Best known as an influential pioneer of the horror-film genre, and for his series of gruesome and satirical horror films, about an imagined zombie apocalypse, the American-Canadian filmmaker, writer and editor, George Andrew Romero Sadly died July 16, 2017. He was born February 4, 1940 in the New York City borough of the Bronx, the son of Ann (Dvorsky) and George Romero, a commercial artist. Raised in the Bronx, he would frequently ride the subway into Manhattan to rent film reels to view at his house.He was one of only two people who repeatedly rented the opera-based film The Tales of Hoffmann; the other was future director Martin Scorsese. Romero attended Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
After graduating from college in 1960, Romero began shooting short films and TV commercials. One of his early commercial films was a segment for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in which Rogers underwent a tonsillectomy. With nine friends, including screenwriter John A. Russo, Romero formed Image Ten Productions in the late 1960s, and produced Night of the Living Dead (1968). Directed by him and co-written with John A. Russo, the movie became a cult classic and a defining moment for modern horror cinema. Among the inspiration for Romero’s filmmaking, was the British film, The Tales of Hoffmann (1951) and Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls (1962).
Romero then released the films There’s Always Vanilla (1971), Jack’s Wife / Season of the Witch (1972) and The Crazies (1973) which dealt with a bio spill that induces an epidemic of homicidal madness. Sadly these were not as well received as Night of the Living Dead or some of his later work. So in 1978 Romero returned to the zombie genre with Dawn of the Dead. Shot on a budget of $1.5 million the film earned over $55 million internationally. Romero then made a third entry in his “Dead Series” with Day of the Dead in 1985. Between these two films, Romero shot Knightriders (1981), about a group of modern-day jousters who reenact tournaments on motorcycles and Creepshow written by Stephen King, an anthology of tongue-in-cheek tales modeled after 1950s horror comics. The success of Creepshow led to the creation of Romero’s Tales from the Darkside, a horror anthology television series that aired from 1983 to 1988. In 1988 Romero made Monkey Shines, about a killer helper monkey; Two Evil Eyes (a.k.a. “Due occhi Diabolici”, 1990), an Edgar Allan Poe adaptation in collaboration with Dario Argento; The Dark Half (1993) written by Stephen King; and Bruiser (2000), about a man whose face becomes a blank mask.
Romero updated his original screenplay and executive-produced the 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead directed by Tom Savini who was also responsible for the makeup and special effects in many of Romero’s previous films including Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Creepshow, and Monkey Shines. Romero also had a cameo appearance in Jonathan Demme’s Academy Award-winning The Silence of the Lambs (1991) as one of Hannibal Lecter’s jailers.
In 1998, he directed a live-action commercial promoting the videogame Resident Evil 2 in Tokyo. The 30-second advertisement featured the game’s two main characters, Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield, fighting a horde of zombies while in Raccoon City’s police station. The project was obvious territory for Romero; the Resident Evil series has been heavily influenced by the “Dead Series”. The commercial was popular and was shown in the weeks before the game’s actual release. Capcom was so impressed with Romero’s work, That they wanted him to direct the first Resident Evil film. He declined at first although in later years, he reconsidered and wrote a script for the first movie. It was eventually rejected in favor of Paul W. S. Anderson’s version.
Universal Studios produced and released a 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, with which Romero was not involved. Later that year, Romero kicked off the DC Comics title Toe Tags with a six-issue miniseries titled The Death of Death. Based on an unused script that Romero had previously written for his “Dead Series”, the comic miniseries concerns Damien, an intelligent zombie who remembers his former life, struggling to find his identity as he battles armies of both the living and the dead. Romero has stated that the miniseries is set in the same kind of world as his Dead films, but featured other locales besides Pittsburgh, where the majority of his films take place. In 2005 Romero, who lived in Toronto, released a fourth Dead movie, Land of the Dead,. The movie’s working title was “Dead Reckoning” and it starred Simon Baker, Dennis Hopper, Asia Argento, and John Leguizamo. There is often social commentary in much of Romero’s work. They view Night of the Living Dead as a film made in reaction to the turbulent 1960s, Dawn of the Dead as a satire on consumerism, Day of the Dead as a study of the conflict between science and the military, and Land of the Dead as an examination of class conflict
In 2006, Romero began his next project, called Zombisodes. Broadcast on the Internet, it is a combination of a series of “Making of” shorts and story expansion detailing the work behind the 2007 film George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead which was released on DVD And Bluray in 2008. Next Romero released the film Survival of the Dead in 2009 which was to be a direct sequel to Diary of the Dead, but features only Alan van Sprang, who appeared briefly as a rogue National Guard officer, reprising his role from the previous film, This film centers on two feuding families taking very different approaches in dealing with the living dead on a small coastal island.
Romero also made an appearance in the second downloadable map pack called “Escalation” for the video game Call of Duty: Black Ops. He appears as himself in the zombies map “Call of the Dead” as a non-playable enemy character. Romero is featured alongside actors Sarah Michelle Gellar, Danny Trejo, Michael Rooker, and Robert Englund, all of the four being playable characters. He is portrayed as a powerful “boss” zombie armed with a movie studio light. In 2010, Romero was asked to direct a 3D remake of Deep Red (1975) but he declined. In 2012, Romero returned to video games recording his voice for “Zombie Squash” as the lead villain, Dr. B. E. Vil. Then In 2014, Marvel Comics began releasing Empire of the Dead, a 15-issue miniseries written by Romero. The series, which is broken up into three five-issues acts, features not only zombies but also vampires and was also being developed into a TV series written and executive-produced by Romero and Peter Grunwald.
In 2017, Romero announced plans for George A. Romero Presents: Road of the Dead, a film that he co-wrote with Matt Birman, who would direct and Produce the film with Matt Manjourides and Justin Martell Birman had previously been the second unit director on Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead. Birman stated that the movie would be like The Road Warrior meets Rollerball at a NASCAR race, with significant inspiration from Ben-Hur. Road of the Dead is set in a sanctuary city where this fat cat runs a haven for rich folks. and one of the things that he does to entertain the wealthy residents is to stage drag races in a modern day coliseum using zombie prisoners. There’s also a scientist there doing genetic experiments, trying to make the zombies stop eating us, and he has discovered that with a little tampering, they can recall certain memory skills that enable them to drive in these races. It’s really The Fast and the Furious with zombies”.
Sadly though Romero died in his sleep following a “brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer”, while listening to the score of one of his favorite films, The Quiet Man, with his wife, Suzanne Desrocher Romero, and daughter from his second marriage, Tina Romero, at his side.
Romero’s influence, and that of Night of the Living Dead, remains huge and he has inspired inumerous filmmakers and artists, in particular those who have worked in the zombie subgenre, including comics writer Robert Kirkman, novelist Seth Grahame-Smith,and filmmakers John Carpenter, Edgar Wright and Jack Thomas Smith. He has left an impressive legacy and is Regarded as the “Godfather of the Dead” and the “father of the modern movie zombie”. The first episode of season 8 of The Walking Dead, “Mercy”, was also dedicated to the memory of Romero and stuntman John Bernecker.