes. He re-teamed with King for 1993’s The Dark Half.
Unfortunately, his fame for his zombie films often meant that it was difficult for him to get funds for non-horror genre projects that he wanted to make. Knightriders was a rare non-genre project that told the story of a group of traveling troupe of Renaissance recreation actors that begins to splinter in the face of their leader’s growing disinterest in their work.