Revolutionary film director George Romero — creator of Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Creepshow and many more films — passed away in his sleep on July 16th after a “brief but aggressive bout with lung cancer,” according to The Los Angeles Times.
In a career that spanned over 40 years, Romero completely redefined the horror genre. Not only did he give us one of the most popular type of villain — the horde of flesh hungry zombies — but he brought an intelligence to his films behind all of the gratuitous violence. From the allusions to the civil rights movement in Night of the Living Dead to the anti-consumerist stance of Dawn of the Dead, there was always more to Romero’s films than watching zombies have their heads blown off.
With how ubiquitous zombies are in today’s culture, it’s easy to forget that the genre wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for Romero’s tenacious drive to get Night of the Living Dead, despite rejections from multiple film studios. Eventually the film was released through an art film distributor on 14 screens and was panned by critics — but loved by audiences. Filmed for an astonishingly cheap budget of roughly $114,000, Night of the Living Dead would go on to make over $30 million.
After the success of Night of the Living Dead and its sequels, Romero had a trouble distancing himself from the zombie genre that he had created. Films like Martin and Creepshow were celebrated by critics and the art film crowd, but he never found commercial success with his non-zombie titles.
While Romero never won any Academy Awards his legacy is all around us in the films we watch, the comics we read, the TV shows, and the tattoos that we wear. Zombies have become a pop culture obsession and that is all thanks to Romero. Some will argue that zombies existed before Night of the Living Dead, and that is technically true, but it is like saying that shark movies existed before Jaws. People didn’t care until they watched the brutally violent and wickedly smart piece of allegory Romero filmed back in 1968.
Romero will be missed, but he will live on through the body art of his fans.
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