7/17/2017

In Loving Memory of George A. Romero, the Godfather of the Zombie

We, the horror community, have lost another one of the great ones. George A. Romero, the Godfather of the Zombie, passed away yesterday at 77, as result of a short battle with an aggressive from of lung cancer. The moment that received the news, via a text from a friend, I was devastated. I, like the rest of the horror world, couldn't believe it. I quickly bawled my eyes out crying. This hurt, and it hurt, a lot.
Romero was born in the Bronx, NY, on Feb. 4, 1940, to a Cuban father and Lithuanian mother. He would go to become one of the greatest and most important filmmakers in the horror genre. He stayed out of the mainstream for most of his career, yet his influence is felt to today. In fact, it seems to be felt even more. The whole zombie craze, would not exist without him. And, that is a fucking fact.
For me, the loss of Romero hit so hard, because I had felt I had lost a hero. He was and is such an influence in my life, that it is hard to put into simple words. But, I am going to give it my best. As I was getting into horror movies, I found it important to see all the classics. One of the filmmakers, I had yet to see anything from was Romero. But, I changed that quickly.

I first caught his debut movie, Night of the Living Dead (1968), when it aired on a premium cable channel. I was about 12 or so, and at that point black and white horror, unless it was Psycho or Godzilla: King of the Monsters, didn't have that much appeal to me. Still, I knew this wasn't like any Universal film. And, boy, was that ever true! I was blown away with how graphic, especially for a B&W movie, it was! We are talking stabbings, bloody bullet hits, immolation, and, gut munching! Shit, there was even a naked, female corpse!

I can only imagine how this must have shocked audiences back in the day! He created the template of the what now think of the zombie, as well as pushed splatter further into the mainstream. Not only that but it was smart, scary, intense, and wonderfully acted. It made an immediate impact on me. I adored the movie and could not stop talking about it. It didn't take long for me to see the next two films in the series: Dawn and Day of the Dead.
I soon rented them, in consecutive order. Dawn of the Dead (1978) had the immediate same effect on me. I was already tiring of the tame and many times censored, slasher movies of the era. Here, though, was a film that wore its' unrated title loud and fucking proud. Tom Savini's effects were amazing! I remember seeing the bloody squibs and thinking, ''That is how it must look like to get hit by a bullet (excluding the bright, red color, I mean)!'' I was weary of seeing the bloodless gun shots that sometimes happened in movies, and thus, this was an eye opener.
Add the graphic hackings, stabbings, impaling, head bisection, gut munching, head shots, and I was in motherfucking heaven. The scene where the crazed and racist cop blew that one dude's head up with a shotgun was an instant favorite splatter scene of mine. In all, this masterpiece that would define the zombie, even further than the genre changing Night, was epic, fun, and exciting. And, like Night, it was also extremely smart.



Soon after, I saw Day of the Dead (1985). I always hear of people who grew into liking it, as they didn't like it on the first viewing. That was not the case with me. I LOVED it from the get go. I adored the acting and the dialogue. The movie felt smart, because it was. I was captivated by all that happened onscreen, every single second of it. And, then there is the gore. Again, Romero did not give a flying fuck about making an R-rated film, and as such even topped Dawn, in this department.

This is some of Savini's finest work, as the splatter was graphic and stomach churning. Bloody squibs, head shots, amputation, gut scarfing, and more ruled the fucking screen. The gore drenched climax, with bodies getting ripped apart, shot, and devoured are some of the greatest gore you will ever see! ''Choke on it!'' screams the evil Captain Rhodes (Joe Pilato) as he gets ripped in fucking half! I almost shit myself from the excitement!
The political statements that he made with the films were brilliant. It set them apart from the brain-dead horror movies that Hollywood kept shooting out. These three movies changed my life, and they along with a couple of others were the reason I got into film. I wanted to make movies like Romero, drenched in gore, but also smart. I was not interested in another mindless, interchangeable stalk and slash movie. I have rewatched all three of those movies infinite amount of times. The two sequels are in my top 20 favorites of all time, while Night is my fifth favorite movie of all time. At one point, thanks in large part, but not only to, Romero zombie films were my favorite horror sub-genre. That is no longer case, but I blame the post The Walking Dead entertainment world on that.
 
But, to just talk about his zombie movies is unfair. Romero made many other great movies. Martin (1977) is one of the smartest and most fascinating vampire movie ever made. I love the fact that it takes a real world approach to vampirism. It deals with a boy thinks he is a creature of the night and uses razor blades to cut and kill his victims and get their blood. Again, Romero did it his fucking way, and I loved it.
I actually only saw Knightriders (1980) a year or two ago, on El Rey network. Not a horror movie, but still amazing, fun, and wonderfully acted by a great cast, this tale of modern day jousters who reenact this spectacle on motorcycles was cool as fuck. It showed that Romero was not just horror and splatter, but could do drama and action as well. Although, those elements were already seen in his earlier genre work.
Creepshow (1982) is probably his most well known to the mainstream audience outside of his zombie movies. With Stephen King writing, Romero directing, and Savini doing the FX, this loving and fun tribute to the EC comics of yesterday is a great time. It has only gotten better with age, and Romero's love for the material is so very much on display.
Another great film of his was Monkey Shines. I always loved this wonderfully acted and admit ably intense tale of a handicapped man and his assistant monkey, who is psychotic. Under lesser hands, this would've been a stupid piece of shit. But, under Romero's gifted hands and mind, it is a fucking great and sometimes, overlooked gem.
To me, the last great, or even good movie, he made was his return to zombie films: Land of the Dead (2005). We waited ages for it, and while, not as great as the first three Dead movies, it was worth it. The other three are such masterpieces that they were impossible to top. But, Romero really did come close to that level, with this excellent movie. The cast is amazing (including Dennis Hopper and goddess Asia Argento), the gore is great (though, I didn't like the CGI stuff), and the story is smart and, again political. An obvious damning look at the then current George Bush administration, it really hit me in a great way, that made me happy and smile.
I won't discuss some of his misses, though The Crazies, The Dark Half, and Bruiser, all have their merits. But, again we can skip his lesser work, because that is not what this article is meant to be. This is a celebration of a man and a legend.
I am happy and honored to say that I did meet him back in the 90s when he did a Fangoria Weekend of Horrors. He signed my laserdisc of Night, and while, the line was long and one couldn't get a pic with him, it was an amazing experience. I cherish it even more now.
 Romero signs the guy in front of me's VHS copy of ''Night of the Living Dead''
The master signs my laserdisc! Oh my god, what a great memory!
George Romero, thank you, for the amazing films that you did. Thank you, for not giving a fuck about the mainstream. Thank you for the influence you had on the modern horror and splatter movie. And, thank you forever changing my life, being such an influence in me, and being a hero to me. My most deep and sincere condolences go to his family and loved ones. And, may you RIP, Mr. Romero, you will be forever missed and loved.
Also: FUCK CANCER!

2 comments:

Alan's World said...

Giovanni, I also was greatly saddened by Romero's death, especially happening before the 50th anniversary of his classic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. But at least, Romero had the opportunity of getting universal recognition of his work in film and most especially, being recognized as the GODFATHER of Zombie films. The recent great documentary BIRTH OF THE LIVING DEAD(2013) gives Romero the opportunity to tell his story on how that great horror classic was made and in 2016, Romero was here in NYC at MOMA to present the recently restored in 4K HD print of his NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD to a sold out audience in October of last year. Also Romero got the opportunity to remake NIGHT in 1990 the way he wanted to make it in color directed by his protege, Tom Savini with a revised script by Romero himself that corrected some of the things in the original film that fans didn't like, especially regarding the Barbara character. What needs to be done is to see is these NY art cinemas like the QUAD, Metrograph, IFC Center, BAM Cinematek or Film Society of Lincoln Center do a full film retrospective of all 16 films directed by Romero.

giovanni deldio said...

Very well said and true. I saw that docu on Netflix, a while back, and it is excellent. I recommend everyone whose fan of his and they movie to see it.