George Romero, director of the 1968 horror masterpiece Night of the Living Dead, died of lung cancer Sunday at age 77.
While not the first zombie movie ever made, Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” cemented the trope firmly as a horror movie sub genre, and led to his creation of now popular remakes like Dawn of the Dead and shows like The Walking Dead.
Even in its black and white form, the movie had people fill theaters with screams of terror, and even offered an inadvertent social commentary: the protagonist was a black man. On the day Romero drove the first finished print of the film to New York, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
Always humble, Romero oft stated the film gets “too much credit for things.” In his 1978 Dawn of the Dead, the commentary is more nuanced, having viewers see a reflection of themselves in mindless zombies stumbling through a shopping mall. In 1973’s The Crazies, Romero explored the horror in Vietnam era disillusion. Notice both these films were remade as modern horror hits.
Thus, Romero will forever be remembered for being Hollywood’s zombie expert. Zombie buffs at the helm of franchises like “The Walking Dead” need to step up their game more than ever. They didn’t exactly leave Romero proud, as he described the show as “a soap opera with a zombie occasionally.” Not to mention the show’s production team suffering a fatal accident last week.
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