July 16, 2017

R.I.P. Master of Horror, George A. Romero

Argento, Bava, Carpenter, Craven, Fulci, Romero.

When you discuss great Horror Directors, those are the names that tend to come up first. From there, the list moves on to names like Cronenberg, Raimi, Hitchcock, and the like, but it's those first six names that are pretty much the top of the heap. They're all guys whose work was so prolific, that you only need to refer to them by last name for people to recognize them.

At the top of that short list for many, sits George A. Romero, and rightly so. The man not only helped shape the Horror Genre into an important pallet for artists to ply their terrifying wares, but he flat out created the zombie sub-genre, with one little movie back in 1968.

What George Romero did with Night of the Living Dead on such a small budget, and during such a huge time of crisis in America, changed the Horror Genre, and movies in general, forever. Called subversive, and viewed by many as a harsh critique of 1960's America, NOTLD struck a nerve and shocked a nation, and rightly so. In the late 60's, our country was losing it's innocence; whether it was Civil Rights or Vietnam, the Sexual Revolution or the realization that the Government wasn't as pious as we had always believed, America was changing, and George Romero wanted to say something about it. He also wanted to make a bloody Horror flick, so he ended up doing both. He was thrifty like that. His zombie opus spoke volumes, both compelling and repulsing moviegoers, and changing what Horror movies were, forever. Brutal, shockingly graphic, and terrifying, Romero kicked the status quo in the nuts, and then spat in its eye. Hell, his hero was a black guy, which was unheard of in 1968, unless you were talking about Sidney Poitier. Our black hero persevered too, surviving the zombie onslaught only to be gunned down by a posse of clueless rednecks. Now or then, it doesn't get more subversive than that.

His Dead films only got better from there. 

Considered his greatest film by some, Dawn of the Dead was Romero's tongue-in-cheek jab at the consumerism-happy American public of the 1970's. It also allowed him to push the envelope even further than he had 10 years earlier, and give us more gut-munching, more flesh tearing, and a really awesome exploding head gag. A score by instrumental rock gods, Goblin, didn't hurt either. Of course, that was only in the European cut of Dawn (there were 4 cuts: Theatrical, Euro, Director's, and Extended.) Dario Argento cut the European version of the movie. Ken Foree played yet another strong, black, non-stereotypical hero.

The first of the "Dead" movies that I ever saw, Day of the Dead holds a special place in my heart. Whether it's because Bub was so sympathetic and lovable, or because the gore in the third reel was so insane and awesome, this was the movie that made me hunger for all things undead. I remember ads for this movie saying it was Rated-X, which in the 80's was a HUGE thing for a movie.These days, NC-17 is the naughty kiss of death rating handed out by the MPAA, and it's really not a big deal at all. Hell, every other movie has an unrated DVD when they hit video now, which is the same damned thing. 20+ years ago though, and X or NC-17 rating screamed perversion, meant good luck finding solid distribution, and riled parents groups and the religious right up to no end. Romero did push the boundaries with the gore on this one, making it more... wet? Messy? Dirty, sloppy and rough? All of those and more really. Combined with the vacant feel of the now mostly human devoid earth, and some interesting and unique characters, this was one hell of a good zombie flick.

Romero was a filmmaker who pushed boundaries. Sure, he set out to give audiences a bloody good time, and in that he succeeded wildly, but he also laced his films with plenty of social commentary, which made him a maverick of sorts in Hollywood.

He also gave us films like The Crazies, Martin, Creepshow, And the Dark Half, all of which were excellent. My personal favorite will always be Land of the Dead. That may sound like blasphemy, but seeing Romero do his zombie/commentary thing on a bigger budget was a thing of beauty to behold.

It's been reported that Romero died in bed, surrounded by his family, listening to the score of one of his favorite films, The Quiet Man.

If you've got to go, which we all do at some point, that doesn't sound like a bad way at all.

Thank you for everything, good sir, and you ill be missed and mourned by a world full of people tonight, and in the years to come.

And your work will surely endure.

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