“They’re coming to get you, Barbra. There’s one of them now!” And with those words, it began. The zombie apocalypse, whether it’s in Pennsylvania, Atlanta, or anywhere else in the world, originated in the Evans City Cemetery 30 miles north of Pittsburgh in Night of the Living Dead when Bill Hinzman shuffled into frame.
As we sadly say farewell to Hinzman, zombie infected patient zero (and also Josephine Streiner who greatly contributed to the film), we honor the man who single-handedly began the undead infestation: the great George A. Romero.
As influential as all our favorite directors have been … Wes Craven, John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper … it’s arguable that no one has brought more to the horror genre than Romero. Sure, each of these directors gave us some iconic character, no less than Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers and Leatherface, but Romero gave us zombies. Not a specific zombie (although Bub from Day of the Dead is one of my personal favorites), but the entire zombie sub-genre of horror (and it is a huge, huge sub-genre) can all be traced back to Romero.
Romero has a slew of films to his directorial credit, about a third of which have titles that end with … of the (Living) Dead. And those are the films we concern ourselves with here today. We absolutely appreciate Romero for The Crazies, Martin and his Stephen King collaborations Creepshow and The Dark Half as well as his other works, but it’s for the creation of the modern zombie that heap praise upon Romero today.
Being moved toward horror as a young man after filming a segment for “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” wherein Fred has a tonsillectomy, Romero formed Image 10 Productions with nine friends and never looked back. By 1968 Night of the Living Dead, and the horror of the modern zombie, had arrived.
Inspired by Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend, Romero created his ghouls (which were not even referred to as zombies in the original film) after Matheson’s vampires. They were the infected, feeding on the uninfected. This concept led to the first of Romero’s well-known social commentaries embedded in his films. Throughout the … of the Dead films Romero has taken on subjects such as commercialism, science versus military and upper/lower class conflict. All that commentary hidden amongst various zombie invasions. Nicely done.
With Survival of the Dead, which was released at film festivals in 2009 before a 2010 US theatrical release, Romero’s zombie saga has now spanned 40 years and six films (and that’s not counting his updating of the script of Night of the Living Dead for the Tom Savini-directed remake in 1990). But even more amazing than Romero’s own filmography is the work of others he’s inspired.
As horror fans, think of all the entertainment you enjoy that wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Romero’s work. You wouldn’t be getting ready for the second half of “The Walking Dead” Season Two. Forget about Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland or 28 Days/Weeks Later (I know they’re technically not zombies, but they’re close enough to be considered non-existent without Romero’s inspiration). You could kiss many of your favorite video games good-bye as well. We wouldn’t have Resident Evil or Dead Rising, Dead Island or Left 4 Dead. Nope, nope, nope. And speaking of “The Walking Dead”, you can forget that comic series as well as the beloved Marvel Zombies. No more zombie crawls, and about half of today’s indie horror filmmakers would need to look elsewhere for inspiration because without George A. Romero we wouldn’t have zombies.
And in case you were wondering, at least according to Quentin Tarantino, the A. stands for A Fucking Genius!
One other thing before we wind this up. There has been much debate as to whether zombies should be a shuffling mob or run like gazelles. Romero has an opinion on that as well. They don’t run. They’re reanimated corpses. You think running with sore muscles is tough, try running dead. If Romero says they don’t run, then they don’t run. He made them up so he gets to make the rules. And guess what… If for some reason down the line he changes his mind and says they can run, well, then they can run. Why, you ask? Same reason. Romero made them up. He can make them do whatever the hell he wants.
We’ve had directors that are great at creating slasher characters, but they didn’t invent serial killers. We’ve had great vampires, werewolves, aliens, succubae, flesh-eating viruses, organ harvesters, etc., etc., etc. But no one in decades has created a monster that has been so universally embraced and imitated as George A. Romero’s zombie. The volumes of entertainment spawned from this undead beastie are nearly impossible to count. And now, as the zombie takes the torch from the vampire as society’s favorite nightmare, we look back at where it all began and give a Doctor Gash Tip of the Scalpel to the man we can thank for it all. George A. Romero, thank you.
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