If you’ve been following the news, then you’ve probably seen that the famous filmmakers George Romero passed away at the age of 77 due to a battle with lung cancer. I always attempt to use an artist’s passing as a tool for inspiration, rather than as a tool for despair. When Bowie died, it offered me an opportunity to binge his impressive music collection and replay his cameo in Zoolander. Alan Rickman’s passing still gives me a reason to binge both the Harry Potter and Die Hard films. Rather than wallow that the artist won’t make anything else, it’s good to look at all they accomplished in the first place, being so lucky as to leave a legacy that people will be able to enjoy for generations. George Romero will be remembered forever in film history, as both the father of the modern zombie film, as well as one of the pioneers of “Do it Yourself” horror film-making.
“A zombie film is not fun without a bunch of stupid people running around and observing how they fail to handle the situation.”
Romero was outspoken in his later years in his criticism on the pop-culture and media’s way of handling zombies. What makes this hilarious is that Romero himself is responsible for zombies being popular in horror films in the first place. With his 1968 film, Night of the Living Dead, Romero created and popularized the characteristics of the modern zombie. Romero’s monsters were not the 28 Days Later or World War Z zombies, his were the slow, rotting, pack-traveling creatures comprised of the human dead. The film was freaky, graphic, and most importantly, super cheap. People have to understand that the film industry wasn’t doing too hot through the 60’s, bloated films that didn’t appeal as much to people as television did were populating the theaters. Studios were desperate to make any kind of money they could, and low budget films that pushed boundaries were a necessary part of keeping people in theaters. The high caliber films that came out of the era are an important reminder that art is art, and no amount of money can replace genuine inspiration. What made Romero’s later zombie films so memorable was that they still remained fairly cheap, yet managed to push solid social commentary into a horror film. Every film in the “Living Dead” series are worth going back to watch, preferably in order, as you see how Romero managed to turn old folktales into a mainstream form of horror, making loads of money in the process.
“The neighbors are scary enough when they’re not dead.”
What makes Romero so inspirational to a lot of young filmmakers was his ability to make a film on such a low budget, and although you could tell it was low budget, you still enjoyed it anyway. Romero was making films long before digital editing could make high level special effects for incredibly cheap, so instead he relied on mass amounts of gore and practical frights to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. Stories of sets where actors were disgusted by pig guts that were left rotting in the heat for hours amuse me to no end, because they remind me of student and independent sets that I’ve been on, and make me feel that any filmmaker has the chance to make it, you just need to inspired by a great idea. Romero’s films weren’t all about zombies mind you, he also made same other gems including Martin, Knightriders, Creepshow (written by Stephen King) and The Dark Half. This man has a legacy of not only fantastic horror, but just having a genuinely unique artistic mind that he was able to bring from page to screen.
Before Romero died, he complained that there’s no current market for low-budget zombie films anymore, and that this actually prevented him from being able to direct another feature he had planned. Although this is sad, it’s also an important insight into what lies in store for horror films and film-making in general. Yes, Hollywood is an over bloated cesspool of recycled ideas and horrible blockbuster sequels, no question about it. That being said, film-making is in a new renaissance, not unlike, if not more exciting, than the time people like Romero and Coppola found themselves in decades ago. With the right smartphone camera and some easy to learn editing skills, any young filmmaker can do exactly what the best Hollywood director could just years ago. The division then between general YouTube garbage and quality film-making isn’t the platform or budget, but rather the effort and talent that goes into a project. Quality content floats to the top of the pile every time, as people constantly look for something entertaining, controversial, and new. I look at Romero’s career as a lovely mix between Robert Rodriguez and John Carpenter, someone who capitalized off of early low-budget successes to establish a career filled with unique and fantastical hits that are still just as enjoyable today. Do yourself a favor and cook up some popcorn, turn off the lights, and binge Romero’s zombie films. While Romero won’t come back from the dead, his creations sure do, and it’s for this legacy we thank him.