This zombie fan was born one evening at our own Summer Drive-In at a showing of the Lucio Fulci classic, Zombie. What I did not know at that time was that this world of flesh eating ghouls was much larger.
Renting VHS tapes was in its infancy and our local video rental store was a treasure trove of movies. Movies that were all fresh and new to a young mind. But, there was one that I kept returning to…over and over again…Zombie. That box was in my hand more often than not, and I am certain that I alone paid for that VHS tape.
One day, as I stood at the counter with that box in hand (and my parents behind me, dreading the viewing of Zombie yet again), the wonderful lady who owned and ran the establishment smiled at me.
“I have something for you.”
I was confused. Something for me? What would she have for me?
She went into her back room and returned with a brand new video. It wasn’t even ready to be on the shelf, but she knew that I would treat it like gold. I looked at the four words on the cover that would become my crown jewel of zombie films…Dawn of the Dead.
I won’t go into a full review of the greatness that is Dawn of the Dead, but I will tell you that as a young man watching that movie for the first time…it was awe inspiring. Fulci’s Zombie (which I still love, by the way) was just a movie. Dawn was like watching real life. Strange jungle labs and a zombie fighting a shark was cool, but that stuff just doesn’t happen. Having to fight for your life against these monsters (and eventually other people) was more real than any horror movie I had ever seen.
That was how George Romero wanted you to think, and feel. This could happen, and this is how people would react. That is what made his films so amazing. They were never “just movies”, they were a mirror pointed back at ourselves.
The words “thank you” will never be enough. Goodbye, Mr. Romero.
I came to Romero (and a few other horror favorites) rather late in life. I’d guess it was my very early 20s. Sure, I had seen Night of the Living Dead and Creepshow as a kid/teen, but they weren’t exactly in my top ten, you know?
It’s Wayne’s fault I grew into a bit of a fangirl when it comes to Romero. Having heard that I’d never seen Dawn or Day of the Dead, he set to correcting the gaps in my education. From there, I have been hooked. Martin, Two Evil Eyes, There’s Always Vanilla, and Night of the Living Dead 3D remain the only four entries of his filmography I have yet to experience.
Though I can’t really speak for my cohorts involved in lostgamers productions, it was his films/book adaptations that I drew the greatest inspiration from for our widely popular Debate of the DEAD experience. But, I digress. The Godfather of the Dead will always hold a spot in both my esteem and heart as most every zombie flick I catch (not to mention horror films in general) will be compared to his works. He will be greatly missed.
I Love Zombies, and It’s All George’s Fault!
I hadn’t lived in Memphis for very long when I had my first Romero experience. Sure, I was born here, but my family moved when I was just a year old. We made our return in 1986. I was 8 years old. We were staying with my grandparents. I know. Very POLTERGEIST II, which coincidentally came out about four months before our move. Fortunately, I didn’t have to worry about any spectral playphones, face-eating braces, or gaunt-faced religious leaders. Well, maybe the last one. It is the South.
Late one Saturday night, maybe a month or two after the move, I was sitting in the dark in my grandparents’ living room. I was supposed to be asleep, but instead was up watching late night movies. That’s when it happened. A moment that would change my life forever. Night of the Living Dead came on.
Now, I’d seen Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and Return of the Living Dead (Thanks, HBO), so zombies were nothing new. This was different. These weren’t the brain eaters I was familiar with. These undead didn’t talk. They devoured your flesh. And although the movie was in black & white, and edited for WMKW-TV 30, they were terrifying. Hey. I was 8.
And I was hooked, all thanks to George A Romero and his depiction of the unexplained undead outbreak, shot for $114k in Evans City, Pennsyvania in the late 1960s.
I devoured copies of FANGORIA as it was, but getting an issue with zombie-related articles became like finding the Holy Grail. Imagine how excited I was to see a copy of DAWN OF THE DEAD at the low-rent One Stop Video after we moved to Frayser. That was my idea of fun. Living in a mall, surrounded by zombies. I was a really weird kid.
It would be years later before I began to appreciate directors and writers for their art, but by that time, I had three entertainment heroes. I’ve jokingly referred to as the Holy Georges. There was George Lucas, Patron Saint of the Force. Then there was George Carlin, Patron Saint of the Seven Words. Finally, there was George Romero, Patron Saint of the Dead.
George A. Romero’s Dead films will always stick with me. They were visceral, but humorous. They were deeper than the “gory” surface, with social commentary that was as biting as any of his undead characters. Even Diary and Survival, which many find to be lesser films, hold a special place for me. His take on zombies changed the horror genre, and even though there’s a new zombie flick, tv show, comic, etc, ad nauseum, lurking around every corner, none of them are as good as George’s films. No one will ever compare to The Godfather of the Dead. They can’t even come close.
Well, except maybe Lucio Fulci, but that crazy motherfucker had a zombie fight a shark.
George A. Romero has been an inspiration to me. You can see it in my writing. My tastes in entertainment. My choice in friends. My respect for a copyright. And my need for a fool-proof zombie plan. He will be missed greatly. He was, IS one of my heroes. Sadly, I never got to meet him. Well, not yet anyway…
My Sunday started out very well. I went to lunch with my boyfriend and his mother then went to her house to watch UFC with said boyfriend. At some point, I excused myself to the ladies’ room where the boyfriend called out to me to come see him with a strange tone in his voice. When I rejoined him, he broke the heart-breaking news to me.
George A. Romero had died.
Immediately my heart sank at the news that one of my favorite horror movie directors, if not the man solely responsible for my love of zombie movies, had passed on. I actually felt like tearing up because it had been a dream of mine to meet Romero and discuss various topics mostly the evolution of a genre he created. Romero pioneered the zombie movie genre with his first movie Night of the Living Dead.
Night of the Living Dead, my first zombie movie, was the first of its kind in so many ways. Halloween night, when I was young, I first saw it and it frightened me so much seeing the ghouls tear into and devour the burned bodies of Tom and Judy. The ending shocked me so much because Ben survived everything, he survived the ghouls, he survived the humans wanting to leave him to the monsters, the sheer breakdown of common decency and when he was just mere feet from rescue he was shot down because he was mistaken for a ghoul. It was a shock to me; the hero was dead! Romero strived to shock many people with many of his films.
After that my love of the zombie genre grew and grew, all thanks to Romero. At the same time because of the original Romero zombie movies, I never wanted to leave the safety of my house, too scared zombies were going to get me. Romero directed other films each one shocking in their own way. Romero stood out in his own way and helped pave the way for many other filmmakers to try their hand at perfecting the craft.
It’s a sad day indeed for horror fans and zombie fans in general. We salute you Mr. Romero and thank you for the years of zombie movies, scares and frights. Your art will live on to continue to scare others and give us a warm sense of nostalgia.
As I write these words the news of George Romero’s death is still very fresh in my head. This may come off as shocking but I am not affected by people dying. It’s a part of Life. We are born, we live, and we pass away. However, few, a very select few, have touched me deep enough to register as a true loss. George Romero was such a man. An icon. An innovator. The father of all zombies. I knew his name for most of my life. My mother wouldn’t let me watch Night of the Living Dead when I was a child because she thought it was too intense for me. I watched it anyway and was scared and also thrilled by how it was a good story. George wasn’t just telling a tale about the risen dead coming back to feast on the living. he was showing us that the greatest monster we could ever face is ourselves.
George Romero did for zombies what toasters did for sliced bread. His modern vision of a zombie apocolypse has shaped humanities view of the undead into what it is today. His impact on culture was so strong it can still be heard in the (debatably) best Gorrilaz album ever made. I can hear his fans moaning, not for brains, but for an artist this world did not deserve…